On the surface, mother! appears to be a story of unwelcome guests interrupting an otherwise peaceful existence between Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem). However, as more and more people begin to invade their property, tensions and conflict boil over, and chaos takes hold of the couple's once-idyllic home, climaxing in a moment of trembling intensity when all hope has been lost.
A closer examination of Darren Aronofksy's mother! reveals a tragically beautiful narrative of religion, love and forgiveness. However, unpacking mother! and its ending necessitates a discussion of major spoilers from this point on. Aronofsky is tackling more than just a simple tale of order and chaos in his film. The entire plot is a religious allegory rife with Old Testament symbolism that paints a harrowing picture ripe for interpretation, especially as Mother offers her heart in sacrifice to her husband — an action that greatly impacts our interpretation of the film's most climactic moment.
We Have To Find A Way To Forgive Them
mother! remains intimately close to #JenniferLawrence's character throughout the film, illustrating her suffering at the hands of her husband's guests. Upon seeing her newborn son's flesh consumed by hordes of her husband's followers, Mother snaps, watching in horror as they take away her most precious gift and her final shred of hope in a world that is crashing down around her.
Seeing his wife completely broken and alone, Him embraces Mother, trying to calm her by reaffirming his understanding for her loss and pain. He asks her to listen to the people as they lament their actions, to hear their cries of humanity — of life — in their tremendous grief, before telling her that they must find a way to forgive those who have taken everything from them. In this moment, Mother faces her ultimate challenge: choose forgiveness or seek revenge.
Ultimately, Mother burns down the house and everyone inside in a moment of fiery revenge, but her sacrifice is a perfect parallel to the story of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, as well as poignant commentary about the parent-child relationship. In a previous scene, Michelle Pfeiffer's character tells Mother that having children is the most difficult task for a parent, as they take and take until there is nothing left.
Not only has Mother given up her biological child, but audiences see how Javier Bardem's Him has continued to offer hospitality and understanding to his metaphorical children even as they destroy his home. The themes here are overtly biblical, as this scene demonstrates the true power of sacrifice and forgiveness, even ones that come at great cost. Looking at the Bible, the dying words of Jesus Christ capture the true message of this moment:
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
Though Lawrence's character is unable to choose forgiveness, she still has love for her husband, and that love becomes her final sacrifice to him.
The Heart Of Glass Brings New Life
After destroying her home and the human infestation with cleansing fire, Mother is slowly dying in her husband's arms, trying to make sense of why he is untouched by the flames. He reveals to her that he is a creator, and it is his purpose to create life. As a God figure, he is the ultimate parent, one who gives (and loves) unconditionally. He acknowledges that he has asked her to surrender everything to him — and she has willingly given it all — but he must take one last piece of her: her love.
Acquiescing to his final request, Mother gives in, relinquishing her heart to him before crumbling to ashes. Within her heart lies a hardened piece of glass, a symbol of the love for her husband and for the child she brought into the world. This glass heart closely resembles the one shown early in the film before it is broken at the hands of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer's characters. However, a closer look at the glass heart reveals that it is uniquely different from the one previously perched in the study, an important detail that holds significance for the film's final sequence.
With the glass in hand, we see Him carefully place the it back on its stand as the house slowly returns to life, coming full circle with the exact sequence of the film's opening. This sequence ends with Mother's body rising from the ashes. As she turns, audiences see a similar, but different woman in what was once Jennifer Lawrence's place. She echoes the film's opening line and the film cuts to black. By looping the film back to its opening scenes, the cycle starts over again; the creator brings forth new life and the process begins anew — but why does Mother appear differently?
A New Cycle Means Another Chance For Redemption
As the creator, it makes sense that Him uses the love of his previous wife to resurrect the house down to the last detail. However, it appears that he cannot perfectly replicate life, most likely because all life is inherently unique. This is why Mother's (Jennifer Lawrence) glass heart is shaped differently from that of the previous Mother and why she now appears differently than her previous self. Despite these changes, Him loves her unconditionally — as he does all of his creations — for they are individually beautiful, even if tragically flawed.
The cycle of death and rebirth is continual, and though resurrection is a major theme of the Bible, after witnessing how the film continues its perfect loop, it's necessary to ask if the cycle ever ends. It's possible that the creator must relive the same scenario over and over for eternity, as he has clearly done before. Alternatively, perhaps every new cycle allows Him to change the formula for life ever so slightly, in hopes that someday a scenario will result in mankind choosing love instead of fear, forgiveness instead of revenge, and creation instead of destruction. Until then, everything eventually returns from whence it came: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
#DarrenAronosfky doesn't seek to answer the question of whether or not mankind will ever learn from its mistakes and stop ourselves from destroying our planet and one another. Instead, his film is layered with symbolism that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways — from the film's haunting posters that cleverly reveal the plot, to the interplay of masculinity and femininity within the film's religious context. mother! is one of Aronofsky's most ambitious films yet, and justifiably earns its position in the top tier of the most powerfully captivating films of this generation.
What was your interpretation of mother!? What details and themes did you pick up on that influenced how you perceived the end of the film?