Mother by Aronofsky Explained Discussed Debated
I literally just walked out of the theater. Mind. Blown. And since it is 1am right now, and I have a flight in just … (yes, this is me excusing right now, deal with it. This is my HOBBY after all) 2.5 hours. So, with that said, and since I absolutely have to start talking to you about this movie, I am going to push my initial, unvarnished thoughts and over the next couple days I will dial these thoughts in as we write them together! hahah.
So alright – I knew literally nothing. Zero things about this movie before I walked into it. I knew about the poster – that Jennifer Lawrence was in it… and I knew that it was going to be a wrecking ball of the mind. There were a couple things that tipped me off that this was going to be a wild ride. The first being the director –Darren Aronofsky. Don’t know him? Requiem for a dream? Pi? Black Swan? Yeah, he literally has no other gear but ‘wrecking ball’.
But you don’t need much more than this poster right here to tell you that it’s going to be jacked up. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, maybe you should watch this trailer? I personally wouldn’t. I’d walk in blind and I’d let this movie T-bone you in the middle of the intersection. But that’s just me.
Alright, so from here on out, we are diving head first into this thing. Don’t even scroll down… like even a little bit. Also, it’s in all kinds of draft mode right now.
Mother! Movie Outline Explained
There is so much happening in this movie even though it is a minimalist’s dream. There is no way I could do this movie justice in an outline. But so that we are sort of on the same page as to what actually happened, I’ve taken a stab at it anyway. If you see something out of order, or just wrong, let me know via email or in the comments. I’ll see if I can get it sorted out. But after only one viewing I think I have the high level details pretty well sorted out.
- Movie kicks off with fire and carnage
- We see “Him” place the diamond/heart on pedestal
- The charring and carnage begins to magically disappear
- Jennifer Lawrence/Mother, snaps awake wondering where Him is
- We learn “Him” is having a hard time getting ideas for writing
- Mother is fully concentrating on renovating the house
- Eventually “Man” arrives looking for a place to stay
- Against Mother’s wishes he stays. But they are unclear on what he really wants
- Soon “Woman” arrives and was looking for “Man”
- And next thing I know, Woman is getting all up in Mother’s junk
- They are both staying for a while it would appear
- Woman and Man end up breaking the glass heart in Him’s office
- Cain – sorry, I mean, “Older Son” arrives looking for parents
- Younger son – you can call him Abel, I will soon – arrives distraught about the will
- 30 seconds later, Cain is dead via doorknob to head
- Him, Woman, Man, and Abel, rush off to hospital
- Mother begins discovering strange things about the house… is it alive?
- Mother finds doors unlocked, and apparently Cain is back?
- Him comes back, and informs Mother that he died
- Then huge numbers of people start showing up to mourn
- Eventually the chaos is too much, they break the sink and Mother snaps and throws everyone out
- Mother and Him make love – and Mother knows that she is pregnant.
- Him goes nuts writing finally – Mother dumps out her drugs
- Months later, the house is ready, baby is almost here.
- Then fans begin arriving in droves, slowly at first, then more and more
- The fans turn into spiritual apostles
- The fans/spiritualists form factions and counter factions
- War, all out war breaks out, military men on ropes coming in through windows
- Some are rabidly excited and begin stealing parts of the house to say that they were there
- The fans go completely crazy and Mother escapes up to room to give birth
- A boy is born – the messiah
- Everyone goes nuts, but Mother wont hand him over.
- But eventually she falls asleep and Him takes the boy
- Mother completely goes nuts and the boy is lost to the crowd
- And in the jostling the baby is killed
- Then the baby is torn apart and followers are eating him like the last supper?
- Mother goes ape and starts killing everyone she can
- Then Mother heads downstairs and begins releasing oil – lights it on fire
- Everything explodes, Mother is scorched
- Him carries her back towards the house
- They talk, and he says that he could never turn away the fans and the adulation
- But Mother still loves him deep inside her heart
- Him takes her heart
- Deep inside the ash and charred remnants, is a glass diamond crystal
- Him places it back on the mantel, and everything is restored
- Up sits a new Mother… that isn’t Jennifer Lawrence…
- Roll Credits
But What Happened in Mother! Explain It!
