[NOTE: For those interested in only reading the explanations of the symbols, scroll all the way down to the “*Notes” section that concludes this synopsis.]
0:00:44 mother! starts off with a burning woman who’s not Jennifer Lawrence (rather Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse as
Rachel Weisz ‘foremother’). Don’t worry, Jennifer Lawrence will get burned eventually, once the press see the film.
[N.B. Like Ms. Labrosse, many of the actors in mother! are French Canadian, as it was filmed in Quebec.]
[N.B. Some notes concerning the title: Aronofsky explains that the exclamation mark at the end of the title “reflects the spirit of the film. The film kind of has an exclamation point; at the end of it, there’s a big exclamation point. So I think the title was just a bit better that way.”
And for the lower-case ‘m’? “To find out why there’s a lowercase ‘m’, read the credits and look for the letter that isn’t [sic–it is, in point of fact, the only letter that is] capitalised. Ask yourself what’s another name for this character?“
To save you time, I’m including a screenshot of the credits with an indication of the only letter that is capitalised: the ‘H’ of ‘Him’, who is also God, implying that the ‘m’ of ‘mother’ is left lower-case because she is not God.]
0:01:11 A man (Javier Bardem as ‘Him’ / God), places a vaguely heart-shaped crystal on a metal support, because men love putting women on pedestals.
[N.B. The crystal represents Love and will play a major role in the film’s denouement (see 1:54:54).]
0:01:52 The house is magically restored as all of the burnt bits and ashes transform back into their original state. Even the pile of ashes in the bed becomes a different female (Jennifer Lawrence as ‘mother’ / Mother Nature). Ashes to asses and dust to bust…
0:03:17 She can’t find Him upon waking so, after wandering through an empty house still littered with moving-in boxes, she stands on the front porch and becomes intimidated by the garden, even though she doesn’t have to tend it.
[N.B. Her attitude to the anything beyond the physical confines of the house is wary and filled with apprehension. I suspect this is because, as she represents mother nature and the house represents the earth, what lies beyond is quite literally alien to her. This theme reoccurs in the film and is a major symbol of her isolation. (See 44:38 and note after 1:33:48)]
0:04:18 He startles her from behind. He explains He was walking the grounds.
mother: Why didn’t you wake me?
Him: I wanted to be alone. I mean, I needed to clear my head and get ideas flowing.
mother: And did they?
Then He leaves her to take a shower, despite her insistence that she likes the way He smells and her obvious sexual excitation. (She’s hornier than a bull with tip extensions.)
[N.B. She is clearly more content with their isolation than he, and this will continue throughout the film, as will the theme of his writer’s block and its link to his lack of libido. On another topic, note how she never wears a bra or shoes at any point in the film. This is done to highlight the sense of her ‘natural-ness’.]
0:05:48 While preparing to paint an interior room, mother places her hand on a wall and feels a heart inside of it. She never misses a beat, that mother.
[N.B. The condition of the heart represents the condition of the planet, which is a living thing. Here we see the heart is pink/red and in perfect health, meaning the earth herself is in perfect condition, as well.
Also, and this is key, Nian in the comments points out that mother suffers from Angina Pectoris, a heart disorder, which means her heart is fragile and can be weakened by stressful situations. She thus needs to take medicine for the condition. More on that later.]
0:06:14 She adds some yellow flavoured cocaine [pigment] to a thick porridge [clay-based paint] with which she intends to paint the wall, and this suits her far better than the normal porridge.
[N.B. We shall see a great deal of the yellow powder throughout the first half of the film. There is a compelling argument to be made that the paint additive being used here is sulphur. In addition to being a paint additive, it is also used in alchemy as the male element and is frequently paired with mercury to unite male-female principles. What’s more, the sulphur principal in organic healing reflects the human soul. Thank you to Pippa who pointed out the sulphur connection in the comments!]
0:07:48 Just as he falls prey to his writer’s block yet again, there’s a knock on their front door. This happens to me when I’m working, as well, though the knock on the door is usually Instagram.
0:09:16 The stranger at their front door turns out to be a lost doctor (Ed Harris as ‘man’, i.e. Adam) looking for a B&B. The doctor needs to stick around because things here will get very sick.
