Getting to the bottom of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) can be… difficult. In this analysis, I explore the symbols and concepts that the American director weaved into this highly symbolical flick.
Darren Aronofsky has treated the worldwide viewers with some of the most mind-blowing films of modern cinema. Whilst Requiem For A Dream (2000) remains the most prominent work of the American director in my opinion, I whole-heartedly admire The Fountain (2006) and The Black Swan (2010) too.
Not only is he a filmmaker of highest visual craftsmanship, but his films like to push the limits and boggle the viewers. mother! (2017) is by far the most complex of his works, and its incredible pool of symbols and inspirations could be easily spread out across a dozen of films.
To begin, I’ll state the obvious – this article will surely contain spoilers. If you didn’t have the chance to watch mother! (2017) – don’t blame me. If you simply refuse to watch it anyway – feel free to continue.
What is mother! (2017) about?
mother! (2017) is a biblical variation that starts with an iconoclastic premise – “what if God had a wife?”. Javier Bardem plays the husband, and Jennifer Lawrence acts as his wife, in a stormy relationship that goes from mad love to mad hatred. The core of the story constitutes the toxic relationship between a subjective woman and the controlling husband.
But before we can even grasp the more-or-less form of it, Aronofsky throws lots of symbols, references and metaphors, which heat the brain to eventually make it pop. It’s really hard to grasp them all at one screening and honestly, the second one would be a mental suicide.
Portrayal of God and his wife in mother! (2017)
As mentioned, Aronofsky retells the biblical story about world’s creation in mother! (2017). Our universe is reduced to just one house, built from ashes. This is a perennial part of the film – a closed circle which begins with the world built from the burnt dust. That is a straightforward reference to the creation of the world as it was described in the Bible’s Genesis. Originally, God has created world out of his will, however Aronofsky’s perpetual loop needed to change this. That leads to the first skewing from Aronofsky’s vision in comparison with the biblical source.
But the more essential example of creative freedom is that in mother! (2017) it’s not God who creates. It’s his loving wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence. She’s the one who piece-by-piece rebuilds the house, ergo creates the world from scratch. Even Javier Bardem’ character emphasizes that by saying that “she breathes life into this place”.
Since I mentioned Bardem’s portrayal of God, there’s plenty of things to say about him. In Aronofsky’s vision, God is a writer – he spends days on sweating his mind in order to create a revolutionary poem. It does ring a bell, as it sounds a lot like he’s working on the Ten Amendments, even though we never hear this particular concept in the film. The poem constitutes a vague point of self-realization for Bardem’s character though, on top of that it is also an excuse to refrain from supporting his wife.
Aronofsky explains the meaning of the poem by the cult following that “the writer” has and how his words changed people in a very direct manner. Whilst he is trying to focus, it’s his wife who slowly builds the house and takes care of the everyday routine to remain ongoing. Aronofsky’s provocative here, as he opposes to see God as the hardly working being. In fact, he paints God as self-indulging, and largely self-centered.
Biblical references in mother! (2017)
Once the film is really set in motion, Aronofsky applies more metaphors, further drawing inspirations form the Bible.
In order to celebrate his greatness, The Writer invites guests to his house.
From the moment first of them arrive – a couple played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer – the biblical references multiply. Harris and Pfeiffer represent a peculiar mixture of Sodomy allegory (they have sex in God’s house, right?), however they also might refer to Adam and Eve (being close to the God, but always craving more). Indeed, the latter seems more plausible because of how these two constantly complement The Writer. Additionally, their sons are obvious references to Cain and Abel.
Other symbols used in mother! (2017)
Once the house becomes crowded, Aronofsky turns it into a true warfare playground. Through a magnificent, fully immersive experience, the filmmaker follows riots, terrorism and class divisions, hunger of the poor ones and blind cult followings, all taking place inside the house that’s falling apart.
Aronofosky strongly criticizes pursuit after fame and short-sighted egocentrism, but also pinpoints the fault of this fallible design. In all of this mess, Aronofsky never forgets to remain orbiting around God’s figure. Once Jennifer Lawrence gives Bardem a baby, he uses it to strengthen his relationship with his followers and once they kill the child (an obvious reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ), then he tells his wife to forgive them for they did not want this to happen.
But all of this is pretty simple to understand. What is way more confusing, is actually grasping “what the hell did this guy want to say by all this mess?”. Indeed, it’s frustrating how vapid, chaotic and razzle-dazzled “mother!” becomes over time.
The meaning of chaos, fire and being reborn in mother! (2017)
Take this for example – fire is a symbol of chaos, right? It destroys everything, turning it into ash and smoke. When we see riots in the streets, there’s always fire included. And all this mess leads to the final act of burning down the house, God’s house.
From chaos, the world is reborn.
But even more interesting is who rebuilds it. Lawrence’s character is blindly in love with her husband, obeying his orders, however firmly she tries to stand by her opinions. He decides to invite people to his kingdom, although it creates distance between the two of them. He wants attention, he needs to “be” for his followers and not for him.
In a way, it is a very disturbing contradiction to the Christian values, which are built on the grounds of family ties. In mother! (2017), God could be understood as duplicitous, as if he himself craves the spotlight at all costs. Furthermore, he hurts his wife – even if doing it subconsciously. She’s often left to struggle on her own, faltering among strangers in her own house.
mother! (2017) analysis – Aronofsky’s take on the ultimate sacrifice
Even more compelling is the answer to the most unimaginable part of the Holy Bible. Why would a father allow his son to be a martyr, patiently observing his slow and painful death? As to my understanding, Aronofsky claims that God never had love for the child in the first place (contradicting the words of the Holy Bible). It’s portrayed in the scene when he allows the crowd to hold the newborn, but also even earlier. He doesn’t want to take care of his wife, because he is more interested in people bringing gifts for them. And her instinct – to protect the child at all costs – is much more human than Bardem’s misplaced sense of higher values.
It’s most powerful in one of the last scenes, where the perpetum mobile is revealed – God needs to create and allow it to be destroyed in order to make the circle of life close itself. At the cost of a loving wife and their child.
Hence, mother! (2017) is a tale about rejection in a very symbolical way. About power that is abused, but without evil intentions to do so. It’s also a film that tries to confront some of the Bible’s most compelling truths and stories.
All in all, mother! (2017) could be – and probably was – a topic for countless discussions. Although the film was messy, sometimes terribly acted (I’m looking at you Jennifer Lawrence), it possessed a unique artistry on a more “meta” level. I dare to say that all the acclaim that this film has garnered (f*** the Razzies) should encourage Aronofsky to direct even bolder, more metaphorical and surreal pictures. “mother!” has reached an edge at points, but there still space for more and who could it explore if not Darren Arronofsky?
What did you think of mother! (2017)? What are your theories and how did you understand the movie? Comment below!
Read more film essays by Cultural Hater:
- The Lighthouse (2019) Movie Explained – symbolism and meaning
- Parasite (2019) Movie – all the Easter eggs and hidden details
- Luz (2018) – a German Indie Gem Analysis