Mother!: A Metaphor Within A Film Within A Metaphor

Hmm.

Umm.

Yup.

Soooooo.

I remember thinking at the very beginning of the film that things were happening very quickly… That’s not a problem in and of itself, but I just knew it meant it was either going to be a pretty anticlimactic plot if the pace didn’t pick up to an intense level during the climax of the film, or that it was about to be a WILD two hours.

The latter was correct. At least, more correct? I just want to start by saying I love that this film exists… but I honestly don’t know what I feel about it. I would also like to start by saying that this review probably won’t do it justice, but read on if you so wish. And it’s long, so I’m kind of sorry but there’s just so much to say…

WOWZA.

I can’t write a review without throwing some spoilers in simply because the nature of the film, so go watch it now and then come back and read this (and comment your thoughts because holy moly would I love to hear what other peeps have to say about this).

PLOT SYNOPSIS:

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, the basic plot (that you understand from even just the trailer because they literally couldn’t give anything else away), is really just that Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mother, lives with her husband, a famous poet (only referred to as Him) played by Javier Bardem, in a huge house she’s been slowly rebuilding in the middle of nowhere. We’re led to believe the house was his family’s that burned down years ago, and Mother has pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up.

Pretty soon, an unexpected guest arrives at the house, played by Ed Harris. He gets on with her husband, but Mother is a bit put off by him. This is when we’re introduced to how odd the poet is with other people… he loves the attention, and doesn’t seem to view the oddness the same as Mother, so then we start asking which one of them is right…?

The next unannounced guest is the first guest’s wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She has a somewhat strange character arc of being overly friendly with Mother, to eventually being really stand-offish and bitchy. She’s a very forward character, almost like she doesn’t have a social filter, so even more strangeness ensues. The couple’s sons, played by Brian and Domhnall Gleeson, show up also unannounced, and chaos breaks out; the younger son accidentally murders the older son – “wait, where did this come from??” Yeah, same here… – and everyone leaves Mother alone in the house to rush him to the hospital.

At this point it’s probably important to mention that the house appears to be somewhat alive, I suppose. Mother has these moments where she puts her hand on a wall and sees a heart beating… and also some other weird things that make you think maybe just maybe the house is alive. Or something.

So this is where things pick up a bit. The poet apparently gave the guests permission to have a memorial for their dead son, so a bunch of random people start arriving to the house. But the people are weird. Everything is just weird. Almost like Mother is paranoid, but WHO KNOWS. So things escalate, Mother freaks out (honestly I would too if those assholes didn’t stop sitting on my sink that’s not braced yet), and everyone finally leaves.

Moving onward, Mother gets pregnant, we jump forward in time, and HANG ON TO YOUR ARMRESTS BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT TO BE A BUMPY RIDE. I would probably have to watch this movie at least 100 times to be able to explain everything that happens during this scene (I can only imagine how much fun it was to write this), but it starts with more unexpected gusts arriving for autographs for the poet’s new amazing work.

Remember the creepy image of people crowding the huge-ass lawn from the trailer? Fans. Very dedicated fans, mind you. Well Mother doesn’t like this too much, and then honestly just go watch the movie because it is the most overwhelming and mind boggling sequence I have seen in a looooooong time. So much happens. SO MUCH. The house is destroyed 20 times over, then she gives birth to her baby and there’s a moment of peace, and then HELLO back to the chaos and just WHAT IS HAPPENING. Finally the house burns down and her lovely husband resets time, apparently? And we kind of rewind and wake up to the same scene from the beginning of the film, except kind of not?

Hmm. Okay.

MY THOUGHTS:

So before I get into what on earth this could all mean (pun intended (it’ll make sense in a second)), here’s a few other thoughts I have on the film.

It’s really close to J-law the whole time. And by that I mean lots of closeups and tracking shots and the whole film is from her perspective yada yada. It’s a little disconcerting at times, but totally necessary and appropriate for the tone and direction of the plot. It made me a bit claustrophobic in a good way.

That house is super cool and I would love to live there, or even just be an unannounced guest for the night. Or use it for a set, SHOUT OUT TO *deep breath* Production Designer Phillip Messina, Art Directors Isabella Guay and Deborah Jensen, and Set Decorators Larry Dias and Martine Kazemirchuk.

This is technically a horror film… but it’s definitely not your traditional horror film. Most films fall within a genre because they exhibit certain characteristics of said genre, but Mother! feels more like a series of progressively disturbing surrealistic paintings come to life [on screen] than a film belonging to any genre.

There are definitely still some things I don’t understand, but that’s okay. I’ll have to watch it again, have some more conversations, and perhaps never understand everything completely.

All the performances were phenomenal. A++. Very appropriate for the characters they were portraying!