[N.B. The arrival of Adam here represents the arrival of Man in the Garden of Eden. Mother Nature is not happy, as she recognises in Man a threat, though God is quite content as he was feeling a bit lonesome. Additionally, the man mentions he is an orthopaedic surgeon / researcher, which is interesting in that orthopaedics is the field of medicine that deals with bones…such as missing ribs. Finally, the man makes a crack that he assumed mother was His daughter, not His wife, in reference to the age difference that no doubt exists between God and the earth.]
0:09:58 While she’s preparing tea, mother becomes weak and feels the house returning to its desecrated state for a moment. Like a driving student learning in a Honda, this feeling passes on its own accord.
0:11:38 He invites the man to stay the night, and though she is obviously against it [Jennifer Lawrence does a marvellous job showing us her discomfort at the thought], she has to agree in the end because it’s what He wants. The expression is ‘God’s will’ and not ‘God’s won’t’, after all.
0:12:14 The man returns with his bags, and a cigarette which he proceeds to light up.
mother: Uhm, we don’t smoke.
man: That’s smart!
mother: …in the house.
I can so relate to mother here, as this kind of guest is why I hate humanity in general, too. Also, do you see what a giant pain in the arse God is being here? He’s so desperate to be liked that he won’t even defend his wife. One thing this film teaches us is that God is kind of an arsehole, though many of us suspected that already.
0:12:54 While in the cellar to fetch the man some bedding, she’s distracted by a noise seemingly coming from behind a wall. A loud thud is heard, the wall shakes slightly, and we’re shown it’s only the sound of the heater coming on. It must be hot as hell down there.
[N.B. The cellar represents purgatory / the entrance to hell, and it’s not a coincidence that the flames start up when Man arrives.]
0:14:22 He has taken the man up into his study, where the man learns that He is a writer/poet [creator] and gushes about how much he admires his work. This is logical, as Adam was not a self-made man.
[N.B. This room quite possibly represents the Garden of Eden as it’s found between the bedroom (Heaven) and the ground floor (Earth). This analogy will become even more apparent when He evicts ‘man’ and ‘woman’ from this room after they touch the crystal he forbade them from touching. (See note after 39:21)]
0:14:32 The man reaches out to touch the crystal heart, but He intervenes and asks him to leave it a alone.
0:15:08 He tells the man the crystal is a gift from someone not mother, then goes on to explain how he lost everything in a fire when he was younger and was about to give up creating he found the crystal. You could say it ‘enheartened’ him, if you weren’t afraid of ridicule.
[N.B. This scene is key to my theory that mother! exists on two levels, the first being the story of the Bible and the second that of Darren Aronofsky himself, where he is the creator looking for public admiration at the expense of his companions. After all, the Bible makes no mention of a previous world destroyed by fire before our current earth was created, so what else could this scene be referring to if not Aronofsky’s separation from Rachel Weisz after nine years and one child.]
0:16:38 She wakes up to find she’s alone in bed, so goes downstairs looking for Him. Beside the man’s bed, she finds a lighter and a small bowl of smouldering cigarettes, instead. She looks disgusted because she doesn’t like looking at someone else’s hot butt.
0:16:47 Following retching noises coming from the toilets, she discovers the man being sick. Her husband is holding the bald man’s hair back, metaphorically speaking. Then He covers up an exposed gash on the man’s rib cage. #Mangina
[N.B. The hole in Adam’s side is where one of his ribs was removed to create Eve / woman, who will arrive in the morning.]
0:17:12 While leaving, she notices his lighter on the chest of drawers and conveniently loses it for him behind the piece of furniture.
[N.B. The cigarette lighter represents man’s discovery of fire (or god-like power), while the symbol on it, a Wendehorn, is runic and represents life’s great dichotomies: good / evil , man / woman, fire / ice, night / day, life / death…), which demonstrate that the man has this ability to distinguish between right and wrong. She hides it from him because she understands the destructive properties inherent in it and thus the risks it poses to her and her house.]
0:17:58 After suffering another episode with a loud ringing in her ears and seeing the house revert to its ravaged state, she takes a magic yellow powder from the medicine cabinet. Once she’s mixed it with water and drunk it, she seems to calm down. If that’s the case, more powder to her.