As far as movies go, this is doctoral level entertainment. This is not easy and obvious movie watching … it definitely isn’t your standard Hollywood fare. First, let me tell you… you are in the land of Allegory. (Maybe.) You are in the land of stories and myths. (Maybe.) So that should take some of the stress off ok? (Maybe.) No but seriously… nothing in this movie literally happened. (Well, almost nothing that is.) See, I can’t even give you any real reassurances about anything that happened. I’m really trying though. I promise. I will give you several theories that you can work through on your own as options, so there’s that.
Mother! Theory #1 – Literal Mind Job
This is possibly the dumbest theories I have ever put pen to paper. But maybe some of you want to hear this one discussed a bit? And that is that this theory literally happened as we saw it on the screen. (That could possibly offend some people I guess… sorry? I think?) But in this theory we are assuming that Him is real. Mother is real. They have secluded themselves to the country side somewhere to get away from everything. He’s trying to write… and she’s just trying to create a haven for them both.
Literal Mind Job Theory Problems
The problem with the Literal Mind Job theory are many – because absolutely nothing beyond this makes any sense. What’s with the throbbing/bleeding house? The crystal? Mother’s heart? The cavalcade of people dismantling the house? No. This is not a literal movie. You need to let go of that right now. Have you stood in front of a modernist piece of art recently? Maybe you have a hint of something there to go on? But otherwise you have to make your own path? Right. I’m really sorry, but you have inadvertently stumbled into the land of figments of the imagination, allegories and allusions.
Mother! Theory #2 – A Freudian View
Ok look. I couldn’t stand Freud in college and really never got into his writings, even on a good day. But This is a pretty obvious possibility, even from a Freudian pedant like myself. But come on, this movie has both the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex written all over them. Maybe not implicitly through children specifically, but we see Mother competing with Him for pretty much everyone’s attention at all times. Visitors, fans, etc. More importantly is the idea of the Ego and this internal war for the balance of pleasure and pain. Could it be that this is indicative of their relationship maybe? They are the competing forces inside Him? Fighting for balance and homeostasis?
The Freudian Theory Problems
Let me just admit it here and now that I am so far out of my depth on this one, I’m not going to push it any further. Could it be that Him is Ying and Mother is Yang. It could possibly be that it could be more of a Taoist view of the self than that of Freud. But either explanation doesn’t account for the wild swings of content/topics/ideas that are thrown at us. Doesn’t seem to close all the gaps in our understanding of this movie.
Mother! Theory #3 – The Muse Inspiration Theory
The most obvious theory that struck me throughout the watching of the movie, and just continued reaffirming itself, was this one. The idea of the Muse. Mother isn’t a literal mother at all, but rather, the muse of creation. The inspiration of man’s creation. Apparently this idea goes all the way back to Greek and Roman mythology… the 9 Muses were daughters of Zeus and the offspring of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. Others have even seen the muse originally as Gaia or Mother Earth… which, was a very early goddess worshipped at Delphi before it was dedicated to Apollo. The muses were embodiments and sponsors of music, science, geography, math, philosophy, drama and most importantly … art.
But how does this Muse theory correlate with the actual movie? Well, Mother is Him’s creative muse. It is through her that he gets his ideas and all his inspiration. When they are adrift and apart, his writing is stalled. But when they are conjoined and connected the ideas flow, and he cannot even get them all down they are coming so quickly. But!?!? What about the family? Man/Woman, the boys that kill each other? Well, I believe that one of the earliest stories is that of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. It is illustrative of inspiration and the germ of all story telling.
“Alright, I’ll give you that link, but then they leave and all manner of other crazy things happen!” I hear you shouting at your phone. Yes, but I think that this shift is the shift of the struggle between the real world and the world of the idea. For example, you have an idea for a book. You grapple with that book and struggle with it. But then you need to show it to your editor. You need to negotiate contract rights in order to get it published. You are embattled by the life outside the novel that you had in your mind and if you aren’t careful these cults that will rise up to take sides and take positions on your work will tear it to shreds. They will dogmatically tell other’s its meaning, they will attempt to take the idea as their own.
