Like a perfect storm, mother! is chaos. It's a film that drags you from your seat, punches you in the face, grabs you by the shoulders and shakes, leaving you with an emotional palette that mixes feelings of disgust, awe, and astonishment. It is, essentially, a masterpiece. But it's a masterpiece only a director like Darren Aronofsky can make, technically accomplished on the surface but elevated to greatness by its context.
Huge spoilers for mother! from now on.
It's not a surprise that early reaction has delved into metaphor. Outwardly, #mother is a dark psychological horror that tells the story of a couple, known as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) whose quiet, isolated home life is disrupted by mysterious visitors, known simply as Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Behind the veil, the film is a metaphorical representation of mankind's most deep-rooted religious parables. Following the spiritual dive into the metaphysical with The Fountain (2006) and an exploration into the Book of Genesis with Noah (2014), mother! is Aronofsky's attempt to produce an allegory of Christianity, and in particular, the biblical tale of creation.
Bustle has eloquently analyzed the biblical correlations in mother!, highlighting the film as a condensed history of Earth told through the doctrine of Christianity, ending tragically with the forewarned apocalypse. The links aren't all ambiguous, either. Mother is a representation of mother nature. Him is the masculine, Judeo-Christian god. Man and Woman are Adam and Eve, their feuding sons Cain and Abel.
As frantically manic as it is, the plot also follows a biblical trajectory. At its core, it becomes a story of man destroying Earth against mother nature's wishes. People pay the house no respect, they do as they please, they take renovation under their own control. The ignorance of those unwanted visitors leads a broken sink, which floods the house in a clear reference to the Genesis flood, where God reverses creation by turning the Earth into a flooded wasteland.
In an oddly niche mother! based Inception, I'm going to dive even deeper down the parabolic rabbit hole and look at the meaning behind the parable behind the allegory. Having digested Aronofsky's work, I don't think mother! is a straight up, like-for-like metaphor for Christianity. I also believe it contains commentary on the belief system that underpins religious doctrine. Now, let's metaphorically peel back the blood-soaked floorboards.
The Distinction Between Religion And Spirituality
Before we go on, it's important to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. The former can be see as dogma, a set of held beliefs that are taught in a structured way. The definition itself is: "a particular system of faith and worship" — emphasis on particular system. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more open, encompassing a belief or experience with the metaphysical, or the soul. It isn't assigned a set God, it doesn't follow rules. It's religion in its distilled state.
All religions, at their core state, generally agree on the same principles. They just package them in different ways. In his book, Essential Spirituality, Dr. Roger Walsh identifies seven central spiritual practices across all religions: Finding the soul's desire; cultivating wisdom; living ethically; calming the mind; recognizing the sacred in all things; awakening wisdom and understanding; expressing generosity and service.
Another facet of spirituality is the conflict between the ego and the soul. The ego is a manifestation of the thinking mind, the barrier blocking our soul's true desire and the discovery of God. For many Eastern religions, our true selves lie in the quiet clarity that sits beyond the mind's "chatterbox" nature — the part of ourselves that resides beyond the thinking mind (i.e., the part of you that is aware of your thoughts) is awareness. While the ego sees itself as separate entity cut off from the world, our true selves tap into a universal, interconnected consciousness.
What on Earth does this have to do with mother!? By viewing the film through the lens of essential spirituality, it leads us to a new set of comparisons, that provides further understanding of the message behind it — Him is a manifestation of the ego, Her is awareness.
"I Am I" — Is Him A Manifestation Of The Ego?
While watching mother!, there was one particular comment that caught my attention. After she has destroyed the home to rid the unwanted guests, Mother is dying in His arms. She asks him, "who are you?" to which he responds, "I am I." This statement is crucial. The ego is often referred to as a false sense of a separate self, a set of belief systems separate from the soul that sees itself as an "I." By referring to himself as "I," Bardem's character reveals he isn't God, but masculine, man-made representation of God.
There's more evidence of this. The seven deadly sins on the surface appear to be rigid religious doctrine on "how not to have fun." Instead, they highlight the different desires of the ego, "sins" in the respect that they remove oneself from the soul, or true being. Him is clearly captivated by a number of these sins, most of all, pride. His attraction to fame and adulation takes him away from his soul, Her. It becomes an obsession that leads to him neglecting the most important thing he has.