[N.B. After much debate and theorising, I’m confident when stating that the yellow powder represents monoatomic gold (or Ormus), a snake oil type cure-all. Please see screenshot at the bottom of this post for the best close-up of the label I was able to take. UPDATE: I’m no longer confident. Nian asserts in the comments that this is nitroglycerine, which is medicine used to treat stable angina, which corresponds to her symptoms (see 9:58).]
0:21:04 The next morning, while she’s preparing breakfast, the doorbell sounds. It’s the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer as ‘Woman’ / Eve). The instant she walks into the house, a smoke alarm goes off in the kitchen and mother burns herself taking the hot pan. Would seem as though Michelle Pfeiffer is still hell-a hot.
0:22:42 For the second time since her arrival, the man and the woman engage in prolonged PDA, which makes mother uncomfortable but He seems to like it. Here’s a joke I just wrote:
Adam [to Eve]: You’re the only one for me!
0:23:36 He invites the man and woman to stay as long as they like, but he doesn’t consult with his SO first. So, that’s where boyfriends get this from!
0:26:11 While she plasters the wall with bile-yellow paste, the woman arrives bearing two glasses of homemade lemonade. The woman asks her if she has any painkillers, but she says she doesn’t, even after the woman insists. It’s worth noting here that mother is probably telling he truth, in that she has no artificial medicine, only her ‘natural’ powders. Then it turns out the lemonade the woman made is more spiked than Dracula at a punji stick shish kebab.
Woman: I can’t believe you did all this work yourself.
She: Why not?
Woman: It’s a lot.
She: Well, we spend all our time here. I want to make a paradise.
From the Eagles’ song ‘The Last Resort’, “You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.”
0:28:28 The woman realises that, despite what He said, the couple don’t seem to be able to have children. This subject is touchy for her, probably because He isn’t.
Is that where He works!?
Woman, upon looking up and seeing His office
When mother physically prevents the woman from mounting the stairs, the woman repeats her early sentence, “Wow, you really do love him,” and then adds.
God help you.
[N.B. It’s interesting to note that He enters laughing while the woman says this line, so it’s not just my emoji’s that see the irony in the ‘God help you’.]
0:31:22 In the cellar to do the laundry (“Wow, guess you haven’t quite got to this part yet,” the woman says, because mother doesn’t like to bring herself down to this level), the conversation becomes more carnal.
Woman: Look at you! If he’s not all over you, it’s either because of his age or…
She: Or what?
But the woman never explains what the other option is. To punish her, mother purposefully loses the woman’s knickers behind the dryer, just as she did the man’s lighter. There’s no way left for the couple to be hot now.
0:31:52 The woman left her kitchen a mess after making the lemonade. It’s not that mother doesn’t like other people, it’s just that they all suck.
0:32:57 While investigating a strange, whispering noise, she walks into the bathroom and finds what appears to be a human heart in the bowl. You know you had to go when you’ve shat your heart out.
[N.B. Reader JohnnyTerrible has deciphered the mystery as to what this is! Please see the Established Symbolism section at the end of the synopsis.]
0:33:18 In the man’s sack, she finds a photo of Him, which is all the more interesting as it proves the man knew who He was before arriving, despite having said the contrary. Regardless, the man is not playing with a full deck.
0:33:52 The woman walks the the upper office, even though she was expressly told not to. She’s tempted by the heart crystal, so perhaps that whispering mother heard earlier was the hiss of the snake tempting the woman? The only way the woman could be in more temptation would be if she sang with five guys on Motown.
Him: He’s dying. He wanted to meet me before he’s gone.
The human condition is terminal.
0:35:42 A loud crash comes from His God cave. The man and woman have disobeyed him and taken the crystal he expressly forbade them from touching. Then they dropped and smashed it into thousands of pieces, breaking his heart.
[N.B. This scene represents The Fall in Genesis, when Eve eats the forbidden fruit.]
Her [to the man and the woman]: I think it’s best if you leave.
Interesting that in Aronofsky’s version, it’s Mother Nature who kicks them out of the Garden, and not God.
0:37:28 After accidentally seeing them in bed, she witnesses the house reverting back to its burned state once again and runs to the medicine cabinet for another dose of her gold dust. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but Mother Nature is all about the gold.
