Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer disrupt their home life. USA TODAY
SPOILERS: The following discusses important plot points and the ending of mother! If you don’t want to avoid such things, TURN BACK NOW.
It was readily apparent from the first trailer that Darren Aronofsky’s new psychological thriller mother! was going to be strange to the max. No one could prepare for just how strange.
Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘mother’ character — whose dream of having a quiet life fixing up her country estate goes insanely awry — gives birth, watches as her child dies due to her A-list poet husband, “Him” (Javier Bardem), wanting to show off to his fans, and then lashes out, burning the place down and beginning the entire story anew.
One of the biggest questions folks had was, what was up with the lowercase “mother” and exclamation mark in the title? Aronofsky told us there was good reason for it, and even Bardem calls the film a “great open melon of a movie. It’s wide open.” Movie writers Patrick Ryan, Brian Truitt and Andrea Mandell each have their own take on how the name fits in with the movie’s meaning.
It’s all about climate change!
Ryan: This is the most unexpected yet cloyingly heavy-handed climate-change film ever. Lawrence has said that her character represents Mother Earth and the house she so desperately tries to refurbish is our planet, which is why she gets so panicked when strangers literally invade her space and thoughtlessly muck it up.
Reading the movie as an allegory for global warming, every exchange becomes painfully on the nose: “Why not just build a new one?” Michelle Pfeiffer’s disparaging “woman” asks early on. “Because it’s our home,” mother naively responds. Later, before the movie reaches its incendiary finish, she berates a visitor who smashes in a wall and justifies his actions by saying he’s “just trying to make (his) mark.” And in case the preachy dialogue flew over your head, mother! further hammers home its message by literally painting a blueish-green circle around the house as Him reads his poetic masterstroke.
But wait, it’s about religion!
Truitt: I buy the Mother Earth angle but it definitely gets biblical, seemingly adding a fourth icon to the holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There are a slew of Christian allusions, one of which explains the title’s lowercase nature: Him is obviously God — he even calls himself a “creator” — while the mother and other characters are given uncapitalized names (a la the Bible). But also, Ed Harris and Pfeiffer are analogous to Adam and Eve: They’re the first people to show up to mother’s manor, and when their sons arrive, the older one (Domhnall Gleeson) murders his younger brother (Brian Gleeson). Cain and Abel much?
As for the exclamation mark, that has to refer to the bonkers third act where there’s a brutal, bloody sacrifice of Him’s child, and his worshippers partake of the flesh. “We have to find a way to forgive them,” Him says, leading to mother’s response: “They butchered our son. Are you insane?” It all leads to mother’s unleashing of Old Testament wrath and a fiery finale where she, not the son, is resurrected, and the entire finish of the thing is like the Book of Revelations come alive.
Guys, it’s about love
Mandell: I know this because I went straight to the horse’s mouth at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I basically cornered Bardem into telling me what the hell was going on. (I had my own theories, but was still reeling from watching a baby get eaten. P.S. Three real babies played that baby. They all lived.) Specifically, I pushed Bardem on what Aronofsky’s heart/crystal represented.
Here’s what he said: “That day of shooting (where he grabbed the heart out of J-Law’s chest), that scene especially, was by far one of the hardest things for me to play. Because I need to understand what I’m portraying in order to be that. And for me it’s always (represented) pure love. Pure love in the sense that she has given all this pure love without asking anything back. And that pure love is the germ of everything … and then we intoxicate or rotten that thing with hate or envy or greed, whatever you want to call it. But pure love is the germ of everything that grows – that is ‘birth.’ And that includes the ability to make creation: Call it ‘earth.’ From there, me, I have the power and the strength and the motor to give birth again to the world and the planet. Another ‘Mother Earth.’ “
So in short, you’re both right. Now I have to go unsee that eaten baby.
At the New York premiere of director Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” star Jennifer Lawrence talks about the movie’s “compelling narrative” but admits it’s not for the faint-hearted. (Sept. 14) AP