Ever since I saw the first teaser for Darren Aronofsky new feature film mother! I was all over the top excited to see it in a movie theatre. I loved Black Swan back in the day and couldn’t wait to see what suspension and discomfort mother! would have in store for its viewers. With a certain Rosemary’s Baby vibe going on in the teaser trailer I was expecting a certain type of movie and got rewarded with a completely different and much more intense experience. Please notice that the following article contains heavy spoilers for the movie’s plot – If you haven’t seen mother! yet, please come back after you’ve watched it.
mother! centers around a couple whose relationship is tested when a series of uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. None of the movie’s characters have actual names, so I’ll probably just stick with the actor’s names instead for this article. As you may have guessed the plot is much more complex than your average home invasion thriller.
When the credits rolled, I felt exhausted, but in a positive way – mother! was really a hell of a ride for me. I loved the movie – the tense and dreadful first half which turned more and more into chaos and confusion til the end, the acting and the imagery. I’ll try to break down my analysis into different parts to make clear what I got out of this beautiful mess Aronofsky provided us with. I’m gonna start off with a detailled summary of the movie’s plot, then head over to a character’s analysis and conclude with a possible interpretation of the plot.
I. The plot of mother!
The movie opens with a woman screaming in agony in a terrible fire. After a man (Javier Bardem) puts a mysterious diamond in a retainer the house transforms magically from heavily burned into a beautiful building. The camera moves to a bedroom and we see a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) waking up and searching for her husband. We learn that Jennifer Lawrence’s character lives in this gorgeous secluded house with her husband (Javier Bardem). The husband happens to be a creative writer who has been suffering from writer’s block for quite some time. To help him get the creative juices flowing again his wife completely renovated his childhood home on her own after it was destroyed in a terrible fire incident. The couple’s relationship is very tense and they’re quite distanced from each other. The husband is a creative but narcissistic genius who is caring only for his work and fame. The woman’s life is completely centered around her husband’s well being – she takes care of the house and the cooking and doesn’t seem to have any other interests of her own rather than keeping the house in a good state. Whenever Lawrence feels anxious or stressed out by the inconvenient behaviour of the visitors she recludes to the bathroom to take a certain type of medicine – A golden dust which is seen prior in the veins of the diamond the man keeps in his study. The medicine immediately calms her down and helps her function properly again.
When the first guest, an old man who is a fierce admirer of the husband’s creative work arrives the woman is not content with Bardem’s welcoming and friendly attitude towards the unknown guest. She eventually agrees on letting him spend the night at their place, but remains distrustful. At night she wakes up due to strange noises and finds her husband assisting the old man who is throwing up in the bathroom. As he notices his wife Bardem quickly covers a conspicuous wound on the old man’s ripcage with his hand hiding it from her gaze. The next morning the two men act like nothing ever happened. While Lawrence still has to cope with this strange behaviour the door bell rings introducing the audience to Michelle Pfeiffer as the wife of the old man.
The old couple’s relationship is the complete oppposite of Bardem’s and Lawrence’s marriage in the film. They admire each other and show their affection openly and without shame. They treat Lawrence with dignity in the beginning but their behaviour towards here becomes more and more disrespectful in the course of the movie. The two of them are particulary interested in Bardem’s study in which he keeps his holy diamond. Lawrence insists that they’re not allowed on their own in there but they eventually manage to enter the room and accidentely destroy the precious stone. Bardem completely freaks out and boards up the room of his study to make sure no one ever enters it again.
Meanwhile Lawrence tries to bump the old couple who arrogantly refuse to leave. When she tries to talk with Bardem about it he states that the old man is dead sick and the couple has nowhere to go. He concludes that they’ll have to try to forgive them and let them stay. Soon the two sons of the old couple arrive at the house treating Lawrence like a servant and eventually beating each other up over their father’s last will. During the fight they do not only damage the house but one of them accidentely kills his brother leaving a mark of blood on the floor. The killer flees and Bardem and the old couple rush to the hospital with the beaten up son leaving Lawrence on her own. Having witnessed the murder of a human being she’s in deep shock and fears the return of the murderer. She mops up the blood from the floor which refuses to stop bleeding. The floor crackles and she finds a secret hallway in the basement and eventually a blazing fire in an old oven beyond the hole.