0:38:34 In a fit of anger, He knocks the doorknob off the door to his study and it falls to the first storey where it makes a dent in the wooden floor. This is certainly largely symbolic (so much so it appears on the poster), but I’m as lost as a Apple user with IOS maps.
[N.B. Since publication, Cassandra (another of my astute readers) has pointed out that the doorknob might very well represent evil / the devil / the archangel. God throws him out of the garden and down to earth, where he makes a huge impact. Then, he becomes the tool for the first homicide. I tend to think she’s got something here. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section!]
0:39:21 He boards up the door to his office and announces that “They will never get in here again!” No more knocking on Heaven’s door for them.
[N.B. In the Bible Genesis 3:22, 23 states, “‘He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden…”]
0:40:06 She tries to banish them from the house but the man is having a coughing fit off-screen and the woman is in her bra, so they’re bad house guests of Biblical proportions.
0:40:36 A young man invites himself into the house (Brian Gleeson as Younger Brother / Abel). He says “Nice view,” while ogling her ass and I wonder if he can really do that or if he’s not Abel.
0:40:54 Now Oldest Son (Cain) arrives and it’s Domhnall Gleeson, because there’s a law that says he has to be in every film made this decade.
[N.B. Interesting side note: In addition to playing brothers in the film, Brian and Domhnall Gleeson are brothers in real life.]
0:41:42 The sons bicker over the man’s will (which says his inheritance will go into a trust controlled by the woman), while He watches over them and doesn’t get involved. That’s so God.
0:43:23 The boys begin a physical fight and the oldest son takes the doorknob [see 38:34] and uses it to open his younger bother’s skull.
[N.B. If the doorknob represents evil (see 38:34), then logic would dictate it be used in the first crime, which is a murder, no less!]
Younger brother [to her]: It’s not my fault. They never really loved me. They always loved him more. They were leaving me behind. Just tell me you understand. Tell me you understand! You have to understand.
She doesn’t strike me as very understanding.
0:43:54 The man grabs his oldest son and throws him into a wall, creating a gash on his forehead and causing him to open up.
[N.B. This is a reference to Genesis 4:15 where God places a mark on Cain.]
0:44:14 The older brother stumbles out of the back door because the best thing he can get right now is away.
[N.B. This is in reference to Genesis 4:12, where God condemns Cain to be a restless wanderer.]
0:44:38 She implores Him not to leave her alone, but he ignores her pleading and abandons her to accompany the family. If God has his priorities so out of whack, then I guess I’m off the hook for a lot of things.
[N.B. Because I have no secrets from you, I’ll point out here that just beyond the stretch of grass seen in the screenshot lies and charred and still smoking burn area.]
0:45:24 Noticing all of the bloody doorknobs in the house, I can’t help but infer they are highly symbolic. Do they symbolise the devil, or is the meaning like the doorknobs themselves: out of my reach?
[N.B. If one were desperate to find the Biblical plagues in mother!, one could always claim this was symbolic of the fourth plague, that of flies.]
0:45:52 You can’t swing a dead son in here without hitting a symbolic doorknob.
[N.B. The stain the blood makes on the floorboards will become a living part of the house, meaning the world’s first murder has permanently made its mark on the earth. Throughout the film, the blood in the wooden floor represents the damage man does to the planet.]
0:47:11 She places her forehead against the tile of the bathroom wall and once again is given a vision of the house’s / earth’s heart, which has darkened since we first saw it at 05:48.
[N.B. This is evidence to support the theory that she suffers from angina pectoris.]
0:49:12 While poking at the stained floorboards, blood runs through the hole she makes in the floor and drips into the cellar. When she goes down to investigate, a blood filled light bulb explodes (in what some might be tempted to remark is akin the 7th biblical plague–that of fiery hail) and the splatter reveals a soft, door-shaped patch of cement. When she digs at that with a tool, the stone crumbles to reveal a metal door, behind which sits a giant furnace and…a toad.
[N.B. The frog almost certainly represents the 2nd biblical plague, that of frogs.]
0:50:34 After hearing a noise, she walks back upstairs to find broken glass on the floor near an open door and the image of Him ripped to pieces…like Johnny in The Room.
