Darren Aronofsky claims MOTHER is an allegorical film that uses the Book of Genesis to depict the destruction of Mother Earth. I saw a thinly-veiled excuse to torture a woman, bordering on the pornographic, with the take away message: women are disposable and there’s always another one waiting in the wings to replace us.
The film opens with the disturbing image of a woman on fire, ostensibly a representation of the wanton destruction of our planet. Only Aronofsky offers the viewer no context at all, so all I see is the image of a woman’s face engulfed in flames. This is merely a preview of misogyny to come.
The film next introduces us to Jennifer Lawrence as Mother, an empty, vacuous vessel who wanders around her home with an oddly blank expression. According to Aronofsky, she represents Mother Earth-whom he depicts as a submissive wife, easily manipulated by her narcissistic husband.
Mother is married to Him, who we’re to believe is a brilliant poet suffering from writer’s block. Their idyllic life in the countryside is soon interrupted when Man turns up and asks for a room. Him readily agrees and Mother kowtows to his whim, allowing a near stranger to spend the night. The following day, Man’s wife, Woman, also arrives and Mother finds herself overwhelmed with cooking and cleaning for these annoying guests. The guests treat Mother and her home with a complete lack of respect, including smoking when she clearly does not want them to and failing to control themselves when she walks in on them in an intimate moment. I was left wondering when Mother Earth would say “enough already” and show these inconsiderate freeloaders the door, but of course she allows them to stay because, as it turns out, Man is terminally ill and more importantly a huge fan of her husband’s poetry.
This is a main theme of the movie-that Him is a brilliant poet while his wife is a human zero with no interest in ever leaving the home she’s restored, and no ambition apart from making Him happy. It’s hard to feel sympathy towards Mother because she embraces her husband’s oppression. When Mother finally orders the “guests” to leave her home it’s only after they damage Him’s beloved crystal object because apparently his material possessions are more important than her feeling safe in the home where she has invested so much of herself.
The movie continues on in this fashion, becoming increasingly bizarre and nonsensical. What little can be described as “plot” solely comprises Mother be subjected to torture by strangers as she watches her home and then her life destroyed by them.
This happens on two separate occasions: First, when the visiting couple’s son is killed by their other son (this is Aronofsky retelling the story of Cain and Abel), strangers enter their home to attend the funeral. Finally, Mother shows some courage and insists everyone leave their home. This leads to a confrontation with Him, which culminates in their having sex. The following morning, Mother is radiant with joy because she knows she is pregnant, easily pacified by a night of sex which leads to a pregnancy. If only women in the real world were so easily controlled. By this point, I no longer understood how this was a story about climate change and the destruction of our planet.
Since the female lead is named Mother, it’s only fitting she becomes pregnant given it’s her “duty” as a female. Him is so inspired he writes a poem. Of course, it is the most amazing poem ever written, and Mother lavishes him with praise. Because Him represents the Almighty (naturally, the Almighty must be represented by a man), it is only right that she worship him and lay on thick praise, catering to his fragile masculine ego.
The poem is soon published and becomes a literary sensation. Several months later, a heavily pregnant Mother prepares dinner when a group of Him’s admirers arrive at their home; their behavior quickly descends into chaos and violence, and a distraught Mother goes into labor and gives birth. Him takes the child from her and hands it over to the blood-thirsty mob. The infant is then sacrificed in a ritual during which it’s killed and cannibalized. Mother, of course, can only react with hysteria because, after all, unlike her husband, she’s only human.
The movie concludes exactly as it started. This time it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother who’s set on fire while, naturally, Him is left untouched and unscathed. Him then removes her heart which becomes a new crystal object. The final frame of the film reveals Mother has been replaced and a new woman now shares the bed with Him, having assumed the identity of Mother. Rest assured, the cycle of a woman being subject to abuse and ultimate destruction will continue in perpetuity.
Mother! is eerily reminiscent of The Stepford Wives. As a submissive woman dedicated to her domestic duties, she’s little more than a customized robot, only without the excuse of being literally turned into one against her will. The character of Mother never felt like a fully developed, realized person. She is only there to serve the allegorical tale. Bad things just keep happening to her and she is never given a chance to fight back.
As an allegory for what humans are doing to the environment, maybe in some weird way it could work. However, if one should watch this film without hearing a detailed account of Aronofsky’s intentions, she’s unlikely to surmise this reading from the film itself. And regardless, one would hope that Mother Nature would have more of a fighting spirit than demonstrated in the pathetic character of Mother. I am not arguing that there is any correct way to portray a female character, nor that a character must be portrayed as “strong” in the traditional sense of the word, but Aronofsky seems to have contempt for Mother as the film relishes in her humiliation.
Is Aronofsky using Mother Earth to suggest that perhaps women in general don’t have much fighting spirit? The thought occurred to me as the film opens with the image of a woman on fire and then proceeds to torture the leading female character for the remainder of the film. This comes across not so much a story about the destruction of the planet and climate change as it does a story of man’s physical and emotional dominance over women, and their ability to ruin us if they see fit. Fans of this film may feel I’m being overly harsh in my reaction, but it would be nice if Aronofsky would give audiences a female character who has both fortitude and some street smarts—or at the very least, allow her to leave the house once in awhile.
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