[SPOILERS for mother! ahead.]
As mother! continues to draw mixed reactions, Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence are doing their best to explain its polarizing concept. The film, a psychological thriller written and directed by Aronofsky, stars Lawrence as the titular character, a woman living with her writer husband (Javier Bardem) in their newly-renovated house. They live in relative harmony until a new couple arrives, settles in, and forces their life (and home) into disarray. What follows is a muddled, violent, and allegorical dreamscape that’s left audiences either mesmerized or utterly confused.
As a result, its reception has been torn: some critics have praise its bold, thought-provoking exhibitionism, while others have dismissed it as grandiose and narcissistic. In its opening weekend, the movie flopped, accruing a woeful $7.5 million against its $30 million budget and landing a worst-possible F grade on CinemaScore. But according to Lawrence and Arronfsky, its box office failure is at least partially owed to its complex symbolism.
During an interview with Indiewire, Aronofsky said that he wanted to break genre conventions and give moviegoers something fresh. In doing so, he concocted an elaborate metaphor driven by the same biblical ties that dictated Pi, The Fountain, and Noah:
Lawrence is Gaia, or Mother Earth, while her house represents the world — a living, breathing organism being destroyed by its inhabitants. Her husband, known as “Him” in the film, is God. Out of boredom, he creates Adam and Eve (the couple), who proceed to destroy both Gaia’s creation and His study (the Garden of Eden), which holds God’s perfect crystal (the apple). Their dueling sons are Cain and Abel. They also bring worshippers to praise God, who keep sitting on Mother’s unsupported sink, and eventually, cause the pipes to burst into the Great Flood. God impregnates Mother, who gives birth to the Messiah — a chaotic sequence followed by a disquieting communion and Revelations.
As Aronofsky put it:
“[It’s about] taking a piece of a world and confining it to a space and making it a conversation about society, lined up with a personal human story… [Mother Earth has] given us life on this planet. All she does is give us life. We also see nature’s wrath in the scene when Mother is attacking the crowd. The allegory is, here are these incredible infinite resources given to us and we abuse it all. We don’t follow lessons from kindergarten to clean up your own mess. We are empathizing with Mother Nature, feeling her pain and her wrath.”
Lawrence repeated this sentiment in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. She explained:
“The movie was called “Day Six” [on set]: it could be about the creation and the end of the universe. You have the creation of man and women and then the corruption of man and woman and then overpopulation and creation of religion and so on and so forth.
[Darren] is stripping out all nationality away from everyone — if something happens on the other side of the world, you don’t care. If it happens to your neighbor’s house, you care. If someone puts out a cigarette on your carpet, that matters to you. So what he’s saying is this is the entire world, this is our one earth. This is all our sink. So stop bouncing on it!”
The explanation, of course, is far more complicated, and the references vast, but that’s the general idea. It’s clear Arronofsky had a vision, and an ambitious one at that, but perhaps it was his execution that missed the mark: For some it came across in full, and for others it fell flat. Perhaps, in time, detractors will grow to appreciate his effort, but for now, it doesn’t seem the follow-up explainer is doing mother! any favors.
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