Note: If you haven’t seen the movie, this review should still make sense. However, there are spoilers aplenty, FYI! You can see the trailer from Mother! HERE.
After watching Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Mother!, a thought persisted in me: if Satan were a writer/director, I think this is the type of film he would want to make. I know this sounds like absurd hyperbole, but let me make my case – I think I have a good one. In fact, as you will see, I’m not telling you to not go see the film. I think you should see it if you like movies; it’s well made – great acting, cinematography, and the like. I, however, want to spend some time looking at Aronofsky’s clever attempt to make you hate God in the process.
Aronofsky is an out-spoken atheist, but for some reason, he’s interested in writing about God. Mother! is the second film in a row where he has taken up God as his subject (after 2014’s Noah). This time, Mother! is an attempt at an allegorical retelling of the entire Bible. He doesn’t try to change the biblical narrative (until the end – more on that later), but to show it as equal parts horrific and laughable, thereby subtly charging anyone who believes said narrative as grotesque and absurd.
Mother! is a relatively straightforward movie focusing on two main characters and a bunch of extras. The first main character, “Him,” played by Javier Bardem, is described as a poet. He’s married to the second main character “Mother,” played by Jennifer Lawrence. They live a quiet existence in their rustic country home. He has writer’s block; she’s enjoying fixing up their house.
Things seem good until one day, oblivious to how it would make his wife feel, the poet brings home a visitor. This visitor disregards her rule of not smoking in the house, and, to make matters worse, the poet lets him stay as long as he wants. Then, as the story progresses, countless other house guests invade their home at the invitation of Him. He does it because he loves their adoration, all to the chagrin of Mother, who just wants to enjoy her house and her husband. The guests break things, are disrespectful, and even commit murder (and later infanticide). Rude house guests who won’t leave and eventually kill your child. Don’t you just hate that?
That’s the surface story.
As with any allegory, there is, of course, an underlying story, too. And, here it is. The Poet is God. We gather this from many things throughout the movie, especially his declaration “I am I” (a reference to Exodus 3:14). The rude house guests are humanity. When you start to realize that it’s a biblical allegory, you can see that the first visitor is Adam, then Eve, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, then Cain and Abel. There’s even a quick reference to Cain’s wife – quite the deep cut.
The final character, Mother, is a bit of a mystery. Cracking her identity is the key to understanding the meaning of the allegory. So, who is Mother? Some have argued Mother is the divine feminine, but with how closely Aronofsky follows the biblical narrative, that would seem like a glaring departure. I think the only conclusion is that Mother is none other than Mother Nature – Creation herself. In personifying Creation – and making her the protagonist – Aronofsky’s intentions become clear.
In stories, protagonists are simultaneously the portal through which we see the story and the mirror through which we see ourselves. By having her be an empathetic protagonist in the surface story (a mistreated housewife), and identifying with her plight (rude house guests and a spouse who keeps inviting them in), we want for her what she wants: peace and quiet. But, carry that over to the deeper meaning of the allegory and it means this: by making God a narcissistic, overly gracious host who desperately needs the adoration of people, we are left to side with his poor house-wife, Creation. So, it’s no surprise that in the end, part of us is rooting for Creation to kill humanity to get back at flawed, selfish God. Nice try, Darren.
This is the kind of sleight of hand trick allegory is capable of: if you can make the surface story compelling enough, you can bend the truth underneath. And, that’s exactly what Aronofsky attempts to do. (There is some proof that people have not found the surface story compelling as Mother! seems to have bombed in the box office and was given the very rare audience Cinemascore of “F.”)
Of course, Creation, according to the Bible, is not more important than humanity. Creation was made for man, not man for creation. In fact, according to the Bible, Creation looks forward to the redemption of mankind because that will mean its redemption, too. Paul writes in Romans 8:
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
And, this is where Aronofsky starts to veer hard off the rails of the biblical narrative. Mother finally gives birth to a baby (obviously Jesus from the church-like groups his death causes to sprout up around the house). The rude houseguests instantly kill the baby and start eating it (a veiled allusion to the Lord’s Supper) – I did say they were rude, didn’t I? But, then nothing happens. Nothing gets better. The death of the baby doesn’t accomplish anything for Creation or humanity, contrary to the Bible. The houseguests keep getting ruder and more chaotic until Creation has no other choice than to kill humanity by burning the house down. This climax to the story is obviously a very intentional departure.
In addition to being an avowed atheist, Aronofsky is a strong environmentalist. In Noah, he rewrote the biblical narrative so that Noah’s mission on the ark is to save the “innocents,” i.e., the world’s animals – not humanity. His retelling of the biblical narrative along environmentalist lines again in Mother! changes the story here, too. Humanity is doomed to be killed by Creation (i.e., the environment) because of how badly they treat her. Climate change debate aside, is this what the Bible teaches – death by environment? No. The end of human history culminates with the return of Christ. (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:23-24) What about what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5?
Now concerning the times and the seasons [of the return of the Lord], brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
Aronofsky would have us believe that we are the result of a selfish, flawed God, and we, who are made in his image, are doomed to selfishly destroy innocent Creation until she finally has no choice but to kill us all. It makes you hate the God character. He’s the one we blame for this whole mess.
Aronofsky, as an atheist, somewhat surprisingly doesn’t want to convince you God doesn’t exist; he wants you to believe he’s evil. I think it’s telling that he spends his two latest films on the topic of God, both of which assume God’s existence. It might seem odd to claim that atheists hate God – a thing they don’t believe exists – but according to a recent study, anger at God is common, even among atheists. This is what I think is going on with Aronofsky.
So, what’s the takeaway? I, for one, find it refreshing to have a public discussion via cinema to talk about God. Personally, I prefer religious debate to apathetic secularism. And now, we just need a well-told Christian film about the goodness of God.