published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
Mother! is a film written, directed, and produced by Darren Aronofsky. That order is important, in part because it is more about him conveying something rather than giving shape to an existing idea. The film offers no helping hand, but none is needed as the narrative is completely linear. To compensate, there is no indication of either the past or the reasons for what is happening on screen. The characters, each wrapped in their own shroud of mysterious origins, are introduced without any fanfare, and the entire story is hinged on finding familiarity in the biblical tales. The film is heavy on allegory, and comes as an essential counterpart to the Old Testament. Without giving away spoilers, the film is heavy on biblical themes. It can be claustrophobic for some, and too violent for others. But it is refined, as every scene and progression is measured to induce the cluelessness, hopefulness, and the feeling of being closed upon from all sides is imparted on the viewer. It is a film that is meant to be understood, and then ruminated upon as one leaves the cinema. It's a must watch from my mind.
The film is heavy on biblical allegory. Things such as the cycle of life, or the writings of God are depicted in quite a literal fashion. We have God, as Him in the credits, who creates everything, and mother in a paradise which is the house itself. We are constantly shown how the mother and the house are one and the same, their hearts or life-forces are bound. In this paradise lives God, the creator, the poet, who has written a great work of art, but can write no more. Mother, who loves him to no end, even though he does not seem to pay her any mind, is taken up with finishing the house, making it the literal 'paradise'. This is the setting of the film.
One day, a man turns up, thinking it's an Inn. Him, being as merciful as he is, takes him in. This is God created Man (see the credits, again). So God is happy with the company, and mother is worried. She does not like this stranger in to her house. But God like it, because Man is enamored with Him. There's something suspicious about him that she does not understand, and she wants him gone from her house. At this point, we are to be made clear that mother is Mother Earth, and the room in the house where Him 'creates' is the garden of Eden.
We see Him and Man having a deep conversation in front of the crystal, and at night, when mother wakes up, she finds Man being sick in the bathroom, with Him taking care, and a nasty wound on his rib. That's the act of God taking Man's rib to create Woman.
This Woman turns up the next day, and we are immediately shown how mother is jealous of the love between Man and Woman, and how God seems infatuated with them. As they stay, things get on her nerves. God is humoring them all the time, and this causes mother to be angry. She explains that he watched his 'mother' (which is a reference to her) burn in the house, and she helped him make it back to what it was. But all this has no effect, the only people who seem to enjoy are Man, Woman, and Him. She is left to wonder what they are doing, seemingly disturbing her peace.
Woman is obsessed with the crystal, and in spite of being told to stay away from it, she sneaks in with Man, and causes it to shatter. God is angry, and he banishes them from the study and boards it up, saying they will never get in there again. This is Him casting Man and Woman from the heavens (they are literally upstairs in the house) and boarding it up.
We now see Cain and Abel, the two sons, who turn up and fight. One brother murders the other. Completely biblical. As things go on, more people start pouring in, until one manages to break the plumbing, and we start seeing water everywhere as mother gets hysterical about her house. Then she gets everyone to leave. This is the flood that caused humanity to be cast out once more.
Then we see Him and mother conceive a child. She 'knows' she is pregnant almost immediately, almost as if she always were. This gives God inspiration, and he starts writing again. This is the 'new' testament. When it is over, mother is overjoyed, for God has started creating again. However, she finds out that God has already 'published' the work, and that his 'publisher' has already read it well before her. The publisher is credited as the herald. That's the person 'God' speaks to. The prophet. Then we see people start coming in from far, while mother prepares a meal meant for Him.
Finding out that everyone 'loves' him, God invites everyone in to the house and asks them to share. People start taking everything God has touched, wanting to get something of 'his'. Soon they start tearing up the house. This is the state of humanity. There are wars. People are executed in 'his' name. The interpreter of God's word, the prophet kills people in blasphemy or in the name of 'freeing' them. We see someone literally shooting people off. Even mother, as she stumbles in. But she manages to carry on, terrified as the world around her is plunged into a never ending war.
Amidst all this, she is ready to deliver the child. The group of fanatics who have cornered and captured the stairs (literally the stairway to heaven), give the mother safe passage as God takes her upstairs. In there, she gives birth to her child, a son, and this is meant to be the Christ, Jesus himself. Mother begs Him to get those people 'out of her house', but God wants them to stay, even when they are tearing the house apart. That's the idea of a 'selfish' God that has pervaded so long, that God will love anything and everything because he wants love, he doesn't really care about anything and anyone as long as he is 'loved'.
Mother is soon exhausted from staying up, and the people outside send her gifts - fruits and clothing, a clear allegory to the birth of baby Christ. Mother refuses to give Him the child, and clutches him in her arms. But soon she falls asleep from exhaustion, meanwhile God sits staring at her, never blinking, with his eternal look. The moment she falls asleep, he takes the baby from her.
When she wakes up and finds the child gone, she knows this is to be done by Him, that he took the child outside. And this is true. As she steps outside, she sees him present the baby to the people, who worship him and chant for him. By the time she reaches Him, the child is gone. It's in crowd, as people pass him around. We hear someone snap the head, and mother frantically reaches the child. But it's already dead.
Turning around, she sees people 'eat the flesh' and 'drink his blood', literally symbolic of the rituals followed by the catholic church. This drives her to the edge, and she threatens the world with her rage as she tears up the floors in her fury (she -is- the floors). People then call her names, trample on her, spit on her, hit her, beat her up. That's humanity's disdain of mother earth.
In her fury, she fetches the lighter with a strange mark (or fire, another biblical or Hebrew reference) and takes it to the basement, where there's a huge store of oil. That's another interesting depiction - oil under the house. She sets the oil on fire, consuming everything. At the end, mother is barely alive, but badly burnt. Everyone else has been destroyed except Him. She wonders what else he wants, and we see the motto of 'selfish God' again as he says he wishes her love. He then opens up her heart and takes out a crystal similar to the one in his study, implying that this has happened before. He puts up the crystal on the pedestal, and everything goes back to as it was at the start. We see a different mother wake up.
The only bits I'm still confused about are the potion that mother drinks every time she has a panic attack of sorts. It's all glittery and metallic. And after she gets pregnant, she throws the rest of it away. What was it? Why did she stop taking it?