Movie Review: “Mother!” – It’s A Metaphor!

Written by Jeremiah Greville September 22, 2017

Mother!

It’s that time again! Yes, Hollywood has put out another divisive, auteur film that’s left critics and audiences divided. While the subject matter is intense and often excessively violent, Mother! is one of those movies that’s far less confusing or offensive than it’s made out to be. It’s a strange and unique film utterly let down by an advertising campaign painting it in the wrong light. It’s a pretentious, portentous metaphor for something more, and for once that’s not a bad thing. Mother! is definitely not for everyone, but read on and find out if it might be for you.

*Warning:This Review Contains Majour Spoilers*

While the marketing for Mother! has fallen short, the marketing team was in an impossible position. It’s been sold inaccurately as both a psychological thriller and a horror film. Sure, it’s thrilling. And sure, it’s horrifying. But it’s neither of those genres—it’s an ambitious metaphorical tale that wears its ‘message’ on its sleeve. It’s a movie that’s best experienced if you go in knowing as little as possible. The purpose of the film is to figure out the metaphor from the context, and derive the message from that. THAT’S the point. That’s the fun. Aronofsky’s Mother! isn’t trying to hide what it is. It wants you to know, and makes the metaphor as obvious as possible by the end.

“I want to make it paradise.”

A full review of Mother! needs to discuss that metaphor, but the best viewing experience requires fresh eyes. So, in that spirit, we’ll get into the nitty gritty a bit later. Though the film is not a mystery, it’s best to treat it that way. Like any mystery, you spend your time trying to figure it out, but most is explained by the end. You may ‘get’ it early on, or not at all. That’s nothing to be ashamed of or upset about. Apart from that, it’s a film about a man and a woman beset by visitors to their idyllic home. The woman, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is upset about their presence. Her husband, a famous poet (Javier Bardem), likes having them around. The movie is about the stress and conflict Mother experiences because of this.

mother!

Now, I’ll say right away that I think mother! is great. It’s a beautifully shot, impeccably-paced film with a singular vision and ambitious scope. Technically, it’s a damn solid flick. The flurry of negative reviews surrounding it seem mostly to be about the subject matter. And yes, this is a case where spoiler warnings and trigger warnings are both necessary, and will conflict: there are scenes of torture, violence towards women, violence towards infants, sex, execution, and war atrocities. Trust me–it’s heavy stuff, and it can be overwhelming. It’s meant to be. The film, however, does not condone this violence. It’s a visceral condemnation, and you’re as much a victim of it as Mother is.

With all that said, and some of the movie spoiled already, I think it’s time we discuss what the movie is actually about. If you don’t want spoilers, it’s best to stop here!

Mother! is told from the point of view Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is really Mother Earth. Javier Bardem is actually God, and the home they live in is/represents the world. Darren Aronofsky has gone on record to say that the film is environmentalist, and that makes sense. Lawrence has also called the film a biblical allegory–both interpretations are true, from the people who made the film. The visitors who enter their home over the span of several months are really the biblical re-telling of the history of man, starting with Adam and Eve (Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively), then Cain and Abel. This leads to chaos, plagues, the biblical flood, all the way to Jesus and eventually the apocalypse.

(Yeah. You read that right.)

Now, all that being said, the movie isn’t actually religious. Religion is just the tool Mother! uses to show the history of man (and God) with the earth. Similarly, though the movie covers human history, the ‘action’ takes place over a nine month period from Mother’s point of view. So the death of Jesus isn’t as a man, but is instead a horrific scene of a baby mutilation. Communion is depicted as literal baby flesh being consumed—because that’s what Mother sees from her perspective. The war and violence in the film’s second act is compacted into a 20 minute sequence of immaculately choreographed chaos—and again, is all from Mother’s perspective. It’s the violence humans have done to the earth and each other accelerated and pushed to the extreme. It’s jarring, vicious, dizzying, affecting, and effective.

mother!

The fact that Mother! is a film about Mother Earth and God is never outright stated until the end, where Javier Bardem’s role is more or less revealed. It wasn’t until Cain and Abel that I put the pieces together myself and everything else flowed accordingly. This isn’t a flaw in the film, however—this is how it was constructed, and it was constructed well. Acknowledging that this film is good, though, does not mean that you have to like it or approve of it. It will upset people for perfectly valid reasons, and you should have every warning ahead of time.

“I’ll get started on the apocalypse.”

The directing and acting here are both stellar, and Lawrence carries the film with earnest innocence. Since Mother! is about the earth’s suffering, she’s forced to play the victim in an opaque narrative. But it still works, and never comes off as grating. Bardem is pitch-perfect as a poet/God obsessed with his followers but unable to write. While this a film about man’s relationship to the earth, it’s also a feminist take on oppressive hetero-normative relationships. Aronofsky may be commenting here on how his own creative process sometimes hurts those around him, but that’s one of the only metaphors that isn’t explicit in this film.

mother!

The fact that Mother! is filled with so many glaringly obvious metaphors is one of its few shortcomings. Not their presence, mind you, but how they’re sometimes presented. Like I said before, this is a movie that WANTS you to figure it out. Sometimes it tries a little too hard. Similarly, while the aesthetic and cinematography are well-considered, many of the shots early on have a pretentious, film-school/art-house vibe to them. Seriously, why does every damn movie need multiple close ups on hands doing dishes? It’s obnoxious, and boring. But those flaws are minor in comparison to the things this movie gets right.

“You give, and you give, and you give.”

Mother! might fall a bit short when you consider the narrative, but I don’t actually think that this is a flaw. It’s not simply a film about a man and a woman in a house, nor is it a literal re-telling of biblical history. Taken on either of those terms, the story leaves something to be desired. But Mother! is about how those things affect the protagonist. Her story is the story. Her reaction is the story. Mother Earth is the main character, and she’s suffering. The message is clear: for the rest of us to make a bit of effort to figure things out, and think of her for once. That’s demonstrated through the events of the film and the treatment of the metaphor.

mother!

I enjoyed seeing Mother! in theatres, but I can’t recommend it to everyone. Once you understand what’s going on, the shocking moments are often dulled. Once I was ‘in on the joke’, I even laughed several times as new reminders came up. But the first act will bore and confuse some, and the second act will leave many more disgusted. Those are valid responses, and completely understandable. This is not a horror or a psychological thriller. It’s not even a mystery, as I’ve offered, though I still recommend seeing it that way. No, Mother! is an uncompromising vision from a flawed director doing what he does best. And if that sounds kosher to you, you might want to check it out.

My Rating: 7.5/10

mother!

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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