Mother! Theory #4 – Mother Earth Something Or Other
I didn’t actually think of this particular theory on my own… the night I watched Mother! I watched an interview with Jennifer Lawrence wherein she mentioned that her dad had watched with her during the premiere. And it was all awkward because she is occasionally going about sans bra, and she mentioned how it was because of, you know, Mother Earth or something. And that got me thinking…
So, if Mother! (fairly apt name for her character if it isn’t reflectant of Mother Earth) really is a physical embodiment of Mother Earth, then it really does change the whole entire movie from start to finish. The wars, the fight for her child, the pillaging of the house are all symbols of how we have raped and pillaged the planet through global conflict and desires for resources. It would be indicative of how we’ve thrashed the atmosphere and set about our own destruction. Right?
Mother Earth Theory Problems
Lots of things work with this particular scenario, but some do not. The details about Man and Woman, the kids? Regardless, how does their family struggle fall into all of this? And the death of Mother Earth, and the creation of a new Mother Earth at the end? How, what?!? No. It is a nice theory, but isn’t right. Doesn’t feel right to me anyway. Jennifer’s (we are on a first name basis, she and I) reference to Mother Earth could have been more of a generic reference. Mother Earth, creation, birth? Maybe she meant more of a meaning like this? Oh but wait…
Mother! Theory #5 – An Interrogation of God Theory
Ok, so I don’t think the Mother Earth view was right… in and of itself. But what if tweak it a bit, turn it inside out and see what we get? So, what if we were to look at some of the production materials and notice that absolutely everything is in lower case? And what about the credits… I noticed that they were all in lower case as well. Well, all but for one character’s name. Him. As a Christian, I prefer to capitalize the pronouns of God. He, Him, They, etc. And I believe this is telling us that the movie could possibly a discussion of the Hebrew/Christian God.
If that is the case, then what is the argument that the movie is making? God, interacts with Earth and His creation – Mother – in order to bring life to His creation. Right? We see the telling of the many stories of the Bible… we see Adam (Man) come to the earth to visit for a bit. And out of a rib in his side, we get Woman, or Eve. And from them come Cain and Abel… who are at war with one another over their father’s will… which, isn’t even a metaphor. It literally happened that way. And eventually Cain killed Abel… with a doorknob apparently. Then the family mourns and in come numerous people the funeral, which is the story of the expanse of the planet, and the people living on it.
Mother banishes the people from the home, and eventually Mother conceives of a child. Who is this child? A child that God takes and gives to the people that have invaded their home, who wage wars in this home, who have divided into sects and into religions of the poetry. Who could this child possibly be? Well, it really can’t be anyone other than a picture of Christ. Who was given to the people and killed. Not as a baby, but as an innocent. And then the religions and sects begin eating the child in a ritual and in a spiritual liturgy of sorts. Which flies Mother into a rage. And ultimately causes Mother to burn the whole house down. Which is a picture of the apocalyptic end of the earth that will come with fire as opposed to water. Right?
So if this is the theory that is being pushed by comments by Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky – then what is it actually trying to say? At this point I am on a limb and am not saying that I am right… just taking a guess here. Could it be that they are saying that our mythos and legend of God is the beginning and end of all violence and destruction on the earth? Possibly that because of our preoccupation with this Him, we have done all manner of evil in His name? including the rape and pillage of the planet, the pervasiveness of war, and man’s inhumanity to man, all begin and end here? That maybe if we were to just commune with Mother, give 100% of our attention to her, maybe much of this chaos would be thwarted? Am I on target here for maybe what Aronofsky could be saying? Seems to logically follow, regardless of whether I agree at all.
Interrogation of God Theory Problems
I can’t really call into question this theory if it is being carried by Aronofsky himself. I would argue, from a Christian perspective that this isn’t what the Bible purports. Regardless of whether you are a Christian or not, it just isn’t what the Bible says. That it was man that caused the rift with God and that it was in this sin that caused the pain and the chaos of the earth. That it is through Christ that we are reconciled to Him.
