If you are one of the many people who rushed to see mother! recently, there may be a series of details causing you confusion: from the headache-inducing camera work right down to the strange title. If you haven’t yet seen Darren Aronofsky’s latest work then don’t worry, because you don’t need to. mother! is undoubtedly unusual, but inherently uncomplicated — once again audiences are faced with a story stemmed from the completely unoriginal idea to pull from Christian narratives.
When asked about the capitalizing of the title and marketing copy for mother! on a Reddit AMA, Aronofsky explained “to find out why there's a lowercase m read the credits and look for the letter that isn't capitalized. ask yourself what's another name for this character?” The only character with a capitalized name is Javier Bardem’s Him. Of course this is representative of God (yawn) but it is also far from being quite as prolific as Aronofsky seems to think it is.
A Familiar Story
His not-so-subtle Christian storytelling is what makes the film so unsatisfying, because it is quite literally one we’ve heard a thousand times before. Among many Biblical subplots, our Adam and Eve-like characters enter a forbidden place and touch a forbidden object, their Cain-like son kills his Abel-like brother, all while we wait for our virgin-like female lead to become pregnant. The moment the connection is made between the characters and their Biblical counterparts, the rest of the movie becomes insipidly predictable.
Within the Biblical context of the story there are also other, more “topical” statements supposedly being shown throughout the film. Some of these themes include the destruction of nature, war, global warming, a forgiving God and God-fearing people. Yet there was no realization and no discussion about any of these subjects; there was barely any consciousness about humanity and war, or death and destruction, from the characters. The ending was messy and rushed to fit all of these topics in, while the climax felt like a film student’s end of term project that just tried too hard — and also happened to be high-budget.
The Biblical Portrayal Of Women
Cruelty against women has long been justified with religion — from paying women less for their work to the ongoing threat of domestic violence. There are a few instances of this rhetoric clearly displayed in the Bible. According to the New Testament, St. Paul says women “must be silent,” and the Book of Deuteronomy declares a woman may be stoned to death if she does not bleed on her wedding night. These are just a mere two examples of how women have historically been treated as second-class citizens. The worst part of Aronofsky’s mother!, then, is how the plot does not seem to challenge any of these ideals. It instead follows them, highlighting Him’s control over mother, and woman’s nosy, gossipy traits that ultimately end in the breaking of Him’s glass.
Though based on religious tales that are (almost literally) old as time, it is incredibly important to remember that mother! is a work of fiction. This means that even in Aronofsky’s wildest fantasies, God is male and a great poet, man is a doctor — but woman is a drunk and mother is his servant. These specific character traits speak volumes about the director's intent. It is clear now that Aronofsky is unable to create any place better for us, and is unable to stray from the same Christian themes that have been told for thousands of years.
An (Even More) Familiar Story
In a time so focused on progressiveness, it is frustrating to be presented with the same narrative with such suppressive and standard nature. It’s true that a laundry list of past and present films are full of Christian symbolism — from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to The Truman Show — but mother! lacks any original narrative whatsoever. In fact, watching the film almost felt like a substitute for Sunday School.
As we progress with the times, these stories that were built in the past should stay in the past. A 21st century look at Biblical tales should be far more critical of the ideologies presented within them. If the Biblical context must continue to exist, let’s not show woman being a servant to man, but instead introduce a way in which woman can be equal to man under the moral influence of God.
And I think that is why mother! was so disappointing — especially with Jennifer Lawrence, a widely accepted as a feminist role model, as the leading actress. Lawrence’s character works tirelessly to please Him, constantly craving his acceptance and praise, all while he shrugs her off without care. Her need for his approval is existent until her actual dying breath, which is then presented in Aronofsky’s eye-rolling finale.
Our female lead has no development and makes no decisions on her own. The cringe-worthy film ending shows Lawrence replaced with another slim, ashy blonde female as the cycle starts over again. But Bardem’s character? He lives on and can create and continue to rule. She is replaceable, but he cannot be replaced. Sadly, this discourse between man and woman is age-old and further reiterated in the film.
Put simply: Aronofsky did not draw from Christian stories — he simply recreated them. And even worse, he was unable to recreate them into something more beautiful, more powerful or more advanced.
So, when can we withdraw from the tired Biblical narratives? Or are we forever stuck in the Christian labyrinth of misogyny and oppression?
Brittany K. King is a Chicago-based writer and founder of Film Daddy. She spends most of her time avoiding saying the word ‘gyro’ out loud.
Follow Brittany on Twitter @brittanykking.