Is ‘Mother!’ Too Heavy Handed For It’s Own Good?


Originally published on September 22nd, 2017

Mother! is unlike any other film out in theaters right now. It is certainly unlike any other mainstream horror film that has been released in a very long time. A movie such as Mother! could only be made from a daring and talented filmmaker such as Darren Aronofsky. The movie is told in a world out of time; it may resemble our world but it exists only in a dream-like state (as Aronofsky described it). Aronofsky works with archetypes and tells an allegorical tale.

This is an intriguing prospect but upon viewing the film, despite its attempts to be abstract and layered with visual metaphor, the film’s messages and allegory were easy to decipher. Almost too easy.

Mother is a message movie, one with a clear direct message that is very heavy handed. But, is that to the movie’s disservice?

The internet has been picking this movie apart from the moment the film was released. There have been a great many articles that have deciphered the allegory and nearly everyone is reaching similar conclusions. Here are the broad strokes though of the symbolism and what it represents.

(Warning-Major Spoilers Ahead)

The Allegory Deciphered

Mother! [Credit - Paramount Pictures]
Mother! [Credit – Paramount Pictures]

There are great many bible stories that are used for this film.’s Mother represents Mother Earth while the house is Earth itself (with its own beating heart).  plays Him which is a stand-in for God. Mother also doubles are the Biblical character of the Virgin Mary as later in the film Him impregnates her and gives birth to essentially the child of God.

Before that, the pair lives a peaceful life together until Man played by Ed Harris shows up their door and Him lets Man in.  Man has a wound where his rib was and shortly after Woman (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) also arrives at the house. Man is Adam and Woman is Eve. Soon they are kicked out of the house after they do the one thing they are told not to do which goes into Him’s writer’s room and smash Him’s crystal. This is the original sin. They come back with their children, two brothers. The oldest brother kills the younger brother which is the story of Cain and Able.

There is a moment when more people show up to the house and break the sink that is meant to represent Noah (which is ironic since Darren made an underrated movie about Noah). Him impregnates Mother and then writes again. People love his new work (a stand-in for the New Testament). They all come to see him. The people grow out of control and start waring with each other. Aronofsky treats the audience to modern images of war and genocide to represent how the word of God can be twisted in violence.

Afterwards, Mother gives birth to the son of Him (or the son of god). Then suddenly the son gets taken away from Mother and is given to humanity whom viciously kill the baby and then eat his remains. This is the crucifixion/eating of the body of Christ.

Mother sets the house on fire in the image of the apocalypse. Him takes what is left and recreates everything and the movie cycles back to the beginning of the movie for everything to start again. Are we doomed to repeat our cycle of violence again and again? The movie seems to think so since the film opens with the same image of fire that we end on.

Mother! is the history of humanity told through biblical stories (in the simplest of terms), how religion affects humanity and how careless we are towards the treatment of Earth (in other words Global Warming).

Why An Allegory Easily Deciphered Could Be Problem

Mother! [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
Mother! [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

The movie wasn’t finished and I had discovered a lot of what this movie was attempting to communicate to the audience. There are other ways you could interrupt parts of this film such as a commentary on art and creation. However, this still works within the context of the God discussion. I state all of this because nearly all analysis I have read regarding the movie hasn’t been too far from my own. This starts to present a problem.

The movie doesn’t really have characters. The movie has archetypes and the archetypes serve the allegory. The characters and story by themselves aren’t that compelling without the support of the allegory. With that absence, a viewer is left with some flat character pieces and a simple allegory.

Many movies with allegory and message can be enjoyed without knowing the true meaning behind them. Mother! cannot be viewed that way.

Unlike a lot of films like Stanly Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Oddessy, which has a lot of visual metaphor and abstract meaning, or The Night of the Hunter, which has a lot of Biblical symbolism, there isn’t much new to discover upon later viewings. The Seventh Seal is a classic film allegory that invites multiple interpretations and viewings. Mother! does not invite the same level of multiple viewership because of its heavy-handed approach.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, depending on how you view the delivery of an art piece such as this. Maybe once is enough? However, this makes the movie strangely more disposable because the story doesn’t stand on its own, the allegory is abrasive, and the characters aren’t that interesting. So what is left to view again? The technical aspects are incredible but very seldom will that define a movie. What is left is simply a message and the message of the movie feels like someone yelling at you which is off-putting and makes parts of Mother! unwatchable.

Mother! got me once but more than likely won’t get me a second time. Is this a measure of a good piece of art? If Mother! had truly been the abstract film that some are proclaiming it to be there would be more reason to view it again. There would be a reason to study it, dissect it. As Mother! stands all the message is at the surface which makes the entire experience rather uninteresting.

Time Will Tell

Mother! is more reminiscent of high school creative writing pieces. Where a young writer had some good ideas and thought he was being edgy with his Biblical allegory but then would look back a few years later (after some maturing) and realized the problems of a heavy-handed approach.

With a filmmaker as skilled as Darren Aronofsky it is disappointing to see him put out a film with a more amateurish approach. Mother! resembles the work of a new filmmaker who is skilled but doesn’t know how to channel all the right elements to make a great film. Darren is above that. Had this been Darren’s first film the heavy-handed approach might have been more understandable.

Mother! is going to get some love simply because it is an original film. But, just because this is a quote on quote “original film” that doesn’t make it a good film.

Mother! isn’t a bad film though (the F Cinemascore is completely undeserved) but it isn’t the great film it could have been. Mother! is an interesting but highly problematic film. Only time will tell how audiences look back upon this but there is strong possibility that it won’t be with the same love and admiration of other Aronofsky films like Black Swan or the Wrestler because of its heavy-handed tone.

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