The murderer returns to the house but does no harm to Lawrence only leaving a destroyed picture of her husband on the floor. He tells her that he’s surprised that her man left her behind and vanishes forever. Bardem returns on his own and lays down to sleep with his wife only to get up again after a short period of time in the middle of the night to welcome the old couple and a funeral party to the house. The house is filled with strangers who treat Lawrence and the house with little to no respect. Bardem seems pleased and happy with all the life flowing through the house but after the guests refuse to listen to Lawrence’s warnings and manage to destroy a whole room she freaks out and the people have to leave. Lawrence finally confronts Bardem with her anger and disappointement and their fight results in a strange sexual intercourse.
The next morning Lawrence announces that she’s pregnant and they’ll have a baby. Bardem is overwhelmed with joy and immediately rushes to a table to start writing again. He tells her that the emotions of the people from the other night and their grief inspired him to create again. Some time passes and Lawrence turns the room in which the brother died into a nursery. She covers the hole in the floor with a rug on which a blood stain appears. When she checks the floor underneath the hole is gone.
Bardem finishes his new creation (book?) and Lawrence – now being very pregnant – prepares a feast to celebrate her husband’s new work of art. As it turns out his new work has already been published and a group of fans arrive at the house to meet their idol. Bardem tells Lawrence who is disappointed of his ignorance of her feelings again to keep the food warm and wait for him inside. But more and more visitors arrive at the house and quickly turn into violent intruders. All of a sudden the hole beyond the rug is back again and Lawrence can see the fire of the oven blazing underneath it.
Now things escalate very quickly: While it first looks like Bardem is holding up a signing session for his new book, the house all of a sudden turns into a war zone. The movie itself turns into chaos at this point showing images of different groups of people violently fighting each other with sprinkles of religious imagery in between. In one scene a strange looking priest gives his blessing to a group of believers in front of a shrine filled with images of Bardem. The shrine is in fact the boarded up door of his study. In all this violent chaos the pregnant Lawrence gets attacked and tries to find a way out. She is eventually safed by her husband who is not harmed by the violent folks all over the place. He brings her into his study which is the only quiet and peaceful place around.
She gives birth to a son and asks Bardem to make the people outside go away. He declines to do something – He does not want them to leave and claims that they want to see his newborn son. Lawrence refuses to let him hold the baby but falls asleep after a while only to wake up without her baby. She rushes out searching for it and witnesses the brutal death of her newborn son in the hands of the agitated crowd. She tries to get through and finally finds his mutilated body on an altar. The people feast from his flesh and Lawrence manages to kill some of them with a shard until she gets brutally beaten up by the crowd herself.
Bardem approaches her and tries to calm her down but she escapes his arms and grabs a lighter. (The lighter has appeared earlier in the movie. It belongs to the old man and was kicked back behind a cupboard by Lawrence.) She makes her way down to the basement and smashes open a gas tank with a wrench. Bardem tries to stop her by telling his wife that he loves her. She answers that the only thing he ever loved about her was how much she loved him. She drops the lighter and the house blows up in a massive explosion.
Bardem who is completely unharmed by the fire carries the heavily burned body of his wife to his study. She begs him to let her go but he tells her that he needs one last thing from her – her love. „Go ahead, take it.“, she answers and Bardem rips her heart out of her chest. Lawrence dies and Bardem uncovers the diamond we know from the beginning of the movie in her now pitch black heart. He puts the diamond in the retainer and the house transforms just like in the opening sequence to its former beauty. The camera cuts to a female body lying asleep in a bed. When she turns her head to the camera we notice that it’s not Jennifer Lawrence but a new woman who mutters „Baby…“ in search for her husband and the screen becomes dark and the credits start to roll.
II. Character analysis
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) = Mother Earth
As the title of the movie suggests Jennifer Lawrence’s character who is listed in the credits as „mother“ is the main protagonist of the film. She does not only become mother to a child in the second half of the movie but is a symbol for mother earth or mother nature herself. The house is a metaphor for our planet. She breathes life into it and is able to control his well-being by placing her hands on the walls and feeling its heartbeat. The heartbeat expires through the course of the movie’s events. In the end the heart of the house is pitch black and stops beating. The heart mother sees when she checks upon the walls bears a strangely remarkable resemblance to the heart Bardem rips from her chest in the end suggesting that mother is in fact the house/ the planet.
