Mother! (2017): Mania or Masterpiece?
Mother! written and directed by Darren Aronofsky was singled out as one of the worst movies of 2017. Big names like Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer brought big audiences to the theater, but most people walked out in disturbed confusion. The trailer led audiences to believe it would be another award-winning psychological thriller, but ultimately failed in its attempt. Could it have just been bad marketing? Or was the limited plot giveaway’s a genius way of getting butts in seats to see a movie mass audiences otherwise wouldn’t? Aronofsky has always been a controversial filmmaker, but this movie may have pushed it over the edge.
If you’ve seen this movie, you’ll know why it isn’t for everyone, and if you haven’t, it’s not for the faint of heart, nor those who don’t appreciate the use of metaphor. You’re probably wondering why I am even writing about this movie after it has received such bad reviews, but that is because I think it is a masterpiece, and I want to make sense of some of the mania in this movie to prove to you why:
(I am going to use the names of the actors who portray the characters to make it a little easier to follow because they are never given character names.)
Mother! opens with a stark scene of a woman on fire, crying. A small glass structure is taken and put on a mantle while the house restores itself from the fire damage its endured. A new woman, Jennifer Lawrence, is laying on a bed and gets up to look for her husband. The camera follows her around the giant house, which is in the middle of nowhere. We meet her husband, Javier Bardem. It is just the two of them in this expansive house in which Jennifer Lawrence is constantly patching up or painting. As she works on the house, she can feel a heartbeat through the walls, thumping. Javier Bardem is a writer and the two of them are distant, mostly him pushing her advances away.
That night, someone knocks at the door, thinking their place is a Bed & Breakfast. Played by Ed Harris, he introduces himself as a surgeon and Javier welcomes him in. Jennifer is a little weary of this, but goes along as the doting housewife she is. Jennifer begins to have “episodes” when Ed arrives, where her vision is blurred and it is hard to breathe/hear. We soon find out that Ed is sick. He has a terrible cough in which he blames on a smoking habit, but that night, Jennifer comes upon Javier holding him over the toilet while he vomits. There is a quick shot of a severe wound on Ed’s back.
The next day Javier discusses with Ed about how he lost everything in a fire and Jennifer is trying to restore everything he once had. Another episode ensues and Jennifer sees the house decaying internally. Ed’s wife, Michelle Pfeiffer appears at the front door, making herself at home in the house. She is very sexual and very rude, making Jennifer uncomfortable. Javier welcomes her in without problem (like c’mon). Michelle and Ed talk about their two sons, asking Javier and Jennifer if they ever wanted kids. Jennifer does, but it is obvious Javier does not. He barely touches Jennifer.
Michelle pries into Jennifer’s sex life and invades Javier’s office where no one is allowed to be. Soon enough, Jennifer happens upon Ed’s bag while she is cleaning up after the couple and finds a picture of Javier in there. It freaks her out, but Javier is calm about it, claiming Ed is just a dying fan, so they should be accommodating to them.
Once again, Ed and Michelle overstep and barge into Javier’s office, taking his precious glass piece off the mantle and drop it which shatters into many pieces. Javier screams at them and picks up the glass shards, crushing them in his hands (we’ve got some anger issues here). Javier boards up his office and Jennifer wants to kick them out, but Javier refuses. Just in time, Ed and Michelle’s sons show up in a raging fight. They begin throwing things and beating on each other. Eventually, the fight gets out of hand and one brother kills the other (this isn’t even the craziest part). Javier, Ed, and Michelle rush the son who is dying to the hospital, while the other disappears. Jennifer is left to clean up the mess alone. She notices a stain on the wood flooring and pokes it and it disintegrates into the basement. She once again sees the heart of the house and this time it is dying.
Javier soon returns and people begin to fill the house for a funeral. Not just Ed and Michelle, but many family members. Jennifer is trying to understand why Javier is letting all of these people in, but more and more impose, beginning to take things and make themselves at home. Jennifer is trying to do damage control, when a couple of people sit on the sink, breaking it causing for mass amounts of water to pour everywhere. Jennifer freaks out and banishes everyone from the house.
She confronts Javier, yelling at him for allowing this and yelling at him for not wanting a baby with her. They have an intense fight and an even more intense love scene. She wakes up the next morning and immediately knows she is pregnant. Javier becomes inspired to write again after a long period of not finding the need to. They have a period of bliss for about nine months.
