Writer/director Darren Aronofsky's new film, Mother!, has left audiences sickened, revolted, and headed for the exits with visions of refunds dancing in their heads. Why? We'll get to that. Suffice to say, Aronofsky's latest isn't an easy watch, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.
Everything in Mother! means something else. Specifically, it's a modern allegory for the Bible. Like the Bible, Aronofsky's film is unbelievable, full of abstract symbolism, and unrepentantly violent. Javier Bardem plays a character called Him with a capital "H." He represents God. Mother, whom Him creates in the film's first moments, is the Virgin Mary and also Mother Earth. Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother and, as the Earth does, tolerates all of mankind's unholy wickedness.
What follows is Aronofsky's version of the creation of mankind. Alone in their wonderful house, Him and Mother are soon visited by Man (Ed Harris), a stranger who rudely requests a room. Worried, but too polite to decline, Mother lets him inside and he's soon shown vomiting in the bathroom. Man reveals an injury to his rib cage which Him attempts to hide. Man represents Adam in the Garden of Eden. His rib wound, well, hopefully you recognize that reference.
Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives in the next scene and she and Man eventually make their way into Him's office, which is forbidden. Man and Woman break a crystal inside the office and are exiled for it. This represents Adam and Eve in the Garden. The crystal is the apple, and breaking it represents original sin. Cast out of the office, they're symbolically cast out of Eden. Man and Woman are next seen having sex, indulging in the flesh and completing their falls from grace.
More biblical references follow. Man and Woman's sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) arrive and argue over their father's will. One kills the other, representing Cain and Abel. More visitors arrive for the brother's wake, but the people are sent packing when they break the bathroom sink and the house floods, representing the Flood Myth.
Him and Mother force everyone out of their house and have sex at this point. The next morning, Mother announces she's pregnant and Him is inspired. Him is a poet and his new vision is more beautiful than anything Mother has seen before. However, this breakthrough comes at a cost. Him's followers, or "fans," flood the house and overwhelm everything, including the very pregnant Mother.
Him takes Mother into his office where she gives birth. Like the Virgin Mary, her son is the Son of God and she witnesses the folly of man in a vision before the procedure. Clamoring for Him, the followers start stealing household objects to obtain a piece of his soul. The newborn is not exempt. The baby is stolen away into the crowd, killed, and eventually cannibalized at an altar while Mother hopelessly looks on. She is assaulted as well, her clothes torn off before she escapes to the basement where she lights the entire place on fire.
Aronofsky's biblical vision is this: Mankind's nature is sinful. Handed the Earth, they abuse her and only think of their own pleasures. Handed the Son of God, a pure innocent, mankind kills and devours it (communion?). How does Mother react? She uses her own "blood" i.e. oil to ignite a fire that destroys everyone.
The film ends with a rebirth. Mother is badly burned in the fire and Him reaches into her chest and removes her heart. She then turns to ash, but the heart becomes a new crystal. Him places the crystal in its holder and the house returns to its pristine shape. Plus, another young woman wakes up in bed — a new Mother. God seems to be trying again.
Does Aronofsky believe mankind is simply an experiment? Are we placed on the earth by God in an effort to prove our worth? Is it only a matter of time before we destroy our Mother Earth and God is forced to try again?
Aronofsky has always explored these heady themes in his work. Frankly, if you went to see Mother! without knowing who the director was, then you deserve to be shocked back out into the street. This ain't no cookie cutter Marvel filmmaker. Aronofsky is a dedicated atheist director who's always pushed the envelope. His film, The Fountain, explores immortality through lifetimes and wonders if love is the one immortal truth. His 2014 film, Noah, ambitiously recreates the Flood Myth and explores the biblical themes of righteousness and judgment, as well as creation itself.
Similarly, Aronofsky has never shied away from displaying the dark side of human nature in his work. Requiem for a Dream is an up-close and personal look at addiction and the lengths people will go to feed it. Black Swan is a journey into the heart of darkness as a ballerina slowly loses her mind while competing for a lead role. The filmmaker has a practical view of people, and the world, and is ultimately interested in displaying truth onscreen.
What's the truth in Mother!? Man is wicked. At least, that's what Aronofsky believes and it's pretty tough to argue the point considering our history of killing one another (mostly in God's name). Throw in the included environmental metaphors, and it's not hard to connect the dots. Man is wicked and, oh by the way, destroying the earth.
The more pertinent question, therefore, isn't whether or not man is inherently wicked. That's been established. It's who is responsible? And the answer seems to be: God. If man is wicked and God created us, doesn't that make him wicked also? Can God be wicked? Can He have feelings? If not, perhaps the question changes to something else: Does God exist at all? If He doesn't, then where does our inherent sinfulness come from?
Admittedly, this is a lot to take. It's especially a lot to take if you were just looking for a fun day at the movies and ended up watching an infanticide. Mother! is a unique work in that it's a pure art film in the guise of a popular thriller. The public should be forgiven for thinking the new Jennifer Lawrence movie looks crazy, but fun crazy. You never saw Julia Roberts in movies like this during the '90s. People are up in arms over Mother! because it doesn't conform to what they think movies should be. And there's always been a conservative backlash about controversial films in America. Mother! is shocking, no doubt, but it's hardly the first shocking movie to hit theaters in this country.