[N.B. This act demonstrates that the oldest son / Cain has decided to stop worshipping Him. Note that, not only has the image been shredded, it’s also been defaced. Cain has exed out the eyes, and drawn in a devil’s beard and horns.]
0:51:02 The oldest son sneaks up behind her.
They left you all alone? You do understand.
What, that she controls the telly remote now?
[N.B. This is in reference to 43:38, where, after he commits the murder, the oldest son pleads with her to ‘understand’. What he needs her to understand is what it feels like to be relegated to second place, to be forgotten, to be abandoned by those you love the most. The oldest son’s parents favour his younger brother, and here she realises that He has put her at the bottom of his list of concerns.]
0:53:18 He returns from the hospital and tells her that the younger brother died while He was holding his hand. Then He goes up to take a shower while she takes a minute to fix the bloody gash in the floorboards. She repairs the hole by laying a rug over it, meaning she and I have the same D.I.Y. skills.
0:54:16 She is sleeping soundly with Him until some noise downstairs awakens her. She peers over the second floor railing to see the woman and her entourage filing into the house for an impromptu wake. This, then, will be her mourning wake up call.
0:55:04 The woman graciously welcomes His condolences on the loss, yet the woman snubs mother when she offers the same. People treat Him a lot better than they treat her…no doubt due to their own nature.
0:55:18 His speech during the wake:
Well, how can one begin to understand your pain? The sacrifice of the parent. All those years of worry. Years in days, days in hours, hours in seconds. But in each second, an infinite amount of love. And now, suddenly, it seems there is nothing to love, just a vast and silent darkness. But fear not. From deep inside it there’s a voice crying out to be heard…loud and strong. Just listen. [The mourners sob.] Do you hear that? Do you hear that? That is the sound of life. That is the sound of humanity. That is your son’s voice. His cry of love. His love for you.
Sounds more like people watching Schindler’s List.
0:59:18 More people begin streaming into the house and as the population grows, she becomes more and more nervous. She asks a guest not to sit on the sink as it hasn’t been braced yet, but really she should be bracing herself.
The woman [to mother]: Why don’t you at least put on something decent!?
Some might say the low cut tee with no bra is a decent look for her…
1:01:16 She follows a couple who have mounted the stairs to the master bedroom / heaven and tells them they aren’t allowed to be in there. Heaven is so popular, people are dying to get in.
[N.B. This scene is a reference the story of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9), in which the peoples of the world try to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven, so God gives them all different languages so they cannot understand each other and disperses them throughout the world so they cannot plan together. This chapter of the Bible explains the origin of different races, which is why the trespassing couple is mixed race.]
1:02:21 For those keeping track, she has another shot of the golden liquid at this point. She’s thirsty for power.
1:03:18 Now some of the house guests are actually painting the house during the party! They should leave and paint the the town instead, and use red.
[N.B. Whilst this scene sticks out a bit as regards the flow of the film, it’s meant to show that people have decided to improve on the earth themselves, ignoring mother nature’s original intentions. It’s the first salvo in the war between people and nature.]
All these people!
This is her protest to Him as the party begins to spiral out of control. At first they were only crashing the party, now they’re crashing everything else.
[N.B. This scene is also the crux of the film, as it perfectly encapsulates the major conflict of the the story. He / God is enjoying the attention and admiration of his guests, and wants to have as many people as possible to shower affection on him. Unfortunately, his desire for praise blinds him to the fact that the more people who arrive, the more destruction there is in his house (the earth), and the more dangerous it is for his wife (nature). Sadly, he’s so eager for the love of others, that he’s ignoring that of his wife, which is the parallel Aronofsky is drawing here between himself / his relationships and God / nature.]
1:04:44 While a man aggressively hits on her (and calls her an ‘arrogant cunt’ when she refuses his advances), another couple insists on sitting on the edge of the sink, despite her repeated requests for them not to. The world is becoming a toilet populated by assholes and she’s getting tired of their shite.
[N.B. This scene represents the flood, when God kills off everyone (the party guests) on the planet (leaving the house) with a flood (after the pipe explodes because of their puerility). At 1:05:21, in the background, one guest can be heard exclaiming, “We’re being punished.” It’s even raining when she evicts them.]