Jennifer is about to pop out a child and Javier creates “The” poem. An intensely beautiful work of art, so much so that everyone loves it. Fans of his begin to swarm the house, asking for a picture or an autograph, during a dinner Jennifer prepared. The obsessed fans start to get crazier and crazier, pushing themselves inside their home. Javier is loving it. They are lining up just to meet him and start stealing stuff around the house to have a part of him. Jennifer is freaking out trying to calm the masses but it is getting out of hand. Fights, mobs, and an eventual war zone (you heard me right) breaks out in their living room, just as Jennifer goes into labor. She crawls through the rubble, finding Javier who brings her into his office. They are finally alone and she has a baby boy. Outside of the room settles, but Jennifer won’t let him touch the baby because she no longer trusts him. Javier steals his son out of her arms when she accidentally falls asleep. Javier sacrifices the baby to the crowd, who kill it and eat it (deeply disturbing scene). Jennifer fights her way through, but cannot save her son. She tries to kill everyone around her, but is overpowered and brutally beat up. She feels through the floor that the heart of the house is dead. Jennifer makes her way to the basement, which is covered in shrines for Javier, and sets the house on fire. There is a big explosion and Jennifer is burned, but still alive. An untouched Javier picks up her body, carrying it upstairs to his office. He shoves his hand into her chest and takes out her heart, which is now glass, killing her. Javier puts the glass heart on the mantle where the previous one was before and the house begins to change back to how it was, restarting the cycle. A new woman is laying on the bed and turns around to look for Javier. The end.
Well that was a mouthful.
And yes, I sat in the theater for about ten minutes after the credits with my jaw still on the ground. The last half of the movie is a nonstop “WTF” that just never gets better for our protagonist, nor us, the audience.
Before we dive into a lot of the themes of this movie I want to disclaim at the top that I don’t necessarily agree with the statements Aronofsky is making, but that’s why its art. You don’t have to agree with the meaning to like and/or appreciate the medium. I’ve watched this movie twice, gathering an initial conceit upon the first watching, and two other readings of this movie on the second.
Okay, here we go, stick with me kids:
The entire movie is a metaphor. Nothing that happens within the movie are we to take as literal action. And by everything…I mean everything. Even the house that they live in.
The first and greatest metaphor that I got from a first time watch was the metaphor for God and Creationism. This also seems to be the most obvious read of the movie.
Let’s set the characters:
Javier Bardem = God, Creator
Jennifer Lawrence/The House = Mother Earth, initial creation
Ed Harris = Adam
Michelle Pfeiffer = Eve
Ed & Michelle’s sons = Cain and Abel
Javier & Jennifer’s son = Jesus
Javier is a creator. He is a writer, but is currently uninspired and unsatisfied with his work. Jennifer sees this and wants to help him. She loves him and caters to him, but he just uses her up and doesn’t see that she is willing to give him everything, or maybe he just doesn’t care. Jennifer, who is mother Earth, which is also the house, is big and open and continuously trying to better itself. Mother wants to live in harmony, solely with God, but will always bend to the will of him.
In God’s unease, he invites the Adam character to join into the Earth. Adam is friendly and a big fan of God, which God loves about Adam. Mother is thrown off, but not yet alarmed by Adam or God’s behavior. Adam is also dying, so God helps him. And when Mother catches them together she sees a severe injury on his back looking like a rib was just removed. Enter in Eve.
She is promiscuous and makes herself a home in a place that isn’t hers. Adam and Eve are having sex openly and God doesn’t care that they are disrupting the house. Until of course, they break the glass heart, the one thing they were not supposed to touch. Forbidden fruit, anyone?
After this, their sons come into Earth, quarreling and threatening each other much like Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel both in the Bible and in this movie over greed or jealously—we aren’t explicitly told—and Cain disappears.
This turn of events leads into more people to enter Earth. They keep coming in and Mother feels that it’s literally destroying the house and in turn, herself. The house is being populated rapidly and these people keep touching things that are not theirs, causing the sink to break and a flood to come into the house, which makes Mother exodus everyone out.
Mother and God are alone again, the earth has been flushed out. Mother is angry with God for abusing her and all that she gave him. All she wants is to bare new form of life with him and coexist as a family. God gives in and gives her a child. In those months of pregnancy, God hits a creative high and finds inspiration again. He gives birth to an immaculate creation of work while Mother is about to do the same with their child.
