Film explores the cost of human expansion
October 5, 2017
D a r r e n A r o n o f s k y ’s “mother!” is a disturbing and audacious movie that is not for the faint of heart. The writer-director is known for controversial filmmaking (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”), but this metaphorical horror film is troubling even for him.
The film distinguishes itself from a typical horror film by commenting on today’s newest form of colonization: man conquering nature. At its core, “mother!” is about how man’s need for control and dominance clashes with Mother Nature’s limited resources.
Aronofsky explores the consequences of humankind’s insatiable desire for expansion by alluding to climate change throughout the film, beginning with the opening scene. A crystal with glowing red lines is placed on a pedestal which causes a burned-up house to be regenerate itself— symbolizing the start of a new cycle.
Besides the strange opening, the film has a deceptively simple setup that takes place entirely in a remote house. A couple, named Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem), reside there as she works to restore parts of their idyllic country home. He is a once-famous writer who is experiencing writer’s block. Meanwhile, she is in charge of the decisions around the house (i.e. selecting which colors to use to paint one of the dilapidated rooms).
Aronofsky hints that this movie is something else entirely by breaking all rules of realism early on. In one scene, Mother puts her hand on a wall and viewers zoom into the house to see a literal beating heart within the walls. Throughout the film, Aronofsky does a brilliant job of making viewers feel like they are living vicariously through Mother.
One night, there is an unexpected knock on the door that startles Him and Mother. As far as the audience can tell, she is neither expecting nor wanting a visitor, yet he jumps to answer it. An individual identified as Man (Ed Harris) enters the house with a fawning story about Him’s work.
After the men exchange friendly banter, he offers Man to stay the night. He neglects to ask Mother’s opinion on the matter, even after Man belittles her position in the house throughout their conversation (a motif that appears throughout the film). The sudden intrusion causes her to feel shaky and the living heart within the wall becomes blackened.
Viewers witness Mother sipping on an elixir of sorts to regain her energy and it becomes clear that there is a literal connection between her and the heart. At various other points in the film, she touches the wall to see the condition of the heart symbolising that it is directly representative of herself (i.e. the way she feels inside).
The following day, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives explaining that she is Man’s wife. The couple comfortably make their way around the house after receiving an extended invitation by Him: “You can stay as long as you want.”
To merely say that things become stranger from this point on is a huge understatement. “Mother!” starts in one register—feeling almost like a thriller—but soon transforms into something surreal and genre-defying.
The subtle hints that Aronofsky plots throughout the film seem to grow like the blood spot that Mother can never seem to get rid of. Viewers learn that there is more to the world of this film as the sounds and feelings of discomfort escalate and as Aronofsky’s metaphors become more apparent.
The climactic sequence that follows is meant for a visual experience but can best be described as the epitome of intensity. The house floods with a mob of more people and everything devolves into chaos. Mother passes through various rooms witnessing jaw-dropping horrors, ranging from people engaging in Satanic rituals to Kristen Wiig shooting lines of prisoners in the head.
As more and more people show up, they eventually obliterate the house, thereby symbolising mankind’s destruction of the natural world. The parallel between Mother Earth and man is explicitly highlighted at the end of the film, as viewers realize that Mother is a part of a cycle that Him, the creator, has constructed. The husband and wife relationship in the film follows by design.
Aronofsky’s “mother!” elicits a broad range of emotions– in particular, frustration with our world’s current affairs. It is a visually striking film that gives viewers a sobering view of humanity today.
No matter how much we beckon ourselves to not allow history to repeat itself, Aronofsky suggests that our human arrogance and greed will always cause us to fall victim to its destructive cycle.
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