The score, and cinematography, and editing, and sound design, and production design, and set design, and direction, and writing, and everything else were also phenomenal. It’s entirely confusing as fuck, but in a good way – not the confusing that’s just annoying because the writing sucks and there are holes in the plot. This film is so far from any traditional story structure that the more confusing it is, the better… I think? It gets you thinking, and gets the world thinking. #art

And that’s why people hate it.

THEORIES:

All art is subject to a viewers’ interpretation, to some extent. Well this is clearly a film that needs some interpreting… or A LOT of interpreting. I think that’s why a lot of people may not have been too keen on Mother!

 *Stops, reminds self that I went to film school but am not an asshole, check the slogan*

Not everyone who watches a movie wants it be more work for their brain than trying to solve a Rubik’s cube behind their back, so I get it. I personally love films that are a cluster-fuck of mental exercises, metaphorical, and able to be interpreted in more than one way.

One thought I had during the film that I discarded towards the end for various reasons was that Mother was suffering from some mental disorder that warped her view of the world and how she approached social interactions. I love me some psychological thrillers, so I was like, “yes, this must be it!” It’s definitely a theory that could hold up until possibly the middle of the third act, but there’s a few things that wouldn’t fall into place at the end.

While chatting – aka flapping our mouths completely at a loss for words – with a few of the other beloved Filmsmiths right after viewing this, some other theories I like to indulge in involve religious commentary and commentary on the creative process. I can definitely see the religious commentary weaved in there, and we will get back to that point. But I also think an interpretation can yield some compelling reasons to look at it as a commentary on the creative process and/or the relationships involved with and effected by creatives/the creative process (as Aronofsky has done in other films, such as Black Swan). The creative process is polarizing, chaotic, reliant on collaboration yet potentially destructive to relationships, isolating, raw, personal, motivated and inspired by many different things, and most often striving to create something that means more than just its face value. You only half know what you’re doing the whole time you’re creating, and let’s be honest, I only half knew what was happening this entire film… or less.

*Shrugs shoulders*

Being a woman, I love the idea that Mother! is a metaphor for what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world… but I also kind of don’t like that because it’s author credit is given to a man… which is some pretty meta commentary on how even when women seem like they’re in charge THERE’S ALWAYS A GOSH DANG MAN PULLING AT LEAST A FEW STRINGS. At the same time, I don’t hate this interpretation because one could also argue that an actor doesn’t have to go through the experiences their character does in order to perform well, so a male director could make a great feminist film without, you know, being a woman. Reasons I like this theory include everything from the surface level way everyone treats her as a women who’s inferior to her husband, to the mysterious yellow drink that calms her down during her “panic attacks,” (which could represent how society puts a lot of pressure on women to always appear like everything is A-okay and just be a pretty face), to the experience and expectation of motherhood, etc.

I’m sure there are other theories floating around, but the last one I’ll discuss is the intentions of Aronofsky himself. We can debate all day whether the artist’s intentions behind the work should be considered in an interpretation, but HALLO, I’m writing this review and I think it’s important to at least understand, so we’s gonna talks about it.

Mother = Mother Earth. House = Earth. The Poet/husband/Him = God. Hostile people and bizarre, destructive chaos = Hostile people and bizarre, destructive chaos. Oh, WHAT another film commenting on our role in climate change? That’s silly, since climate change isn’t real, right?

So this is technically a metaphor that includes both climate change and religious commentary. Basically Javier Bardem plays God, Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother Earth, and the house plays the earth that just gets utterly demolished by humans. To be honest, I don’t know enough about religious scripture to go into detail on who/what the other characters represent, but it’s certainly an interesting take on the relationship between religion, the earth, and humanity. Alternatively, you could take religion out of the main plot and focus just on a metaphor between humanity and this dying planet we call home and still dig really deep.

Now, with alllllllll of that being said, Mother! also gives me this feeling that it’s a movie about everything… that’s about nothing. I think we often get so caught up in our lives trying to find a reason and meaning behind everything, which is fun and important, but some things just are. It’s kind of a reminder that there’s not always an easy, clear- cut answer to everything.

And now I’m making a metaphor out of trying to figure out the metaphor of a film, so I’m going to go ahead and roll my eyes with you. Thanks for reading; I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this beautifully disturbing film.

 

Oh, yeah, my score. I’ll give it a 9.

Eliza McGowan-Stinski

I have been a barista for three years but don't drink coffee, probably have the world record for most texting/autocorrect mistakes ever made, and I don't talk to myself, I sing to myself. Sarcasm is my native language (being dramatic my second). I'm very passionate about writing and directing films, adventuring and exploring the world, leadership stuff, advocating for all things social progress-y, and just always striving to be a better human.

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