What Exactly Are The Allegorical Meanings Behind mother!?
Spoilers for mother! to follow….
It is no secret now that mother! is much more than what it seems to be on the surface, I would call the marketing a blatant lie and the reason for the negative reviews, but that’s just me. Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is confusing and nonsensical unless you understand that the entire thing from beginning to end is one giant allegory accompanied by smaller, more minor allegories within it. Aronofsky had a very clear goal from the beginning when he decided to make this movie and that was to tell basically the creation story from the Book of Genesis as well as make a statement about the current state of the environment, a topic that clearly angered him enough to make a film about it. To say he was hiding this allegory would be a lie, you cannot watch this movie without picking out some of the biblical references which are fairly obvious right from the opening sequence, and then through a second viewing everything falls together and connects, forming a complete story.
To think of the events of this movie in a literal sense will leave you with nothing, as this isn’t a story that makes sense whilst also meaning something else. There is no linear plot and nothing is based in reality, including the characters and character decisions which unless you have the religious goals of the film in mind don’t feel real…… and it’s because they’re not. The characters here aren’t necessarily characters, I would describe them as vessels whose purposes are to represent characters from a different yet very familiar story. And this isn’t an explicit connection either, the character names are limited to Him, Mother, Man, Woman, generic titles that give the indication that they are no-one, just pieces of a much larger story. It all goes back to that allegory, the one that Aronofsky expertly depicts with obvious and subtle connections.
So how exactly does this Book of Genesis allegory fit in? Well Javier Bardem’s character of ‘Him’ very obviously is representing God, Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘Mother’ is none other than Mother Nature, and the house they live in is representing of the Earth, their paradise, their Garden of Eden. It’s a sanctuary they built, Mother Nature painstakingly maintains her home and all is well until God’s creation mankind comes knocking. First you have the appearance of Ed Harris’ Man who is none other than Adam, sporting a very familiar wound, a wound that would be present if lets say a rib happened to go missing. From that rib a Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears and now we have an intrusive couple essentially making this sacred haven their own. They barge their way into rooms, don’t follow the rules and end up touching and breaking one of the Paradise’s most prized possessions. They tamper with the ‘forbidden fruit’ if you will, and are subsequently expelled from Eden but never actually. Then enters infamous brothers Cain and Abel (Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson respectively) who as you’d expect fight, and fight, and fight, resulting in Cain killing Abel.
Now up until this point things are progressing fairly smoothly, especially when compared to the radical insanity of the last 20-30 minutes, but then the allegorical connections to the Book of Genesis and the New Testament get larger and more confronting. Soon, whilst God does his duty consoling the loss of life a flurry of humans come barging into Mother’s sanctuary and helping themselves to whatever they please. They’re not respecting the rules of the land and causing gradual damage to the house and its contents. For fuck sake people, the sink is not fucking braced yet so get off it!!! But they don’t listen and in order to represent the flood which Noah decided to catch some waves on Aronofsky creates a literal flood from a burst pipe which conveniently (yet only temporarily) drives away the selfish and reckless humans. God’s dedication to helping his creations and his urge to forgive and forgive gets stronger and stronger with each passing scene. With the eradication of these people we say goodbye to the Old Testament and must pave the way for the New Testament, which we see written within this film.
God’s writing of the New Testament is one of the more obvious references to notice, I mean, as soon as you see that this ‘story’ he has written is in the form of a single sheet you have to be able to make that connection. And then shit starts going sideways from here as Aronofsky goes fucking wild on the screen. So with the arrival of the New Testament we instantly see the rise in religion and Christianity and the chaos this brings on Mother’s Paradise. People start coming from far and wide, worshiping God as a poet, the writer of words that are changing people’s lives. The thousands of icons people bring into the house, the priests, everyone wanting a piece of what belongs to him, it’s a statement about modern religion and its presence in society. Then as more people show up there is fighting, conflict, then police, then war and destruction, street violence, poverty, the apocalypse, and this entire sequence is Aronofsky taking a break from the biblical references to unleash his rage on the current pathetic state of the environment, all done at the hands of humans. It’s a cinematic masterpiece the way this is pulled off is phenomenal.
Then back to the New Testament where Mother welcomes a baby, a baby that everyone just wants to see and touch, quite possibly the most obvious reference to Jesus. So God takes his prodigal son and releases him to the people, the one to save all of humanity, and then in one of the most brutal scenes to watch we see humanity ultimately kill the baby Jesus with a shockingly hard to watch snap of the neck. Then you see the literal eating of the baby Jesus connecting to the symbolic eating of the body and blood of Christ in reality. Aronofsky then gets in one last allegory on the destruction humans are causing to the environment by having us endure a solid 20 seconds or so of ‘Mother’ getting beaten to near death by mankind. That is a very disturbing and tough scene to watch. Then we get the ultimate climax depicting Mother Nature calling it quits, blowing up her house, the destruction of the Earth, leaving God to start all over with the hope that things will turn out differently, but as the start and end of the film suggest, it never will.
So that right there is the main allegory Aronofsky had in mind whilst making this movie. He made this film in order to express a combination of the exploration of the Book of Genesis as well as a statement about how humans have taken this once beautiful haven and done as they please with it, driving it into the ground. But the beauty about it is despite the fact that the film does have a planned and calculated meaning behind there is still so much about it that is up for interpretation. For instance, where upon first viewing I recognised some of the more obvious biblical references another strong message that I observed was the effect that fame has on a family and relationship. The more popularity that Bardem gained through the writing of his novel, the more it consumed his mind and he placed the requests and wellbeing of his fans above that of his own wife. His constant reassuring that he’d only be a minute and then disappearing for lengthy periods of time depicts that separation that happens as people get sucked into always being in the spotlight as for some the love of one person is unfortunately never enough. Another outlook many people seem to share is how it represents abusive relationships along with a number of other varying allegories.
So in the end there is some sort of interpretation you can gather from all or most of the events that take place in this movie, but one lasting question in particular that I don’t have a strong theory about at all is what is the significance of the yellow substance Mother consumes a total of three times before throwing it away upon becoming pregnant. She seems to consume it at times of stress and pain when there is some sort of negative human impact on the house. The first time is following Man smoking in the house, the next is after Man and Woman are having sex in the house, and the third is during the first time humans converge in her house in mass. The consumption of this formula seems to calm her, in that medication is used to treat mental health conditions such as depression etc. It could be as simple as something that prevents Mother from losing her cool as in the end of the film or it could be something else…… I honestly have no clue. The thing that throws me off the most is why she throws it out after realising she is pregnant….. There must be some connection there and i just can’t put my finger on it.
However you interpreted this film beyond the references to the Book of Genesis and current environmental situations there is no wrong way to look at it. The key is that everyone will take something different from this, it is so layered with allegories and metaphors that you could watch this three times and piece together references and lines of dialogue that open up new ways of interpreting the same events. I love a film that can spark many engaging discussions and this is entirely effective in what it is trying to convey to its audience. If it didn’t blatantly mislead audiences with its horror centric marketing it could have been even more effective but that’s something we will never know.