Warning: This post contains spoilers for mother! Read at your own peril.
A word of warning: You will most likely leave mother!, Darren Aronofsky's latest ambitious oeuvre, a tad confused. I know I did. A wild finale that includes a horde of humans showing up to worship Javier Bardem, a baby literally being devoured by the crowd, and a badly burned Jennifer Lawrence (her beauty still not diminished) surrendering her heart to sustain her lover, can be a lot to process.
But love it or hate it (this is not the kind of film that offers a middle ground option), mother! is certainly a movie that contains a multitude of layers, each offering lengthy discussion fodder for the scarf-enthusiasts in your friend group. Aronofsky and his cast managed to keep the major plot points of the movie under wraps until its release, which is no small feat in a world where we're already debating whether or not that is in fact Rami Malek singing in the Freddie Mercury biopic, before there is so much as a trailer available. But maybe their success is due to the fact that asking what mother! is about is the wrong question. More appropriate would be to ask, what is mother! not about? As a movie that tackles the very idea of creation, it is quite literally about everything.
At its core, the film is obviously about motherhood. But it's also about creation in the true biblical sense, the toxic relationship between an artist and his muse (so much so that the idea of Lawrence choosing to date Aronofsky while filming this is truly baffling), a paradise lost, and how people are just generally trash.
Aronosfky shed some light on his thinking earlier this week in a Reddit AMA, saying that "finding the structure was the great breakthrough that allowed me to write this screenplay so quickly. when trying to think about mother earth's relationship to people I decided to turn to the stories of the bible as a way of describing on version of people's story on earth."
As one of the approximately 11 people who saw Noah, Aronofsky's 2014 foray into the Biblical epic, my mind was immediately drawn to the scene in which Ila (Emma Watson) gives birth to twin girls on the ark, incurring her father-in-law Noah's wrath. He's made a vow to God to let men go extinct for their sins, and those little tots would have the capacity to reproduce one day.
There are a number of similarities between that scene (above), and the one in which Lawrence gives birth to a baby boy in mother!. To watch both scenes one after the other is helpful in understanding how Aronofsky views motherhood. If Noah was more explicitly inspired by Biblical verses, mother! is no less subtle in its exploration of Judeo-Christian symbolism.
Judging by the looks of intense pain on both characters' faces, Aronofsky is aware that childbirth, at its core, is a dangerous business. It is a mother risking her life to bring a new one into the world. In both cases, the babies are seen as the genesis of creation and hope. Newborns are a sign of life's constant renewal, and nevermore so than when humanity as a species is threatened.
What's more, both films show newborns as being in immediate danger when removed from the safety and comfort of their mother's arms. Women are the nurturers and protectors — the ones who give and give — while men simply take and take.
But perhaps the most telling detail is that Lawrence is simply known as "mother," in the film's credits, a description of her biological function, and a label that women have tried to fend off for decades. Her husband, on the other hand, is known as Him (capital "H" in opposition to the lowercase "m" in the film's title), presumably a reference to God, the Father.
Whether or not this is Aronofsky's way of commenting on a social construct, as opposed to actively reinforcing it, is up for discussion. For J. Law's sake, I hope it's the former.
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