This article was first published by The National Student on 28th September 2017
Mother! is the least “meh” movie of the year.
I still can’t believe a major studio released this ever, let alone in 2017. Is it flawed? Yes. It’s drowned in metaphor, and its structure is designed in full-on worship of “film-as-allegory”. The subtext doesn’t just become text, it becomes a sledgehammer that smashes you in the face, and proceeds to ask, “do you get it?”*.
The setting and protagonist are scant of mundane details, to a difficult-to-relate-to degree, were it not for the permanent POV of Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist. She and Javier Bardem’s ‘Him’ are not a warm and loving couple, but neither is it a screaming daggers relationship. The film is also not nearly as tense as it thinks it is, and as delightful as Michelle Pfeiffer’s scenes are, they’re hilariously awkward, not unnerving. Aronofsky doesn’t quite balance his Hitchcockian instincts with his jet-black streak of humour. And, the obscenely bananas finale is cruel beyond the exploitative. This is a horror movie for horror movies.
But boy oh boy, does Aronofsky commit to his metaphors. What emerges from this madman’s kitchen may be difficult to swallow, with way too many ingredients in the blender, but it delivers a mean kick. My perspective shifts whenever I consider those different ingredients, yet his central point seems clear: that at the intersection of (frequently toxic) male creativity, celebrity culture, environmental destruction, Christianity, and the enduring horror of unwelcome guests, is misogyny and mistreatment of women. Lawrence’s ‘mother’ is the story’s true power, yet at every turn her value is dismissed, desecrated, and ultimately destroyed.
mother isn’t just renovating the house, she creates it. It’s her crystal heart that restores colour, form, and life to its barren skeleton. Her life beats within its walls. It may be a work in progress, but from the sunshine walls to the unbraced sink, it’s hers. Her home, her protection, for His creative nourishment.
And it’s disrespected from the start, beyond Him who goes walking away “to be alone”; amongst the first things the quietly leering Man (Ed Harris) says, upon hearing that the renovation is her doing, is “You’re not just a pretty face!” Once the sink breaks, her “pretty” face drops the façade of civility, and she expels everyone from the house amidst the minor flood. Not Bardem’s auteur at all; Lawrence’s matriarch does this in righteous, unshackled rage. Stepping outside the film, everything I’ve read tells me it was Him who expels them.
Immediately following the flood, Him and mother explode into angry, passionate procreating, seeding new life and poetic stimulus. Six months later, the baby kicks and mother rushes to tell Father, except He’s preoccupied, standing at the edge of the world in awe: his poem is finished. When mother reads it, she experiences its meaning, and we see the house in full for the first time. Observing it in its devastation, He reaches out his hand and mother takes it. It’s the clearest expression of their solidarity and partnership in the film thus far, initiated by Him. Connection prompts their home’s rebirth, as a rush of green clearing away the ruin, forming from above, a breast-shaped world.
She declares His work “perfect”, ending in tears. Yet the above’s metaphorical vision is a lie. That will never be how the house is restored. What the poem has inspired in her is plainly a recasting of all her work and power as, at best, a joint venture – and people love it. When Kristen Wiig’s publicist/Herald arrives, mother is lauded as “The Inspiration!”. She provoked the poem about herself and her creation. But everyone in the house sees her as an interloper, preventing them from being touched by Him. The Herald eventually runs across mother again, and, recognising her existence as a threat, orders her execution.
And then there’s the baby.Her one finished work, to be adored by her forever, is consumed by a mob as a means of being closer to Him. Yes, His seed is vital to the boy’s existence, but so was mother to the poem, and no-one sees it as hers. Fundamentally it’s the same as mounting the crystal heart – the resulting product could not exist without Him, but the very literal energy that results is all hers. “I’m his mother!”, she roars when He asks to hold him. Her child is a profoundly private and personal creation; whilst she shared her joy with him, He was only concerned with the poem and the people.
Everything that mother experiences, from a loathsome pick-up artist to a ferocious beating, stems from misogyny, and most devastatingly of all, His blithe ignorance to all that she does.
Their relationship isn’t just “Proud Creator and Doting Wife”, nor “God and Mother Nature”. It’s God & God. Humanity’s masculine conception of the divine, and the divine femininity that such a conception wilfully ignores. That’s not to suggest that the archetypically submissive behaviour of the latter is to be idolised – frequently in the text, mankind disregards mother’s clearly expressed desires, her fury grows by her rightful divinity being invalidated.
Their (singular) power is divided into two genders, and the male counterpart of this cycle is the dominant creative inviting love and sharing affection. The people love Him, as mother gives all she has: her body into the house; her love to the work she does for Him; her spirit through the poem; her soul in her son; finally, her heart, to start it all over again. For those who take, She will never be enough – Her power will not be credited, and they will replace her in search of someone else.
*If you’re reading this, I have become this sledgehammer and I am not sorry.