This is also reflected with the visitors, who can be seen as challenges that entice the ego, to lure it into false fulfilment, away from the enlightenment that lies within the soul. In many ways, the visitors are manifestations of such ego-desires, or sins; they act freely without inhibitions, they fornicate, they steal, they crave salvation. Interestingly, in mother!, celebrity worship replaces religious deity, a nod toward fame being an ego-driven, modern substitute for God.
When Mother gives birth she introduces the purist element of the film. The newborn has no ego, no doctrine, no religion. It's essence is spiritually free, explaining why many eastern religions advocate the need to be more like children. However, the ego-driven hoards can't handle purity, they devour it, literally, their own craving causing the death of the untainted.
Bardem's character shows signs of gluttony (often referred to as a sign of selfishness), greed (in the manner he seeks adulation), despondency (his struggle with writer's block) and wrath (his outburst of anger). As an interesting side note, Mother takes on the role of temptress for Him to commit the two final sins — she provokes him into seducing her (lust) and doesn't let him hold their newborn child (envy) — thus completing the set and, potentially, unveiling the film's true message.
Is Mother The Divine Feminine?
On top of testing Him's ability to show restraint and avoid sin, there are more signs that Mother is ushering Him toward enlightenment. After supporting him through writer's block, she cries as she reads his finished poem. In that moment, she believes, having attained his goal, Him may be close to enlightenment and overcoming his ego-driven desire ("will I lose you?"). However, he immediately informs his publisher and the press, seeking fame. Mother realises, to her disappointment, his work has become another extension of his ego.
This leads me onto the crux of this article. I don't believe Him is God. In fact, there's enough to suggest Mother is God, or at least the true divinity of the film. At the end, we're shown that the Him is masculine God, the creator. He takes pride in his creation. He takes pride in the fact that he remains, while Mother does not. But out of the two, it's Mother who acts Godlike. She surrenders, wholly. Despite everything, she gives her heart, her essence, to allow Him to continue. This leads me to a biblical quote, Galatians 2:20, which states:
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it's no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Herself up for me."
This text, it's the Son of God who surrenders, and gives "Himself" (I've switch the gender pronoun for clarity), so it is no longer "I" who lives. In a biblical bait-and-switch, I believe that Aronofsky is making a claim that the divine feminine is God, and man's masculine creation only "thinks" he is God — but as discussed, thinking is a manifestation of the ego. If this is the case, the ending takes an interesting twist.
While Him makes out Mother's didn't live up to his high expectations, instead, it's Him who is failing the test. Like Sisyphus, he's forced into repetition until he learns his lesson. What's the lesson? To avoid the cycle of destruction, "I" (Him) must transcend his ego to become connected with being, or pure awareness (symbolised by the poem which shows them connected, holding hands). In short: It's Him's responsibility to attain enlightenment to prevent the cycle of egoistic living and become one with God — "You never loved me, you loved how much I loved you," says Mother.
The question is: Is there a basis in reality to motivate Aronofsky to pursue this as a story?
The Suppressed Sacred Femininity
Unequivocally yes. Divine femininity has been seriously suppressed, throughout centuries. As highlighted by spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle, the Holy Inquisition — an institution founded by the Catholic Church — tortured and killed between three million and five million women across a 300 year period. Conversely, pre-Christian civilizations such as Sumerian, Egyptian and Celtic societies, revered and worshipped the divine female. The Holy Inquisition rebranded sacred femininity, making it demonic.
Why? As highlighted by Tolle in A New Earth, sacred femininity was rebranded due to collective ego desires taking control. Tolle argues females are more in touch with the soul, thus the ego takes a stronger hold in men. Historically, as the collective ego grew, dogma and fear-based religion was introduced. In order to flourish, the enlightened form of spirituality, in its feminine form, was censored and silenced.
Tolle adds that as a result, women were pushed to the sidelines, reduced to child bearers and objects owned by men. We see this in mother! — throughout the film, Lawrence is seen as an object of Him, her hospitality and life-giving qualities are overlooked. When Mother fulfils her child bearing purpose, she knows immediately. In that scene, the camera focuses on the sun, shining brightly. This could be an illustration of good weather...
Or, in a parable of a parable, a film abundant in metaphor and deeper meaning, it's more likely the sun represents something else — the Son of God.
What was your interpretation of mother!?