Spoilers for mother!
Darren Aronofsky’s new film mother! tells the story of a woman restoring her writers’ blocked husband’s house, only for their solitude to be disrupted by an adoring, rule-bending couple, then their deadly bickering sons, and one sudden pregnancy later a horde of fans of his masterwork. Time bends, a baby is taken and she eventually burns the whole thing to the ground, revealing a self-perpetuating time loop.
But that’s obviously not what it’s really about. Like most of Aronofsky’s films, there’s the literal plot and the true meaning. Sometimes it’s obvious and implicit, as with Black Swan, others it’s almost like two parallel viewing experiences. mother! is totally the latter. While the film is great as the basic psychological thriller thriving on anxiety outlined above, it’s actually a metaphorical re-imagining of something much grander: mother! is actually a representation of Biblical creation.
How mother! is an Allegory for Biblical Creation
The first half of the story is a twisted version of the Book of Genesis. Indeed, the character names should really highlight the metaphor. Javier Bardem’s Him is God, Jennifer Lawrence’s mother a representation of creation itself, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s unnamed Man and Woman Adam and Eve, and their two children Caine and Abel. That makes His office the Garden of Eden, the house’s crystal heart the forbidden Apple, destroying it Original Sin, them being demanded to leave Adam and Eve’s removal from Eden, Older Son killing Younger Son Abel’s death (right down to the blow to the end) and the ensuing population of the house with increasing disregard for the world’s care the rise of their descendants. mother’s expulsion of them is further the Great Flood and the brief period of normality the new world.
From here there are two divergent readings. One has the focus on the Holy Bible remain, with the poem some form of scripture – the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, take your pick – and the ensuing events those told in the later parts of the Old Testament; Exodus and the creation of Israel moving towards the Christian view. That would make the couple’s baby Jesus, although his death is less a straight representation of the love and hatred of Christ’s execution and more a living out of his dying words “Forgive them for they know not what they do“. Of course, rather than absolving of sins, mother fights back and burns the entire thing down. This makes it either an “alternate ending” to the Bible, or with the time loop a sort of proto-creation: God trying over and over to get it right.
Related: What Does The Poem in mother! Say?
The other take is that we accelerate; the fluid, rushed time as mother walks through the increasingly fraught house is meant to signify the passing of centuries and millennia, taking Earth past Biblical times and into the AD, showing the descent of man as it falls into dogma surrounding religious grounding. The poem again serves as some religious doctrine, but here the baby obviously can’t be Jesus; it is instead a lucid presentation of a continued offering of the Earth to humanity that is instinctively dove upon and destroyed. And that makes the house’s destruction some future cataclysm: an impending Apocalypse.
Basically, the former is a completion of the allegory, whereas the latter’s a shift from Biblical setup into cautionary tale. Either version has validity, although while the baby Jesus imagery is strong, we’d be inclined to lean towards the latter as it paints the fiery destruction in the audiences’ future, a warning Aronofsky is clearly leaning towards.
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