Mother! Self-referential and pretentious, or a masterpiece?

‘Mother!’, Darren Aronofsky’s bizarre, nightmarish, avant-garde piece ingeniously blends elements of visual poetry, surrealism, horror, mystery and psychodrama within a plot driven by constant absurdity and eccentric surprises, which accelerate into a chaotic climax.

With no definitive genre or clear structure, this film largely diverts from standard, formulaic Hollywood productions that pervade mainstream cinema. As such, ‘Mother!’ stands out in stark contrast in all its complexities, becoming one of the most discussed films of the year that polarised public opinion.

Year by year Aronofsky’s films have become more controversial, primarily exploring the horrific workings of the tormented mind from the likes of Requiem of a Dream (2000) to Black Swan (2007). None have received quite the hype as his most recent ‘Mother!’ though, which is bound to get the audience pondering.

Image: Niko Tavernise


The influx of negative responses has gone as far as to unfairly label ‘Mother!’ as the worst film of the year. It even received the rare “F” score from the Las Vegas market research firm Cinema Score. This represents the ‘fail’ category, which only a dozen films fall under, leaving us to question how has this unconventional drama become so hated?

One major factor seems to be the way the film was marketed. The misleading film trailer was certainly ambiguous, giving no spoilers away. It displays a continuous shot of Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence, who strolls through an empty house, whilst we hear overlapping soundbites indicating that her tranquil existence with her husband (Javier Bardem) is disrupted by uninvited guests. There are no clues of the stories’ jump scares or highlights, as audiences would be accustomed to.

As a result, Lawrence’s fans who would supposedly expect light entertainment are left wholly unprepared for the mayhem and madness presented in ‘Mother!’ The reassurance that they sought wasn’t given in the drama, shrouded by mystery and loose ends.

The marketing could explain why a large proportion of the public developed a distaste for the film, as many were left baffled. However, can we look beneath the bizarre aesthetic of the piece to shape up a meaningful conclusion?

‘Mother!’ should be analysed beyond its gore, violence and extravagance as an artistic piece. Delving further into Aronofsky’s narrative, we can see his meticulous attention to detail, which reveals deeper themes of love, greed and destruction that resonate closely with society.

Upon closer analysis, the film is heavy on religious and biblical allegory. In this sense, we can see mother (Jennifer Lawrence) as a representation of Mother Nature, and her husband (Javier Bardem) as her creator.

Can we look beneath the bizarre aesthetic of the piece to shape up a meaningful conclusion?

Aronofsky took the subtleties of incidents by which people abuse the earth and wildly represents them through the film’s disjointed narrative. When the uninvited guests invade the couple’s house, at first it seems to be a bit out of hand, as an overcrowded party is started.

Then an explosive crescendo, which the audience to say the least were unprepared for. They begin polluting, causing breakages, starting riots, which turn into wars and many people killed, leading to the eventual burning of the house and death of mother, symbolic of humanity’s abuse of earth.

Jennifer Lawrence pulls off an engaging and convincing performance during these pivotal scenes. Extreme close-ups of her distraught face fills the screen in midst of the crisis, as she desperately cries ‘stop’, just to get ignored. An emotional act for those audience members, who understand the familiar situation of unrequited love. Her character dedicates all her days to refurbishing the house and looking after her husband (Javier Bardem), only to be neglected by him, as he prefers the attention of the house guests, which lead to her demise.

‘Mother!’ is such a unique and special piece, as it can be applied to many different scenarios. Aronofsky seems to particularly draw attention to what people don’t realise they’re doing and the sometimes disastrous consequences of our actions, be it our contribution in destructing the earth or taking advantage of someone vulnerable in a relationship.

It is in my belief that it is the shocking and enigmatic elements within ‘Mother!’ that make it under-appreciated by a large segment of the public, who are used to comforting, americanised narratives that dominate the film industry. However, Aronofsky’s alternative ‘Mother!’ goes beyond the art of film, as it brilliantly dramatises the imperfections of human nature through its grandiloquence and vivid aesthetic. A true masterpiece, where everyone can find components to explore, relate with and cling onto.

Sabrina Sakhai

(Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)