All the spoilers for Mother! below
I love horror movies. Mother!—despite its intense pre-release marketing campaign telling me I WOULD NEVER FORGET WHERE I WAS WHEN I SAW MOTHER!—is not a horror movie. Mother! is what happens when a dude has an idea he thinks is brilliant and no one checks him on it.
Darren Aronofsky typing the title 'mother!' for the first time pic.twitter.com/ahOxv8duXc
— Elena Lazic (@elazic) September 18, 2017
There are no character names in Mother!. There is only Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), Him (Javier Bardem), Man (Ed Harris), and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Mother! is a very, very long metaphor in which Mother’s character represents Mother Nature. Take a guess at who the other leads are meant to represent! That’s right, they’re God, Adam, and Eve.
Mother! is two hours of Jennifer Lawrence cleaning, cooking, worrying, tending, mending, being assaulted, giving birth, and then being burned to death. The camera almost never leaves Lawrence’s perfectly fragile angelic face. One might even call it Madonna-like. Mother and Him live together in a beautiful home in the middle of nowhere. He is a poet and Mother seems to have no occupation or concerns other than caring for Him and their home. She really loves to take care of their home—she wants to make it a paradise for just the two of them, she tells Him. He locks himself in his study to write; she refinishes the walls.
Mother! is also about the domestic labor that keeps (white, male) artists going. While He spends days and days just thinking about writing a new poem, Mother remodels His home and cooks gorgeous meals for Him in lovely gowns while making sure everything is perfect. Mother’s hair is always tied back so it doesn’t get in the way when she’s cooking or cleaning. Mother wants to offer you something to drink, tea maybe?
Then one day, Adam shows up at Mother’s doorstep. Mother is not sure she wants him around, but He loves hanging out with Adam, so Mother lets Adam stay the night. The next day, Eve is at the door saying Adam told her she could stay, too. Mother would really like it if all these people would leave because she was just getting ready to repaint the dining room. Good thing He loves the adoring company!
The next day, Adam and Eve’s sons come over, too, and get into a fist fight in Mother’s living room and one of them (Cain!) kills the other one (Abel!) right there in the kitchen.
After that, shit gets weird. Even weirder, I mean.
Adam and Eve decide to hold Cain’s wake in Mother’s home without asking her, which she does not like. Strangers begin pouring into Mother’s home, and she spends the entire wake asking people to stop making out in her bedroom, to stop sitting on dangerously unbraced counters, and to stop making a mess in her home. They do not listen to her and end up really messing up the house and screaming, she kicks everyone out.
Flash forward, and Mother and He are expecting a child. What a blessed event. When He finally writes a poem, Mother, very visibly pregnant, cooks a special meal for Him to celebrate. But He doesn’t want anything good without others to adore Him, while Mother appears to have no desires other than to create something for Him (His home) and with Him (His child). News of His great poem has spread far and wide so quickly and pilgrims begin arriving at the house to praise Him and His great work. Mother begs Him to send them away, but He won’t. How can He deny His fans?
The best thing about Mother! is that it’s spectacularly visually stimulating, especially as people cram themselves into the house and a whole society begins to form right there. Since this is a metaphor, the house becomes a microcosm of Earth. Mother tried to keep it nice and pretty for her and Him, but He had other plans, and when he opened the doors to all of humanity, humanity became ugly. People fight and brawl and scream in the house; civil wars are being fought in various rooms; people are dying; civilizations are forming and falling. I don’t know what’s going on, but you name it, it’s now happening in the house. In the strangest cameo I could ever imagine, Kristen Wiig is His publisher, who follows Mother around calling her “His muse” and then one second later seems to have assumed the role of a militia leader as she executes people with a handgun. That’s how wild shit is getting.
His fans find Mother and begin to beat her, hurling misogynist epithets at her. He finds Mother and the two are finally able to escape all of His fans and lock themselves in his study (the garden of Eden).
Did you remember that Mother is about to have a baby? Good because Mother’s water just broke! Mother gives birth (to Jesus!), but she doesn’t trust Him anymore and doesn’t even want to show her son to Him. In the one moment that Mother falls asleep, He grabs the baby and steps in front of the crowd to announce his birth. He lets the crowd take the baby and get ready for what I’m about to tell you because as they crowd surf him around, His followers accidentally kill the baby and then proceed to cannibalize him (the body and blood of Christ, etc.).
After that, Mother can’t take it anymore and decides to blow up the entire house. Fuck all y’all. The explosion kills everyone but Mother and Him (although it definitely burns her to a crisp), and He carries Mother’s body back to the garden of Eden.
“I need one more thing,” He says.
“But I have nothing left to give,” Mother tells Him, in the world’s most obvious Giving Tree reference.
But that’s where you’re wrong, Mother, because He literally takes her heart out of her body and she dies. The End.
Mother! is two hours of watching Jennifer Lawrence suffer. Look how she suffers so beautifully, so bravely. Look how she gives everything she has as she suffers so perfectly. That Lawrence is director Darren Aronofsky’s real-life muse (the two are a couple) complicates the dynamic between Mother and the much-older Him. Any extrapolation that can be taken from Mother! about Aronofsky’s perspective on the relationship between muse and artist, actor and director, or husband and wife is problematic and annoying as hell.
Allegories that position women’s bodies as “Mother Nature” and use their brutalization as a way to talk about the destruction of nature and Earth are nothing new, and I sure didn’t want or need to see a two-hour movie about it that pretended to be a horror movie. I also didn’t need another pop culture artifact about the innate selflessness and nurturing qualities of women as they give and give and give until everything, including their hearts, have been taken from them. Spare yourself from seeing this wreckage.