Spoilers for mother!
mother! leaves audiences with a lot of questions. What just happened? What does it all mean? Is this really about director Darren Aronofsky and star Jennifer Lawrence's generation-spanning relationship? But, on a more tangible scale, the biggest question many will be asking is what exactly the poem Javier Bardem wrote is?
Bardem plays Him, a poet struck with writer's block serving as both a representation of the director and of God, who spends the first half of the movie prevaricating from his work by welcoming Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeffer (and later their entire extended social circle) into his house. When Lawrence's mother, unbearably stressed by the murder and destruction the guests cause, kicks them out, the age-gap couple finally have sex.
The whole ordeal snaps Him out of his slump and he writes what appears to be perfection. Reading the poem gives mother a vision of the house's renovation akin to Noah creating greenery, and it inspires so many others in intricate, personal ways. They feel enlightened and driven to seek out the author - with fiery results.
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But what is it? The film never clearly shows what He's written, but's it's the real turning point of the story - everything disastrous that happens later comes from the various readings of the work. So let's take a deeper look at mother! and what it could be.
Is The Poem Christian Gospel?
A prevalent reading of mother! is that it's a metaphor for creation, with Him as God, mother as Earth, the Man and Woman as Adam and Eve etc. Thus, in the metaphorical version of the film, the poem is gospel. From the adoration Ed Harris' Man has for the writer's previous work it could be anything, but due to its brevity the Ten Commandments or Lord's Prayer seems to be the most logical conclusion. That's viewed as the most succinct, focused version of God's word and so on a broad level works as a representation of people's devotion.
But mother! works on a straight level too. In the clearly modern world that Aronofsky uses as the backdrop, that wouldn't be the actual writing. Indeed, there's a greater, man-made artistry to it here. The indication is that Bardem's produced something of such eloquence and universal depth it moves all. He's, basically, made the perfect work of art; something that by its definition cannot exist but would explain his elevation to Lord-like levels.
All that said, there's maybe a fascinating alternate that the director's hidden in plain sight.
The mother's prayer
Before screenings of the film for the press and at the Toronto International Film Festival, attendees were given a sort of prayer card. On one side was the image above, which serves as an abstract presentation of earth, man and the movie's defining explanation point, while on the other there's an adaptation of the Lord's Prayer by Rebecca Solnit that switched the gender and reflects the themes of the film. You read the full "mother's prayer" below:
our mother who art underfoot,
hallowed be thy names,
thy seasons come, thy will be done,
within us as around us,
thank you for our daily bread, our water, our air,
and our lives and so much beauty;
lead us not into selfish craving and the destructions
that are the hungers of the glutted,
but deliver us from wanton consumption
of thy vast but finite bounty,
for thine is the only sphere of life we know,
and the power and the glory, forever and ever,
The poem shifts the focus of the Christian staple from praising God and outlining worship to being grateful for the Earth and warning against taking "mother" for granted. It's thus a pretty succinct summary of what Aronofsky's doing on a spiritual level with the film, flipping the typical religious viewpoint.
Could this be the poem Bardem wrote? The message it conveys wouldn't quite fit with the writer's personality or attitude, but it would give added ironic weight to the house's descent and infant murder; the devoted fans are obliviously destroying the very thing they are in love with. This ties into what the film is highlighting about destructive ownership of the artist, and on a bigger scale Aronofsky's prime motivation for mother! - how as a society humanity is destroying our home.
What The Poem Says Doesn't Really Matter
While we've presented some interesting arguments as to what the poem could be, it must be said that it ultimately doesn't matter. The words themselves are merely a device; as each discussed possibility boiled down to, it's how people interpret and act on them that's important.
But even then there are multiple readings as to why it's not given real form. The simplest is that Aronofsky knows that he couldn't craft something that's fitting of the adoration His work gets, so keeps it purposely ambiguous (a very bashful move from the high-ego filmmaker). However, given the dark turn that it leads to, he may have chosen to not show it to highlight how in both fandom and religion the base source of adoration and belief gets so misconstrued and lost that it ceases to be important. The piece being a single page of paper really amps this up - tangibly, there isn't much actually written there relative to impact.
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mother! is a purposeful movie where every element feels like it's meticulously built to aid the greater whole, but there are still many interpretations of what that big picture is. The poem is just another part of that. It's a literal slice of artistic brilliance and a metaphor for the word of God. It cannot be explained, but damn was its influence painful.
Next: mother! Review
- mother! (2017) release date: Sep 15, 2017