CW: mention of rape and domestic abuse
Olivia Cooke reviews and deconstructs Darren Aronofsky’s controversial new film mother!
To say that Darren Aronofsky’s recent cinematic piece has divided both audiences and critics alike would be an understatement. mother! is a film of contradictions. It is appalling. It is amazing. It arouses disgust and disbelief. It stupefies and captivates the audience, holding you asunder in a sheer panic-inducing hysteria.
mother! is perhaps, Aronofsky’s most metaphorical film to date. Aesthetically, the film shares overtures with Requiem for a Dream, and its ability to provoke an incredibly emotional response from its audience mirrors Aronofsky’s previous psychological horror Black Swan. Yet, mother! self-fashions itself as an utterly “undefinable” film. It’s been labelled as an eco-parable, a tragi-comedy, and a domestic melodrama. The sheer metaphorical baggage attached to the film destabilises any viewer’s sense of orientation in their understanding of it. Quite frankly, it is a bloody mess of a film.
The film’s metaphorical structure lends itself easily to feminist interpretation, with its protagonist, played by Jennifer Lawrence, personifying Mother Earth. Her character tries to create a perfect world within the confines of the domestic sphere, as represented by her obsessive restoration work on a house damaged previously by a mysterious fire. She shares this small world with only her husband; known as Him, Javier Bardem plays a struggling poet whose lack of creative energy creates an absence of emotional and sexual desire between the couple. The arrival of strangers into their home unsettles the couple’s peaceful existence. Mother’s psychological and physical deterioration is contrasted with the literal and intellectual growth of Him – the entering en masse of other human life, who lights the creative spark within Bardem’s character.
As the film progresses towards its grotesque and tragic climax, Aronofsky plays upon these established metaphorical nuances. In a carefully choreographed final scene, Aronofsky presents a disturbing and apocalyptic vision of humanity ravaging Mother Earth through Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother. She is beaten, she is kicked and she is raped by a pack of monstrous, cannibalistic humans. Not only does Aronofsky use Lawrence as an embodiment of Mother Nature to convey our collective horrific treatment of the environment, but he also sheds light on the issues affecting women within both the private and public spheres. The physical destruction of Mother’s body makes allusions to domestic abuse, and visually displays the ruining effect of the societal objectification of women’s bodies. Mother literally gives her heart and her body to Him at the end of the film; their relationship is unequal, and the expectations placed on Him’s woman counterpart are far greater than his own. She is his muse: idolised by a man who seeks to utilise Mother as a source of artistic inspiration, and nothing more.
mother! is a film in which the woman holds humanity together. Through the symbolic destruction of the house, we see how society is ultimately destabilised in the absence of a tangible woman presence, and Aronofsky’s foreboding vision of a humanity without the woman is presented as both appalling and hellish. It is also, unnervingly, posed as a future that is not as unfathomable as we may think.
Illustration by Maegan Farrow