1:07:27 Once they’re alone in the house again, they fall into a dispute.
Him: You know what? Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
Her: You’re right. Mine certainly didn’t.
Him: Excuse me?
Her: You talk about wanting kids, but you can’t even fuck me.
God might be impotent, but the Holy Ghost comes without warning.
1:08:43 The next morning, after making passionate love all night, she wakes up and instinctively knows she’s pregnant. Or maybe she just remembers the condom broke.
1:10:07 Immediately after learning she’s pregnant, He leaps out of bed, naked, and sits down to write. The crack of dawn isn’t the only crack we see.
[N.B. The book he’s inspired to write is the New Testament. After writing an earlier success (the Old Testament), he loses inspiration until the imminent birth of his son inspires him.]
1:11:11 She pours her powder into the toilet. Now that she’s pregnant and He is writing again, she feels sure she will no longer experience the stress, insecurity and loneliness that led to her to take the powder in the first place. Sadly, she doesn’t realise that ‘stress, insecurity, and loneliness’ is the job description for motherhood.
1:11:46 In a moment of existential bliss, where she is alone in the house with her husband and impending child, she stares down at where there was once a gaping, bloody hole in the floor [see 49:12]. She no longer sees the human stain, but something that reminds me of myself in the mornings: fresh wood.
1:12:57 At the precise moment she feels her baby move for the first time, she finds Him standing in the doorway, trembling. He’s finished his poem, and maybe he’s a little cold so he should put on some shoes.
1:13:42 She reads the poem and we are shown the pictures (because Aronosfsky doesn’t think we’re intelligent enough to read).
- In the beginning, he was alone and lived in a dump
2. She came along and cleaned things up for him
[N.B. The poem is the story of this film. Just as mother! begins with the destruction of his previous house and her rebuilding his world, so does His epic poem. This parallel is another point in my argument that, in addition to Aronofsky retelling the Bible, he’s also establishing a connection between himself as a creator and the poet in the film, who is also a creator symbolising God, the creator. Thus, in a roundabout way, Aronofsky is drawing an indirect comparison between himself and God. Lest anyone mistakenly believe this god complex is a one-way ego trip, it seems obvious that Aronosfsky is basing this metaphor not on God’s strengths, but flaws (selfishness, love of power, egotism, neediness…).]
1:14:52 After reading the poem and realising how wonderful it is, she asks Him the question…
Her: Am I going to lose you?
1:16:36 Literally 2 seconds later the telephone rings. It’s his publisher and she wants him to talk to the press. He claims he’d rather not, but discussing it, he doesn’t notice that she has walked away, knowing more truth than he could write in his lifetime. She goes to the baby’s room and sees the blood stain has returned to the carpet, even if the hole in the floor is still absent. Maybe it’s just that the carpet bleeds regularly – Period.
1:20:18 Before they can sit down to a dinner celebrating the success of His poem (all of the copies sold in one day), fans show up on their doorstep, and He’d rather bask in the glow of their admiration than that of the candles on her table.
Zealot [Stephen McHattie]: We’ve all travelled a great distance and I fell that these words–I feel that they were written…for me.
Him: Of course, they were.
I feel the same way whenever I read a drinks menu.
1:21:08 Because so many guests are coming, the bloody gash in the floorboards is back. Sadly, she’s having a lot of difficulty with the hole thing.
[N.B. You’ll note that ‘zealot’ is now standing in a position of privilege compared to the other followers.]
They love it. They understand all of it, but if affects everyone in a different way.
Sounds like puberty…
[N.B. In fact, he’s talking about all of the different interpretations of the New Testament and all of the sects (Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Mega Church…) that have developed from the same text.]
1:23:18 A mother and her young son enter the house looking for the toilets, then, suddenly, there’s a line at the toilets and people taking selfies of the fiery hole while others set up camp in the living room or steal their food. After that the herald (Kristen Wiig) arrives and all heaven breaks loose.
1:25:54 At this point, the looting for souvenirs start, and can you blame them? It is a steal, after all.
Get out! Stop, all of you! This doesn’t belong to you!
Things you say when you’re losing your virginity.
