Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!
Most films proceed from questions at the beginning of films to answers at the ending. Mother! moves the opposite way from answers at the beginning to expanding questions at the end of the film. While there are many questions throughout the film (Why do the walls of the house beat like a heart when Lawrence’s character lays her hands on them? What’s in the golden elixir that she takes for her dizzy spells? Did something shriek and flee down the drain when she plunged that clogged toilet bowl? Why is her husband so obsessed with the mysterious crystal he keeps locked away in his study?) one big question finally remains: what is this film really about.
The explanations of its writer/director Darren Aronofsky is a good place to start. For Aronofsky it is mainly about what humanity is doing to “mother” earth. In fact, Aronofsky refers to Susan Griffin’s 1979 book Mother Earth as a major influence on the film. In this famous cornerstone of eco-feminist literature, Susan Griffin explores the identification of women with the earth both as sustenance for humanity and as victim of male rage. In the 9/5/17 Hollywood Reporter (HR), the director suggests the film presents an allegory of Mother Earth and how people treat the environment. He thinks “there is absolutely a connection of how both women and the environment are treated. America is schizophrenic. We go from backing the Paris climate (accord) to eight months later pulling out.” Aronofsky observes the planet is “being undone by humanity.”
Yet, the film can be viewed in other ways other than an ecological horror film. Javier Bardem observed (in the HR article) audiences could have many different interpretations from the film. One interpretation notes Bardem is “the relation between a creator and his creation, call it a writing piece, or a house or the earth itself.” Bardem is the creative writer in the film. Yet Lawrence is also the creative home-maker restoring the home by herself while her husband Bardem attempts to get his writing mojo back.
It is also a film about fandom and celebrity and it’s intoxicating effect on both the fans and the celebrities. The first visitor to show up at the couple’s home is fan Ed Harris. He originally lies to the couple, telling them he thought it was a bed and breakfast place. Later, he admits that he is a huge fan of Bardem’s works and even carries a photo of Bardem in his suitcase. Later in the film, people arrive at the home who are fans of the new book Bardem has written.
The film can also be viewed as an allegory about consumption, something both genders are responsible for. As Aronofsky notes in the HR article, “I don’t blame one gender over the other gender. I think it is about how people are insatiable, how there’s this endless consumption.”
Another way of viewing the film is to see it as something from the nightly dreamscape of irrationality, paranoia and hallucination. Owen Gleiberman in the 9/5/17 Variety views Lawrence as “a woman who slips down a rabbit hole of paranoia.” Hints of this paranoia are placed around the film as Lawrence sees and hears strange things (like the walls beating, the strange blood stain on the floor) and one is reminded of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The paranoia is reinforced by use of handheld, 16 mm cameras that follow Lawrence with a claustrophobic closeness.
Lawrence – A Guard Protecting Her Home From The Outside World
I agree that the above currents all flow through the film. Yet, at it’s basic level, it is about the invasion of a home by outsiders. In this sense, Mother! becomes a comment on the contemporary invasion of privacy in all our lives. This invasion comes from all the out-of-control monitoring of our private lives. Our private lives are similar to the house in Mother! that Jennifer Lawrence attempts to keep private from the outside world. Yet the clicks on our smartphones and computers invite this invasion of our private “home” by a riotous group of outside marketeers, advertisers and overall strangers. (For example, note how these “outsider” ads are often like Lawrence’s unwanted visitors to her home. You let a few in by cookies while surfing the Internet and suddenly they grow to decorate the “wallpaper” of your computer screen like the unwanted guests in the home).
Lawrence feels best when her world is shut off from the outside. In one scene, Lawrence stands at the door to her home like a guard (or a mother) protecting it from the outside world. A contrast to this scene is one where Bardem stands in the doorway of the house, looking outward towards the world, almost looking for people to invite into the home. Bardem feels best when he has opened the doors of the house to the outside world. At first, there is no one outside as the home sits in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but grass and trees and wind, like a wooden octagonal country castle: no road, no driveway, no cell-phone service. However, Bardem eventually opens the floodgate to the public world and it floods into the private world of Lawrence’s home. At first, this public world from outside is like the arrival terrible guests. But the guests morph into something more than terrible guests. They are like a virus, spreading everywhere in the house, devouring everything, like the Zombies in World War Z.
As Darren Aronofsky notes, certainly Jennifer Lawrence serves as a metaphor for mother earth being invaded by the Zombie-like hunger of modern civilization. However, it also serves as a metaphor for the invasion of privacy brought about by modern technology like social media and the unrelenting collection of data on private citizens. In this sense, Lawrence represents the private symbols of the individual person while Bardem the social symbol of the crowd. Letting the public world into the private world destroys the private world. There are political dimensions to all of this. But we’ll leave this as another metaphor of the film to ponder about.
AO Scott’s Review in the NY Times of Mother.
Martin Scorsese Weighs in on Rotten Tomatoes and Mother