Feature Article

Mother Film Symbolism Explained – Here’s What’s Going On

First off, I suggest not reading this if you haven’t seen mother! yet, unless you just don’t care then it’s on you. Darren Aronofsky’s film released this weekend, and it’s devastatingly awful. Pre-released comparisons saw it tied to Rosemary’s Baby. I can tell you this is the most opposite film comparison that it could possibly be tied to. Movie symbolism can be a strong and compelling aspect of how a film is portrayed. This is usually enhanced by strong character development and plotlines.  In mother!, however, both characters and plotlines are so under developed that the overt reliance on symbolism becomes drawn out. It’s one of those movies that people will see only because everyone is talking about it. In the end, I guess this is good because it gets people talking, but I suggest passing on the film to be honest.

mother! foregoes the standard reliance on a strong story and plotlines films tend to use for outright symbolism, and there are two reasons this is normally done. One, it’s as I said above that it gets people talking. Second, it’s because one does not want to outright say what is happening (usually because it’s controversial), and hides behind symbolism. This allows for people to try and guess without ever having a finite answer from its creator. Fortunately for us, Mother! has such obvious symbolism that there isn’t much to explain. Once again, there are spoilers below. If you want to watch the film without any outside interference, then skip this until after you watch. Either way, I hope you enjoy.

mother! is an allegory draped in Christian symbolism. It should also be noted that the film’s director Darren Aronofsky is a devout atheist and is on record previously noting that humanity is destroying Earth. This is important to the film, as it ties directly to its plot and symbolism. In the film, there is a character portrayed by Javier Bardem. (God) Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mother, is mother Earth (featured image) The house that majority of the film takes place in is also the Earth, or environment depending on how you want to look at it.

Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are the two main stars of the film, and they represent Adam and Eve. At one point, Harris is vomiting his brains out in the bathroom. The camera angle allows us to see an extremely obvious injury by his ribs, which is a clear reference to man giving up a rib to create woman. Speaking of woman, Pfeiffer (Eve) and Harris (Adam) are told they can go anywhere in the house except the office. Of course, they do so anyway. While inside, they break a fire crystal and are disavowed. Their initial response is to start having sex everywhere else in the house (original sin) after eating the forbidden apple (breaking the fire crystal). It’s an unusual take to say the least, but it doesn’t stop there. Symbolism can be amazing or devastating. It all depends on its implementation, and it only gets more overt, obvious and insulting from here on out.

Being stoked in symbolism, Adam and Eve aren’t the only ones around. Of course, they have two sons in the film (Cain and Abel) They start arguing about their dad’s will (inheritance), and naturally it escalates to one brother murdering the other. The surviving brother flees while they are trying to bury the dead brother, who is being buried by not only his parents, but God as well. What’s happens next is not only obvious, but the funniest way of implementing symbolism I’ve ever seen. After burying their son, a whole bunch of people show up at their house to grieve. For some reason, people have to be told not to sit on the sink. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never once tried to sit on somebody’s sink. This fact alone makes you focus and think “Ok, obviously something’s up with the sink”, and then it happens. The sink breaks, floods the entire house, and now we have the great flood. It should also be noted that the more people show up, the more the house seems to break down. Simple things like cracks to actually bleeding, it’s obvious that more and more humans are destroying the Earth.

We now switch to Jennifer Lawrence’s mother character, who decides to bash God for not having sex with her. Naturally, this is a “challenge” or something and the two end up having sex. So, we have a visual representation of God having sex. Yup. Mother becomes pregnant (Virgin Mary and Jesus) and decides the first thing she wants to do is to cook a meal. A bunch more people show up and interrupt the meal (the more people, the worse it is for the Earth), and the film proceeds to switch gears a bit here. Remember, Aronofsky is an atheist. This shows up clear as day with what comes next. Lawrence goes through a number of what can only be called nightmares. They show all sorts of war, people being kidnapped, etc. It lasts for a bit, but then stops when God shows up and brings her into the office to give birth (Jesus and the manger).  Basically, God abandoned the people of Earth after the flood and decided to show up for the birth of his son. In other words, how can there be a god if all this bad stuff happens?

What happens next is deeply disturbing. After the baby is born (Jesus), all the people decide to kidnap it. They then kill the baby (Crucifixion) and eat its flesh (Communion) while praying in front of a cult-ish like altar to, you guessed it, God. Basically, just how Jesus was crucified in the name of “God” as if it was a good thing. Lawrence’s Mother is then physically beaten and pummeled extremely graphically. She somehow manages to escape and flees to the basement where there are conveniently placed barrels of oil or fuel. She knocks them over and sets the house on fire, thus destroying all of mankind, as well as herself ironically, in the process (Oil is the devil for an environmentalist like Aronofsky) Of course, God does not intervene in her aid as he lets her perish from the human’s free will. You know, because humans are so bad that we even destroyed the Earth and had the human embodiment of God killed. Right.

The Earth can’t die, of course. If you thought that was disturbing, what happens next is even more graphic as well as obvious. God takes out Lawrence’s heart (as it’s still beating) and she turns to dust (Earth is destroyed). He takes her heart and puts it back in his office where it becomes a new fire crystal, replacing the one broken at the beginning of the film. Everything gets reset (humanity is destroyed and reborn), and a brand new girl (Eve) wakes up in the house again. The symbolism itself is pretty obvious. I’ve read a number of reviews of the film prior to writing this article, and none seem to account for the overt, biblical symbolism when describing their stance.

Either way, mother! is in theaters now. Unless you are into grossly over the top and insulting takes on symbolism (especially when it comes to religion), I suggest you pass on this film. Not only was it based entirely on symbolism, but it was severely misguided. In addition, none of the characters were developed and there was seemingly no effort at a plot other than symbolism.

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mikeboccher

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  • Instead of viewing all of the allegory as “symbolism”, I find that this film is better viewed as a direct retelling of the bible using a modern setting. Consider the film “Shakespeare In Love” — While the characters and plot are unique from the original Romeo and Juliet, you would not call the plot “symbolic” of its source material. Rather it is the source and inspiration for the entire plot of the film.

    “Mother!” is a retelling of the Christian creation, messiah, and apocalypse myths. This isn’t symbolism, it is the face-value plot of the story. When viewed through that lens, I find the film much more enjoyable. Doing so allows us to begin dissecting real ideas of the film — God as a selfish being, humans prioritizing their worship of God over the protection of their planet, women as life-givers, the symbolism between destruction of the earth and rape, etc.