Mother!: Sinners in the Hands of a Petty God

This look at the controversial new film was written by Caleb Ackley. (Spoilers ahead.) Mother! was […]

Guest Contributor / 9.28.17

This look at the controversial new film was written by Caleb Ackley. (Spoilers ahead.)

Mother! was advertised as a mystery-thriller and the trailer, which was riveting, left much to the imagination. Thus, on opening weekend, hordes of thrill-seeking men and women went to see it, each with their own set of expectations. Some came for horror, some expected gore, many came to see Jennifer Lawrence, that darling of the silver screen, be terrified herself; but most of all, they, and I in many ways, came that Saturday night to simply be entertained. Stuffed to the gills with excitement and no small amount of red licorice, there was also a niggling thought in the back of my mind…a persistent thought reminding me of how uncomfortable Darren Aronofsky’s other work had consistently made me feel over the years. Would this truly be a movie simply made for mass consumption? My mind said no, my heart said yes.

Fast-forward two hours, and we, the audience, let out a collectively held breath. My hand, which had been locked over my mouth for an unhealthy amount of time, fell to my lap. Eyebrows frozen high above their normal resting place, I looked at the friend with whom I’d attended, and slowly wagged my head in disbelief.

‘Wild ride’ hardly does this piece of work justice. The group sitting behind us left quickly, (very) audibly talking about their disgust for what they had just seen. ‘I didn’t come here to see a f*#$ing allegory; that’s what I go to CHURCH for,’ was a memorable comment I heard from someone quickly exiting. Other sage wisdom offered after the film was given by two middle-aged women sitting nearer the front. ‘That was amazing. We need a drink.’ Go ahead and get me one too, ladies.

The latest offering from the mind of Darren Arronofsky starts out innocently enough; a couple living in a gorgeous house deal with seemingly petty frustrations inherent in any committed relationship. Javier Bardem’s character, the unnamed ‘Him’, struggles as a writer trying to find inspiration. His wife, the frustratingly-lovely-even-when-she’s-painting Jennifer Lawrence, dotingly creates a beautiful space for Bardem to work, refurbishing their beautiful home with a deft hand and skillful eye.

Their ‘happiness’ is infringed upon when two people, first a chain-smoking Ed Harris, followed soon after by a ‘special lemonade’-loving Michelle Pfeiffer, come to stay without pretext or introduction. Quickly, group discussions devolve into uncomfortable standoffs; questions of ‘Why don’t you have kids?’ and statements like ‘This house is just setting, after all’ are left hanging in the air. Guilt and undisclosed desires hover suspended above the characters’ heads; the sword of Damocles, in this case, taking on the new form of a hundred sharpened daggers. This is only the beginning.

Soon, this unwelcome couple’s two sons make an appearance. Bickering over inheritance, they begin to scream at one another while Ed Harris’s breath rattles noticeably in his chest. The situation escalates and in the blink of an eye, a murder is committed. Lawrence, who is simply referred to throughout the film as ‘Mother’, is left to clean blood off the textured and beautiful floorboards. A stain of blood settles into the floor, refusing to be expunged, no matter how much cleaner is applied.

A wake is thrown in honor of the deceased, with the house that Lawrence has so meticulously pieced together serving as the backdrop. She begins to lose control of herself, no longer hiding behind social pleasantries to express what she is feeling.

As Lawrence continues to slip into desperation, people begin to stream into the house. Bardem’s character welcomes them all, delighted that his need for inspiration, with the advent of these new visitors, has at last been satiated. As the number of unnamed intruders increases, Lawrence’s house is transformed. Running from one room to the next, she tries desperately to quell the rising tide of anxiety as the beautiful rooms are marred by the stomping of inconsiderate feet.

Eventually, the initial influx of unwanted visitors subsides. Lawrence and Bardem are left to themselves once again, and are greeted with a new surprise; a child. Mother begins piecing the house back together in the ensuing months as Him begins to write profusely. The new book of poetry is quickly published and again we see the ominous march of smiling faces begin to crowd the front porch. Bardem’s character devours the attention, trying to convince Lawrence that this latest wave of visitors is good news. The house, again, is subjected to destruction, this time by those infatuated with Him’s poetical prowess. Sinks begin to crack, the larder is ravaged, and the rabid fans, desperate for ‘a piece’ of the home begin stealing, as vases, books, and even floorboards are snatched in the frenzy.

Forty minutes later, the house is no longer standing, Mother’s baby has been born, taken from her, killed, and cannibalized. Bombs have exploded, shrines have been erected, and altars have been built. Bardem stalks through the husk of what had once been his ornate country home. He carries the charred, hardly breathing body of Lawrence through the wreckage, laying her down on one of the few tables left standing.

Reaching inside her chest, he removes her heart as she draws her last breath. Grey and cracked, it quickly crumbles in his hand, revealing a translucent stone scored with fiery red at its centre. Placing the stone in a delicate stand, the house is suddenly remade. Rooms restored to their former glory, a woman’s shape also appears beneath the sheets of the bed within the expansive master bedroom. Cue credits.

Aronofsky’s films have always, either directly or indirectly, questioned existence and, by extension, the role that some ‘superior being’ would have in that existence. The earth, in this particular film’s case, is shown to be initially pure…a good creation. It is with the advent of mankind (Ed Harris’s character ‘Man’ and Pfeiffer’s ‘Woman’) that we see brokenness begin to take its heavy toll. This new darkness is spurred on by Bardem, in his quest for a kind of ‘glory’; demanding worship without regard to the beauty which already surrounds him. Lacking imagination, the character of the god which Aronofsky shows us on screen grows frustrated with his creation. Eventually, Bardem’s character sees fit to decimate his creatures, starting the whole broken process over again. By his actions, this supposed god, rather than showing any kind of divinely empathetic character, reveals himself to be little more than an exaggerated version of the humanity which he himself has created and subsequently destroyed for their selfishness. Driven by desperation, marked by cruelty, and infatuated with self-glory no matter the cost, there is little to love about this creator; a being from whom we should run, rather than worship.