In another scene we see Bardem and Lawrence standing on a meadow in front of the burning house. He reaches out to her and in the moment she touches his hand the house starts to recover and the nature surrounding it starts to bloom again. However Bardem seems to be mother’s creator as he seems to obtain the power to create her with the placing of the diamond in this study. He never cares about the house though and does not share mother’s power of controlling it. For example: After the baby is killed and mother completely freaks out she smashes her fist on the floor causing the ground to break while Bardem can only watch helplessly. The fact that mother becomes pregnant with the creator’s child kinda resembles the birth of Jesus. The baby (Jesus) is torn apart by the creators (God’s) admirers (the believers) and they feast on his flesh and blood which strongly resembles the imagery of the Lord’s Supper.
In the end of the movie mother destroys the house (the planet) by causing a massive explosion in the basement. It might be a far fetch but the image alludes to the Yellowstone Caldera, the supervulcano lingering underneath the Yellowstone National Park – a natural force which is said to obtain the power to basically destroy the natural world as we know it.
Him (Javier Bardem) = The Creator/ God
Javier Bardem’s character who is credited as „Him“ is a symbol for the creator or God. He has the power to re-create the house (the planet) with the simple action of placing a mysterious diamond in a retainer. He behaves friendly and helpful towards guests but suffers from his inability to write (to create) in the beginning of the movie. He is much older than his wife „mother“ and seems to hold a certain amount of control over her. In the end of the movie when the house is burned to the ground (the planet is destroyed) he is completely unharmed and creates the house anew suggesting that he is an eternal and immortal being existing in a neverending circle of creation.
At the mourning ceremony for the old couple’s son the creator delivers a moving speech providing comfort and hope for his guests (the believers) in this dark moment of grief. Their grief and the life his guests breathe into his home (the planet) inspires the creator to write a new piece of art which affects his reader’s on a deep emotional basis. It’s never clearly stated in the movie what he exactly created, but I assume that he wrote a book. When Bardem shows his work to Lawrence he hands over an ancient looking single piece of paper which reminded me of a scripture that is part of the bible. Considering that the bible is ought to be a record of the relationship between God and humans the ecstatic response the creator receives from his followers for his new piece of art seems logical.
The creator is a narcissistic man who enjoys the admiration of his followers. Even though he does not directly encourage them in their disrespectful behaviour towards mother, he does not do anything to prevent it. He sacrifices his son without batting an eye and shows no understanding of mother’s pain at any point of the movie. He doesn’t seem to hold any emotional bond to her. When mother dies in the end he creates a new version of her with the diamond he retrieves from her heart. However he’s not able to create something completely on his own and without her help (without the diamond she caries in her heart).
Also notice the poster artwork for mother! as pictured below: While Jennifer Lawrence’s character is presented as a vital woman surrounded by blooming nature, Javier Bardem’s character is surrounded by flames containing human faces. Mother is standing and has seemingly torn out her own heart from her chest presenting it to a figure outside the poster. She looks up while Bardem looks down and reaches out his hand as he is about to receive something (probably mother’s heart). Bardem is holding a ball which strongly resembles the globe in which the image of a newborn child is reflected. Bardem’s character is sitting in something that looks like a chair but is in fact a part of the cracking floor of the house with the lighter mother uses to burn everything down in the right corner of the picture.
Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) = Adam and Eve
The old man who arrives as the first guest in the house is a symbol for Adam, the first man created by God. The man admires the creator and is strongly interested in his work. They go on an exploration tour together and the creator seems to enjoy the man’s company much more than mother’s. Even though it is stated that the man is a doctor, it’s the creator who helps him out when he’s feeling unwell and who assists him while he’s throwing up. The morning after the incident in the bathroom the woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) suddenly appears claiming to be the man’s loving wife. Remember the conspicuous wound on the old man’s ripcage the creator tried to cover from mother’s eyes? According to the creation myth Eve was created by God by taking her from the rib of Adam, to be Adam’s companion.
