*******SPOILERS AHEAD. Please don’t read if you intend to see mother!*******
I saw Darren Aronofsky’s mother! last night and was taken on quite an emotional journey. Walking into the film, I knew nothing about what to expect other than what I had seen in the trailer. The previews I saw marketed the movie as a home invasion thriller with possibly an occult element. Of course, Aronofsky usually has some thematic tricks up his sleeve, and what was presented over the course of the film’s 2 hours felt, at first, like a punch in the gut with no explanation.
I read that Aronofsky apologized to the audience before the film’s first screening, and like so many of his movies, this is not one to see if you’re having a bad day. During the movie, I was reeling from watching Jennifer Lawrence’s beautifully crafted character get subjected to all manner of physical and psychological torture. The movie was shot primarily from her point of view, and the character’s main emotions of fear, confusion, and rage reverberated within me as I watched her life get slowly (and then quickly) torn apart. It wasn’t the kind visceral reaction to horror movie gore that leaves me feeling slightly disturbed. It was more like feeling personally betrayed and outraged on behalf of this character. I haven’t seen many movies that made me feel this angry for a protagonist. When the credits rolled, I found myself searching for a frame to explain what I had just been subjected to, and in trying to piece together the movie’s point, things got interesting.
I will unabashedly admit that I completely missed the movie’s major allegory, and after reading several reviews, I noticed that the critics did as well. Walking into the movie expecting something about murder, cults, and maybe even the birth of the anti-Christ, my mind was trapped within confines that prevented me from seeing the bigger picture, which looking back was clear as day the whole time.
After reading Aronofsky’s explanation of the film, my feelings of shock and disgust were replaced with a sense of reverence and gratitude for the project. Aronofsky is an environmentalist and stated that he wrote the screen play from the point of view of mother earth. The movie attempts to illustrate her experience of being raped and pillaged by human kind and of being neglected and compromised by her creator. I’ve never heard of a movie trying to convey how mother earth must feel about humans and God, and Aronofsky’s self-proclaimed “fever dream” does an incredibly effective job.
I think most conscientious people carry a sense of shame for how humans treat the earth, which is compounded by a feeling of utter helplessness to stop our celestial mother from being destroyed. That is the feeling Aronofsky said inspired him to write this screen play. The film’s biblical allegories are so amazingly woven into the plot that I missed all but one of them during the movie, but looking back, this might be the most epic portrayal of the Garden of Eden I could possibly imagine. In the end, the context of the mother earth story not only justifies the film’s evocation of such extreme emotions, but I felt like it was something I needed to experience to establish a deeper sense of empathy with the mother spirit of our planet.
Beyond the earth and God metaphors, I noticed some interesting themes such as emotional dependence, monotony within marriage, lust for fame, and care taking vs. self-preservation that have been interesting to reflect on. During the movie, I alternated between thinking it was an exposition on severe mental illness, that perhaps Jennifer Lawrence’s character was in the grips of a psychotic break, or that it might be a portrayal of the inner experience of domestic abuse, both of which could make sense depending on your perspective. After learning what the movie was meant to convey, I found myself asking what it says about me that I missed it. The destruction of earth is all around me, and in order to escape being consumed by anxiety and guilt every time I see litter on the ground or trees getting cut down to make room for another strip mall, my autopilot is to tune it out. I’m thankful to have seen this personified tale of the earth’s rage because the sense of empathy it conjures makes it harder for me to not care. It gives me a deeper sense of urgency to take any small steps I can to be kinder to our mother.