I got the point when they killed the baby, I didn’t need to see them eat the baby. This particular scene, near the end of the movie, could be a metaphor for the entirety of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. Long after Aronofsky has made his point he keeps making it over and over, bludgeoning the viewer over the head with extreme images of human cruelty. What that point actually is has been interpreted many different ways by viewers and Aronofsky himself. Aronofsky has described it as both a biblical allegory and a metaphor for how humankind’s endless consumption is destroying the earth. The biblical themes seem to be what give the film its structure. Javier Bardem’s character, only credited as HIM, is a temperamental poet, devoted to his fans and neglectful of his wife, mother, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who could be seen as a stand in for everything from Mother Nature to Mary. Either way, the Mother Nature role is a sorry excuse for Lawrence’s thin t-shirts and bralessness to constantly be brought to attention either by the camera or a snide remark from Michelle Pfeiffer’s Eve character. Lawrence, who at 27 often plays roles much older, looks her youngest and most beautiful here. This sexualization of her character never goes away, even as her “paradise,” the Victorian era home that she has been painstakingly restoring, is being torn apart by Bardem’s devoted fans. Her world may be ending, but the lighting is terrific.
The first hour is oddly paced, seeming slow until Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Adam and Eve blessedly arrive on the scene. They breathe much needed excitement into the film, especially Pfeiffer, who seems to enjoy every second of playing the prying temptress. Domhnall and Brian Gleeson show up as Pfieffer and Harris’ sons, making them Cain and Abel, for what begins mother!’s most successful sequence. They burst in arguing about the particulars of their dying father’s will, which ends in the death of one brother at the hands of the other. Bardem leaves Lawrence alone to take the family to the hospital, only to return with a bacchanalian funeral party. The guests disrespect mother, laughing at her requests that they stop tearing apart her home and refusing to leave until two guests break a sink, flooding the house.
By now you’ve gotten the point. Mankind is destroying the earth and society has been prone to evil since the dawn of time. That’s not enough for Aronofsky. We move forward nine months and join a very pregnant mother right as Bardem has completed his highly anticipated new poem. The dialogue is clunky throughout the film but never more so than after cooking a celebratory dinner for her husband, Lawrence greets Bardem with, “We’re celebrating! All the copies of your new poem sold out in one day!” Before they can sit down to eat, a group of fans has shown up on their doorstep. Bardem invites them in and the situation quickly becomes chaos. The fans start tearing apart the house once again, saying they want proof they were there. Kristen Wiig shows up as Bardem’s pushy agent. Lawrence walks around the house in terror as the horrors escalate: rooms become refugee camps, some fans have started a religion around a Bardem shrine, cops in riot gear show up, and Wiig starts murdering people in a very short span of time.
When mother goes into labor, she and HIM barricade themselves into a room upstairs where they stay past the birth of their child. Mother begs HIM to tell his fans to leave but he refuses saying that he likes them there and all they want is to see their child. Mother refuses to even let HIM hold the baby until his followers leave, but when she briefly falls asleep, he brings the child out to his followers and they quickly murder and then eat the child. Mother finally fights back, stabbing a few followers who quickly push her to the ground and beat her, tearing off her clothes and yelling gendered epithets at her. This scene does not do enough service to the film to justify its inclusion.
Even though Aronofsky has stated his biblical and environmental meanings of the film, the metaphor that is the clearest throughout the film is that of how artists can be cruel to their partners in their pursuit of art and fame. The artist can begin to see himself as a god with a duty to his fans to produce art, even though all the fans do is take and disrespect the artist’s life. Aronofsky has a child with the actress Rachel Weisz who was his partner for almost a decade. Whatever metaphor he cites in interviews, mother! seems like what was meant to be a critique on himself turned out pretty self-satisfied. It’s a long way to drag an audience just to apologize to an ex.