God puts his work into the world and the masses come to get a piece of him because they adore him. Mother is confused because all she wants is a peaceful home, but God keeps inviting these greedy, selfish people inside. This awful humanity destroys the good things of the Earth and takes advantage of God’s open door and Mother’s generosity. Mother has the baby amid the chaos. The Son of God and Earth. God takes the child from her arms and sacrifices him to the people, who “just wanted a piece of him” and they quite literally take his body and eat.
“We can’t let him die for nothing. Maybe what happened could change everything, everyone.” – Javier Bardem’s Character in Mother! talking about the killing of their son. 
Mother Earth is beaten too far to return to normal and she destroys herself. God does not die, but he carries Mother’s body, taking her heart, and creates a new world, letting life repeat itself again. Mother asks him, “what are you?” He responds with “I am I.” He is God, he is everything, he is the beginning and the end, he is creator.
“Where are you taking me?” – Jennifer Lawrences character in Mother!
“To the beginning.” – Javier Bardem’s character in Mother!
It’s heavy, but Aronofsky essentially paints God as a narcissistic, controlling maniac who does not value the very Earth He’s created. He values being idolized and loved more than the original creation he’s made.
A second reading of this movie can be translated into an Artist and Muse relationship. Creator and creation. Javier is the artist and Jennifer is the muse, at least initially. She worships him, she is always trying to make his life better, but she wants to keep it exclusive to each other.
It’s evident that the creator adores her, but he values fame and recognition more. When he is uninspired, his muse is not enough anymore. She continues to try to inspire him and fix the house, but he does not care. He is finally happy when a fan of his comes into their home. This is what he thrives off of—being idolized. So much so, that he continues to invite strangers into his home, so that he is the center of their affection.
But their affection is superficial. They want a piece of him, but they do not value the true art of his work, which is why the need and number of people around the creator grows until it becomes destructive. They elevate him as a god (this time with a lowercase g), meanwhile the real beauty comes from the muse. This destruction does not kill the creator but rather the creation, because the creator will just create again, finding a new muse to eventually destroy (the same way he does his own child). In this movie, the muse is physically destroyed, but I think what Aronofsky is trying to say is that by using someone as a muse, you will inevitably destroy them because they become who you see them as, not who they truly are. It sells the muse short. This might even be a little self-reflection Aronofsky is putting into his work since he is said to see many of his lead actresses as muses (but that’s more for a gossip magazine than this).
“Nothing is ever enough, I couldn’t create if it was.” – Javier Bardem’s character in Mother!
The last and final reading I got from this film was a metaphor for climate change and the human race.
Mother earth is the house and by extension, Jennifer. She loves the earth and helps it, touching it up here and there. She does not want anyone else to graze the earth because it is perfect as is. But Javier welcomes humanity to it and humanity just takes advantage of all the things it offers, leading to its demise, which in turn kills humanity as well. The earth is going to die if we keep taking its resources, abusing its land, and plotting wars with each other.
“I have nothing left to give.” – Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Mother!
Now, painting God as a sadistic egomaniac does not sit well with most audiences and I do not blame them. Again, I don’t agree with Aronofsky’s ideologies of this movie but that does not mean it is a bad movie. I believe this movie is a masterpiece. This movie affected and disturbed me deeply, both times I’ve seen it. This movie moves you and makes you think a little bit harder about what is actually going on.
I think this is something that really deterred audiences because they came in expecting to watch a creepy thriller and be scared, but ultimately left uncomfortable and confused. This is partially because of bad marketing and partially due to audiences not being aware of the arthouse style of movies Aronofsky is famous for making. Films like Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010) have stayed with audiences for years in either positive or negative ways, both of which Aronofsky has directed. It should be no surprise Mother! was going to do the same.
I am a strong believer in art moving an audience in one way or another. I don’t think this movie is for everyone but I do believe this movie is phenomenal. The fact that the metaphor was so carefully placed throughout every fiber of this movie, even the house being constructed as a circle like time is portrayed, shows the genius of this filmmaker. You don’t have to agree with it or even like it, but I do think this movie is worth conversing about and I don’t think it got enough credit for the originality it produced.
 Aronofsky, Darren, director. Mother! Paramount Pictures, 2017.
 All photos were taken from Google Images.