7 years after Aronofsky’s magnus opus Black Swan hit the screen, Aronofsky’s highly controversial movie mother! is now screening in every major cinema in the country. Naturally, with my Unlimited card, I had no choice but to go see it. Black Swan is in my top 10 greatest movies of all time so my heart beat faster when I saw the trailer ending with ‘from the maker of black swan and requiem for a dream’ (which I still have to see).
I was following Metacritic and RT for a while and I was hoping that it would break records because the premise sounded interesting. I had no idea what to expect but Javier Bardem (in one of my top 10 movies as well; Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Jennifer Lawrence were starring and they are both amazing.
I decided to steer away from the opinions surrounding the movie and its meaning. It was said to be a highly allegorical movie which Christian themes and my knowledge on the Bible is very limited. So I didn’t expect to ‘get’ the movie right away. I went to see it and formulated my opinion while watching it and then decided to look up Aronofsky’s intentions. In hindsight, they were pretty clear. I knew that Javier was supposed to be God. They made no secret of that. I also knew that the baby was supposed to be baby Jesus (I almost expected Javier to straight up tell her ‘let’s call him Jesus’ with his Spanish accent since y’know, it’s a very common name in Spanish speaking countries). But no one had names so it wouldn’t make sense either way.
I will not lay down the entire plot of the movie and discuss it from start to finish, I will pick some scenes and plots and allegories and symbols and first show my pure feminist analysis that is not directly related to what Aronofsky is trying to show with this movie (Genesis, basically). Later on I will set out how the feminist themes can be interwoven in the Genesis story and how they correlate.
In short, I found an interesting unique perspective in the movie as the experience of a woman in today’s society. It feels like we are constantly screaming for help but no one hears us. We feel disorientated and no matter how hard we scream and how much we try to get it all out of our house, men don’t take our problems as serious and completely disregard our requests. Jennifer keeps asking Javier to send the people out but he ignores her requests all the time. In the end, they are shooting people and the woman is giving birth and yet he does not allow her to have peace in her own house. He could prevent all the misery that happened to her by just listening to her wishes (sending the people away), but he doesn’t so she gets accosted in her own home and her baby gets brutally killed.
It also symbolizes how wives literally ‘make the home’ of the husbands (the woman is rebuilding the house of her husband from scratch), but yet get no appreciation and generally get taken for granted. She asks him countless of time ‘why am I not enough for you?’ No matter what some wives do for their husband, it can never be enough.
When Ed Harris’ character enters the house and Javier’s character tells him that she rebuild the house he tells her ‘so she’s not just a pretty face’. Every woman in the cinema could relate to that comment. The second we do anything that takes any effort, men act so damn impressed like damn I didn’t knew women were capable of doing stuff. It seems like a lighthearted funny comment but it also showcases inner misogynism. Now for more misogynism; Jennifer’s character gets harassed continually in her own home. One guy goes as far as calling her a stupid cunt for not giving him her phone number even though they literally just met and she’s married and he’s generally being a douche. It had no place to really be there because it added nothing to the mother earth allegory and symbolism; it had to be a sneer to the way men treat women. Also when the sons of Ed & Michelle’s characters enter the scene, one of them quickly makes a remark towards Jennifer’s character too (something about her butt being a good view). Seriously dude. Do not harass a woman and especially not in her own home. This represents that even in a place where they feel like home (college campuses, their hometown, even their literal home, women cannot seem to escape creepy comments that are borderline harassment).
Throughout the movie, we feel the woman’s agony and anxiety. She just wants to be left the fuck alone with her husband but he keeps inviting people in, deeper reinforcing her belief that she’s not enough for him. He’s trying to find inspiration in life and death because he’s a writer with a writer’s block (God was a poet! I always knew it).
Now to be fair, the problems don’t only come from men. Pfeifer’s character runs her mouth a little too much too. Shaming her for wearing nonsexy underwear and pressuring her into having a baby because ‘youre not gonna be young forever’. Reinforcing the stigma around women who do not have babies. Problems that women deal with do not just come from standards set by men, but also other women.
Bardem’s character was hailed as a prophet because he was literally God. But aside from that; while Bardem was being hailed, Jennifer’s character was always in the background not being taken into consideration (except for Wiig’s character who keeps referring to her as ‘inspiration’). Fair enough, Bardem’s character was actually the one with the career so it wouldn’t make sense for Jennifer’s character to be treated as a prophetess but if you parallel it to how women and women get treated for the same accomplishments it kinda hit home.
When a man is harassing Jennifer’s character and leaving her crying and screaming and while they also literally killed her baby, Bardem comes along and tells her to ‘forgive’. ‘we must always forgive’. Well, that is something God would say, right? But it is also allegorical for how society sometimes fails to take (attempted) rape and harassment seriously (just leave it be if you weren’t hurt. no reason to get riled up! just forgive and forget).
Now at the end of the movie while Jennifer’s character self-destructs and everyone around her, her husband rips her heart out and keeps the stone as a trophy (allegorical for trophy wife?) and starts over with a new wife who conveniently looks almost the same.
Now, there is no denying that the movie is about Genesis and Bardem’s character is God, Lawrence is mother earth, Harris is Adam and Michelle is Eve. Their sons are Abel and Cain and all the unwanted guests are God’s creations who end up destroying the world. And the end signifies God wanting to start over and hope for the best. Since the movie is so allegorical, people have found very polarizing interpretations in it. Aronofsky has expressed his intentions so the ‘real’ meaning is out there but the beauty of film is also that people can still look at their own interpretation and stay with it. When a movie is really chewed out for you with a clear structure and dialogue that explains what’s gonna happen and why it is happening second for second, it’s another story. But in this case, he is promoting people to find their own interpretation too (but maybe not as much as Lynch tends to). Interpretations apart from the intended one could be the one I highlighted above, but that can also be narrowed down to the problems within marriages (men not looking out for their wives and disregarding them, not appreciating them), an artist’s narcissism (nothing is ever enough for him and he rips peoples heart out for his own gain). I mean, Bardem’s God was literally a narcissist.
I still think that even within the Genesis theme of the movie, a quick snark to the treatment of woman in general is juxtaposed with the treatment of (mother) earth. Men corrupt women; mankind corrupts the earth. Because near the end of the movie, when mother earth is fed up with everyone around her and tries to stab them, they kick her while she’s down and call her every term that woman have to deal with ‘slut, cunt, bitch, whore’ and as far as I know, no one has ever called mother earth that. Fair enough, she has to deal with war and mankind’s decay in general but no one is calling her a slut. So while Jennifer’s character is a representation of mother earth, she’s also a woman, married to a man who seemingly does not love her the way she loves him and deals with horrible treatment and harassment so I find both a Christian and a feminist theme in the movie and because of the variety of interpretations that can be thought of about this movie, I loved every second of it.
So don’t let the polarizing reviews keep you from watching it. This movie will definitely go down as a cult movie that film lovers will discuss for years to come.
Disclaimer: some of these views are rather extreme but that is what movies do; they exploit extremities. I do not think that all men are misogynists and neither does Aronofsky. It was just a feminist reading of a rather extreme allegorical movie and of course real life is less black and white than that. So just take all these observations with a grain of salt rather than a mirror of what I think about men and women and marriages because obviously that is not what I intend to do.