The relationship of the old couple is of a strong physical nature. They show their admiration openly – The kiss excessively in front of mother and the creator and don’t hesitate when mother accidentely bumps into their sexual intercourse – „Before they sinned, Adam and Eve were both naked, and they felt no shame.“ They sin by entering the forbidden room/ the creator’s study and destroying the diamond (eating the forbidden fruit). They are not banned from the house (the Garden of Eden) however, but are soon to be punished with the loss of their son (Abel).
Older Brother (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) = Cain and Abel
Cain and Able are the sons of Adam and Eve. The sons of the old couple in the movie arrive at the house shortly after the diamond is destroyed. In a fight over the last will of their father one brother gets killed while the other escapes. In the bible Cain kills his brother Abel because he envies God’s affection for him. When the murderer returns to the house and encounters mother he leaves behind a destroyed picture of the creator alluding to this circumstance. He leaves the house and even though the creator arrives just in time he doesn’t take any afford in chasing him. God punished Cain to a life of wandering but set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. Needless to say that we never encountered the murder brother again in the movie.
III. Plot analysis
Keeping in mind the character analysis we could conclude that mother! is just a very twisted retelling of the creation myth. But that’s only one half of the truth – however let’s take a further look at this idea. It is said that God created the world from chaos – The one word that comes to mind when thinking of the last chapter of mother!. After the complete chaos and mess the child is born in a quiet and peaceful room only to be torn apart later in the gross chaotic outside world (house) again. After mother destroys everything, the house (the planet) is resurrected by the hand of the creator: He has created a new world from chaos.
Even though the creator might appear as a man with limitless powers (remember he was not harmed by the chaos and its destructive nature at any point) he actually seems helpless towards mother’s anger and most importantly he is trapped in a neverending loop. The whole movie is a loop in itself – The beginning is the end while the end is the beginning. The only thing that is stable and unchanging throughout the whole movie is the creator. Considering that the diamond, the house and mother are all pretty much the same thing she is the second constant. Even though she physically changes she never vanishes completely.
Keep in mind that mother and the creator (though being more or less frustrated) live a peaceful life on their own in their secluded home until the visitors start to float in and in the end violate mother’s very existence. It’s strange somehow: The believers aggressively destroy God’s creation but they never do him any harm. Mother begs them to be careful with her posessions and the house (the planet) in general but they ignore or even threaten her. In a certain scene she catches a young couple who is painting the hallway anew and is claiming that they just want to help. Every change to the house – may it be good or bad – hurts mother and deforms the heart in the walls of the house a bit further.
That being said mother! can be read as a strong comment on the general behaviour of human kind towards nature. Even though mother tries to repair every damage the visitors (humans) cause at the beginning of the movie she finally can’t cope anymore and blows up the whole place (destroys herself). In times of global warming and natural catastrophes this metaphor probably doesn’t need any further explanation.
Another way to interpret mother! is from a critical religious point of view. The newborn child of mother and the creator is the key element of this interpretation. A baby is widely known to be a symbol for innocence. The child of mother (earth) in this particular case can be seen as an actual newborn human being. A human is born innocent and free of any beliefs, convictions or prejudices. Only in the course of his upbringing and through outer influences he learns morals. While mother loves him and tries to protect him he gets exposed to these outer influences by the creator in the movie who literally let’s the innocent child get torn apart by his followers who represent religion and faith in general. The innocent human is destroyed by the christian civilization – an idea which can be found in the theories of Nietzsche.
Always remember these are only theories and they are far from being complete or perfect. Please keep in mind that I watched mother! only once until now. I can’t wait for the home movie release to rewatch it with fresh eyes and the theories I wrote about in mind though. Naturally many questions are left unanswered – Why is the creator so indifferent towards mother? What does the diamond in the study symbolize? Why was the hallway in the basement closed up? Why is the creator content with the destructive behaviour of his followers? What does the loop the creator is trapped in symbolize for religion and faith in general? Why does the new mother look different?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and theories. What did you think of mother?
The mother!-poster artworks and movie stills used in this article belong to Paramount Pictures.