mother! – A Circus of Chaos, or Auteurism at Its Finest?

mother! Review

Runtime: 121mins | Director: Darren Aronofsky | Rating: 4 Stars

Starting a review with a quote from Buddha seems pretentious, but I’m going to do it anyway – “Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” This is certainly true of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film mother!, and whilst it may be a challenging watch, striving on with diligence is apt advice.

For anyone who has even remotely followed the reception of this film, you’ll be aware that it has been met with an incredibly mixed response - Some have labeled it fantastic, whilst others have absolutely hated it which was most notably reflected in the film receiving an F from CinemaScore. I, however, would ask you watch it for yourself and make your own mind up. I went in not knowing what to make of it – was it simply going to be pretentious nonsense that only critics would love, or would it be a film that required some effort on your part to watch? I found it to be the latter. Aronofsky is a notoriously quirky director and I don’t think any of his films are particularly ‘easy’ to watch (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream are other examples of his work), therefore it seems to me naïve of audiences who slated it to assume it would be simple viewing, unless they were unfamiliar with his previous work.

The film follows the story of the unnamed and appropriately titled Mother who lives with her husband (Him). Whilst Him, who’s a poet, wrestles with writer’s block, Mother is renovating their isolated American home. Out of the blue, a visitor appears at their house after mistaking it for a B&B and ends up staying with them despite Mother’s apparent unease at the idea. Soon after, the visitor’s wife arrives too and their stay is extended which leads to a decline in Mother and Him’s marriage and throws their previously mundane yet enjoyable life into utter despair.


The plot develops when the two visitor’s sons arrive at their house and fight over their father’s will which leads one of them to murder the other. Mother is obviously distraught by this and spends hours attempting to clean up the blood which has soaked into the floorboards, whilst Him rushes the fatally wounded son to hospital. Whilst there, the son dies and Him invites the family and friends of the son back to their house to mourn and celebrate his life. This ends in disaster and causes Mother to have a mental breakdown, screaming at all the guests to leave, and consequently argue with Him. Despite this, they make amends and she ends up pregnant whilst Him uses the emotion from this news and the death of the two visitors’ son as a muse for his new piece of writing. After the piece is published, (to Mother’s horror) more unexpected visitors arrive at their house wanting to talk to Him and praise his work. As more and more people congregate outside, they eventually go insane taking the message too literally Him has preached that everything in their home is theirs and to be shared, leading them to invade their house in what Aronofsky terms the ‘Fever Dream’. This final act of the film is where things require striving on with diligence.

Before we, let alone Mother, have time to account for what is happening, hordes of people have turned their house into a cross between a shanty town and a war zone with people being killed left, right and center. Whilst Mother is trying to escape the chaos, she realises she is about to give birth to their child so is helped to safety by Him and some of his ‘loyal followers’ who have begun to deify him. She gives birth in Him’s office, but the child is soon taken from her by Him to be shown to his adoring fans. The child is then crowd surfed away whilst Mother frantically chases after him, which leads to his neck snapping. When Mother finally reaches him, she discovers the invaders are eating the child which causes her to completely breakdown (as you would) and murder several of them before being beaten and abused both physically and verbally. She escapes with the help of Him, but then runs down into the basement and floods the floor with oil, torching herself, the invaders and the house. The film then shows Him, unscathed, carrying Mother out asking if he can have one last thing from her before she dies, to which she replies she has already given him all she has to offer. Him then asks for her love and proceeds to pull her heart from out of her charred chest which then disintegrates into a crystal which is shown in the opening sequence of the film. Him then sets the crystal into the pedestal in his office which breathes new life into everything - the house, Mother, the scorched earth, setting the cycle of life in motion again.

I enjoyed this film a lot despite it being extremely challenging for several reasons - The first is that the film showed Jennifer Lawrence for the exceptional actress she is. In a lot of her other films, and in real life, she is often loud and confident – Mother is the polar opposite of this - She’s timid, servile and reserved (for the most part). The second reason I enjoyed mother! is that the film didn’t scare me, but it did genuinely make me uncomfortable. The film is incredibly claustrophobic, rife with tight camera shots and heightened environmental sounds which keep your senses (or at least it did with mine) on edge. As well as this, I hugely sympathised with Mother. The thought of people unwillingly invading your home and defiling it despite your pleading not to drives me crazy and made my skin crawl. There is one scene in particular where two uninvited guests keep sitting on an un-braced sink despite Mother repeatedly pleading them not to. They mock her for this whilst continuing to do so until it then breaks causing water to spray everywhere. This infuriated me and I had to contain myself from wanting to desperately scream at the screen to get off of it too! Any film which elicits such a strong emotional reaction I think has been successful to some degree or another.

The final reason I really enjoyed the film is that it’s filled to the brim with metaphor, both religious and environmental. Aronofsky has been very open, along with the stars of the film, that it is one large metaphor for the destructive effects humans have had on Earth. Mother represents Earth and/or Mother Nature, whilst the hordes of people who invade the home she so lovingly created are humanity demonstrating their blatant disregard at the destruction they cause and the consequences it has. The extremism of the film can then perhaps be explained as an attempt by Aronofsky to shock viewers into seeing just how ugly and nightmarish our actions regarding the environment are – in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter he says, “Everyone can identify with someone who can go to your house and throw a piece of garbage on your floor or burn a hole in your carpet with a cigarette, but they don’t understand when you throw a piece of paper out on the street.”

The religious metaphor is more obvious in my opinion, but still intriguing. In this interpretation I understood Him to be God – This seems likely given in the credits he is given a capital H, whilst every other character’s named is billed with lower case (I have capitalised their names for the sake of readability in this review). If we assume this is correct, then Mother is Mary who was impregnated by God and their son is Jesus who was then killed by humanity to cleanse them of their sins. This metaphor then becomes even more layered if we consider that Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters are Adam and Eve - This makes sense given they are billed as Man and Woman. We also can’t ignore that in the film the Man has a visible wound near his rib, which if we accept the biblical story, is what is used to create Eve. Lo and behold, the next morning after we see the Man with his wound, Woman shows up from seemingly nowhere. If we accept these metaphorical understandings, then we can interpret even more. For example, the Man and Woman’s son is killed by his brother, striking him in the head, reminiscent of Cain and Abel. Man and Woman also venture inside Him’s study which they were forbidden from entering by Mother and break the crystal which leads to them being asked to leave the house – this seems an obvious representation of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in Eden (Him’s office). Furthermore, the family and friends mourning man’s son refuse to leave until they are driven out due to the sink breaking causing a literal flood in the house – Noah, anyone? Arguably the most literal interpretation of religious metaphor, however, is when the invaders eat Mother’s child in what we could view as a literal, harrowing communion.

Regardless of what you have read about mother!, or the expectations you may have about the film, I implore you to see it. It is a rollercoaster of emotional distress and chaos which requires effort on the viewers’ behalf, but it is a rewarding experience. I’ve been trying to think of a film to compare mother! to and the best I could come up with is a hybrid between the invasive nature and dark comedy of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and the descent into madness of The Shining. You will most likely come out with more questions than you went in with, but at least you’ll have an opinion – that is one thing you will leave with for certain. Most importantly though (and this is the cinephile in me talking) you will be supporting a weird and brave film which we need more of. Hollywood is too quick to greenlight shitty unnecessary sequels or sure money makers these days (The Emoji Movie springs to mind…), but are too hesitant to chance risky but artistic vision. Let’s do our part to change this by supporting weird and original films, rather than slating them. 


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