It feels like everyone comes out of mother! with a different takeaway, and that’s one of the most intriguing things about it. This is a film that sparks discussion by opening itself up to all sorts of interpretations.
But if you’re curious what its own creator, writer-director Darren Aronofsky, thinks it’s about, you’ve come to the right place.
Aronofsky’s been hitting the press circuit in promotion of his new movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple disturbed by a couple of unexpected visitors. There’s a lot (a lot) more to it than that, and the filmmaker’s been happy to discuss exactly what it all means. Well, what most of it means.
Why is the title spelled that way?
Everything about mother! feels kind of mysterious, starting with that title – why is it spelled with a lower case, and followed by an exclamation point?
Aronofsky hinted at an explanation in a Reddit AMA [sic]:
to find out why there’s a lowercase m read the credits and look for the letter that isn’t capitalized. ask yourself what’s another name for this character?
The letter that isn’t capitalized is the H in “Him” – the name listed for the character played by Javier Bardem. The strong implication is that Bardem’s character is God. And since only God gets capitalized like that, mother is in lower-case.
As for the punctuation, here’s Aronofsky discussing it with Entertainment Weekly:
The very first thing I wrote — before I started on the script — were the six letters of ‘mother’ and then I paused for a second. I remember this so clearly: I pressed shift-1 and put the exclamation point. That title was there before I wrote a word.
Yeah, I still don’t really get that part. Maybe he was just really excited that he finally figured out how to use his keyboard?
So mother! is a Biblical allegory, then?
Yep! “This one’s really just playing with stuff that’s in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It covers both and so the film actually unfolds in order in the same way that the same stories from The Bible,” Aronofsky told Thrillist.
Once you view the film through that lens, it’s easy to line up the parallels. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly, the visitors, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, are Adam and Eve; the bloody wound on his back represents Adam’s rib; the crystal is the forbidden fruit; and so on and so forth.
“Even some of the dialogue — and people haven’t picked up on this yet, is verbatim from the Bible,” he added.
Is mother! maybe also about current events?
Aronofsky is famously outspoken about current events and especially environmental issues, and mother! certainly reflects some of those interests. “Outside of my film work, all my work is environmental work. So I was interested in doing something in that realm,” he acknowledged to Vulture.
He elaborated further to Vanity Fair:
We are telling the story of Mother Nature turning into a female energy, and we defile the earth. We call her dirt. We don’t clean up after our mess. We drill in her. We cut down her forests. We take without giving back. That’s what the movie is.
But while the themes of mother! may look especially relevant right now, it’d be a mistake to call it a reaction to the Trump presidency. The timing simply doesn’t match up: mother! was “written in the eighth year of Obama,” confirmed Aronofsky.
Is mother! autobiographical?
Bardem’s character is a creator. So is Aronofsky in his own way, as a filmmaker. Naturally, some fans have speculated that Him is a sort of stand-in for Aronofsky himself. Not so, says the filmmaker.
“It wasn’t really autobiographical in that way,” he told Vulture. “I was more basing on the character coming out of how I wanted to portray the character Javier plays. I think that was just a result of the truth of playing out this narcissistic character.”
Besides the Bible, what other influences did mother! draw from?
Aronofsky cited the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel as two major influences on mother! during his Reddit AMA.
Variety reports that while presenting mother! in Venice, Aronofsky also named Susan Griffin’s book Woman and Nature as a source of inspiration:
Finally, for those who want still more supplementary reading material, Aronofsky offered up this mother!-ified take on the Lord’s Prayer, written by Rebecca Solnit. It’s not an “influence” on the movie per se, but it is an interesting reinterpretation of the film’s religious source material.
What’s with that ending?
mother! splits off from its Biblical allegory at the very end. Lawrence’s character destroys herself and the house with it, but her husband simply restarts the cycle with a new woman. Speaking to Collider, Aronofsky reflected on the narcissism of the husband character:
My first instinct when I first wrote it was that there would be that twist at the end, that final twist of just like, ‘Oh God it doesn’t end and this guy is just more and more of a narcissist and it just doesn’t end,’ and that would be like just another smack to the character and to the themes. How that lines up with the metaphor doesn’t fit perfectly, but I think that’s where the human story kind of takes over a little bit more and replaces the metaphor.
But what does it mean for us? Maybe nothing. “It won’t be our story anymore,” Aronofsky told Entertainment Weekly:
That’s why it’s a cautionary tale. The final chapter hasn’t been written. Life on Earth will continue to go on. Life holds on. I just read an incredible article in The Times that they’re finding potentially new life forms in caves deep under the Antarctic and all these new organisms might be discovered. We get life on this planet in many ways. Even though we’re eliminating all the large mammals on this planet, there are all types of insects and bacteria that are not getting affected in any way, and some are even thriving.
What was the gold powder about?
Aronofsky’s keeping this one himself, at least for now. “That’s the one thing that I have not shared with anyone,” he said to Thrillist. “But if you see it a couple more times you’ll get a vibe for it.”