This theory sort of contends that God had a problem with gaining fans and growing his followers above all else. And that if God could have just communed with Mother Earth these issues would have been rectified. (Just extrapolating here! What do I know really!) But it would be interesting to find if there were a religion that states that there was a rift between God and Earth. Maybe animism, paganism, wicca, druidism might have an aspect of this hostility between Earth and God? But in reviewing each one I don’t see anything specifically called out in the lore of their stories. Naturally, in the idea of a love for earth and a disdain for God there might be fostered this animosity? But I don’t know of a religion that specifically speaks of this rift between God and Earth. And actually, each of these religions talk about man creating God out of a need for a social and cultural unity… but that He was a creation of man. At least in the writings of these religions back in the 1800’s anyway (referring to James Weir here.)
But when I stop and think about it, maybe Aronofsky is pitting God and Mother Earth and their stories against one another. Could it be that Mother is waging war against a selfish and prideful God that is only out for himself? Only out for the praise and adulation of others? As opposed to Mother, who is constantly seeking to cultivate and preserve the earth?
Mother! Theory #6 – The Day Six Theory
So, this is the second Jennifer Lawrence theory? The first I mentioned up above as the Mother Earth theory. But then I just read this:
“The movie was called “Day Six” [on set]: it could be about the creation and the end of the universe. You have the creation of man and women and then the corruption of man and woman and then overpopulation and creation of religion and so on and so forth.
“[Darren] is stripping out all nationality away from everyone — if something happens on the other side of the world, you don’t care. If it happens to your neighbor’s house, you care. If someone puts out a cigarette on your carpet, that matters to you. So what he’s saying is this is the entire world, This is our one earth. This is all our sink. So stop bouncing on it!”
If this is Day Six, (in reference to the seven days of creation) then what can we take away from that one detail? Then this is the end of the creation work. And just before God rested. In other words, the beginning of the world. And if this is a myopic vantage of the world and everyone in it… then what is our take away?
Maybe that Him and Mother Earth create life. Life begins, and procreates. Kills itself. Mourns. Spreads across the entire planet. Religions are created. Wars are instigated. And Mother earth is pummeled, battered and destroyed ultimately. And Him, well, he moves on… and takes as his canvass a new planet wherein he creates his new masterpiece only to see it destroyed all over again.
Is that close? And if it is, then what is our take away as a viewing audience? That we are raping and pillaging Earth with zero prejudice… ? That we were given life, and then we have used that freedom to burn to the ground the one that sustains us? Something like that?
Problems with Day Six Theory?
Other than the fact that it is as boring as all get out? Nothing really. I mean, really? That’s the message? It’s just the story of life? I don’t know, maybe some of you could explain to me why this is innovative or “Daring”? It sort of all snaps together and works. But seems to jumble several different religions together into a single thought? Or, is there a meld of Christianity and Wicca that I don’t know about? Anyway, not really a fan personally. But maybe that’s just me.
A Few Final Thoughts on Mother!
If you’ve hung out here much at all you know that I am a Christian. But I am very intrigued by the dialogue and the discussion of religion in our lives and of the different vantage points we all bring to the discussion. There is much in the news all of a sudden with Christians up in arms about this movie. I personally watched it assuming that Theory #3 was the correct lense through which to see this movie. I love the idea of the artist and the muse at war and the different women being the different stories being created and shared with the world. But Aronofsky seems to think differently? He is hinting that way anyway. But I don’t have a problem with his hate or disdain for God, if in fact that is what it is. I would just like to fully grasp what it is that he is saying and sharing. If Him is God. And Mother is earth. Maybe it is all about the confrontation between these two thoughts and ideas.
From a general viewing pleasure perspective, this movie is tough to watch. It’s confoundingly obtuse and difficult even to relate to. The cinematography is literally attached to Mother and even bolted on to her perspective. It’s the nearest thing to it being a found footage film without being one. Which gives the movie an incredibly claustrophobic feel, which only adds to the lack of clarity. I personally enjoy all manner of art house ideas and films regardless of whether they jive with my own world view or not. I enjoyed it solely because it really made me grapple with it and work to come to an understanding of what it was trying to say.
But what did you think of the film? Do you have another theory for how the movie could be understood? Personally think the number of ways to view it is nearly infinite. But that might just be me. Would love to hear your thoughts on the film.