[N.B. In this scene, Aronosfky shows us what humans are doing to the earth. We are robbing it of its resources for our own, selfish reasons, not caring what we do to mother nature in the process.]
1:26:50 The poet has some ink on his thumb that he accidentally smears on one of his admirer’s face. This will become a symbol for the religious write.
[N.B. This ritual comes from the Catholic rite of Ash Wednesday, where a priest draws the image of a cross on a follower’s forehead using ashes from the burned palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday.]
1:27:25 The zealot has taken the framed original draft of the poem and is using it as a sort of totem for a procession in the living room. Yes, I-con.
1:28:12 The condition of the heart in the house (i.e. the health of the planet) is deteriorating rapidly. At this rate, the home will soon be as heartless as its guests.
1:28:55 The zealot has now become a priest and is instructing the followers on how to perform rituals as he blesses them with the ink smear over the left eye. He’s got that rite.
1:31:48 In the midst of a riot that will devolve into a literal religious war, she starts her labour and, when pushed to the ground, finds the man’s lighter she hid so long ago. That’s one way to see the light.
[N.B. The lighter is here to remind us that man, not God, is what led us to this mess in the first place.]
1:32:01 In an interesting development, women are kept in a makeshift jail. My guess would be this represents male dominance throughout history, though it could be an Aronofsky remake of Caged Heat.
1:33:38 The herald is killing critics and I’d wager Aronofsky would like to do the same.
[N.B. In a continued bout of symbolism, the Poet rescues her and she asks twice to leave the house and go somewhere safe, but he refuses and insist that they mount the stairs. More proof that mother is not allowed to leave the premises.]
1:37:26 As she begins to deliver the baby amongst the chaos, He tears down the boards blocking the entrance to his writing room and ushers her inside. Symbolically, this makes sense, as it’s the room where he creates, and now he’s creating his Son. Let’s hope the critics are kinder with with the baby than they were with the mother!.
They brought us gifts.
After the birth of their son, He reaches out of the door to the room to recover some fruit and water left there by some not so wise men.
Him: More gifts. Look. Look. For you. Clean clothes.
Her: Are they leaving?
Him: What? No, they…they just want to see him.
Her: No. Make them go.
Him: I can’t. I can’t.
Her: Yes, you can. They adore you! They would listen to you. Why won’t you?
Him: I don’t want them to go!
Another instance of Him choosing his followers over her. Basically, God is a uni boy who’d rather party with his mates than stay at home with his girl.
1:43:06 The standoff begins when she refuses to let him hold the baby because she knows how everything he touches dies. Still, the boy is just a baby, so it would be a small sacrifice.
1:45:54 She nods off and He takes the baby outside to the adoring crowd. The people love the child to death, or at least they will.
1:46:24 He gives the baby to the crowd and when the tyke pees on them, the scream ‘Alleluia!’ Either this represents baptism or there are more golden showers in the Bible that I knew of.
1:46:34 The crowd quiets when they hear a loud crunching sound you don’t want to hear come from a baby.
1:46:54 The zealot explains that the baby is not dead because he will always be alive as long as people mourn him. This is a direct reference to the poet’s toast during the younger brother’s wake at 55:18 and it’s also a reference to the resurrection. It’s also as comforting as a steel wool blanket.
1:47:12 Pushing past the zealot, she finds the baby has been torn apart on a makeshift altar and devoured. Some people really eat religion up.
[N.B. This is a reference to the Holy Communion, where Jesus instructed his followers at the Last Supper to eat his body and drink his blood.]
1:48:01 She takes a shard of glass and begins attacking those partaking of her child, until the zealot knocks her out with a blow to head from the doorknob. He probably just wants her to open up, one way or another.
1:48:08 The followers tear her clothes off and beat her mercilessly until He comes to her rescue.
Him: We can’t let him die for nothing. We can’t. Maybe what happened could change everything. Everyone.
Her: What are you talking about?
Him: We — you and I — have to find a way to forgive them.
Well, OK, maybe ‘comes to her rescue’ isn’t the right terminology.
Him: Please, have faith in me.
That’s so God.
1:50:04 She sees the heart inside the house go all but black. These heart attacks are killing her.
1:51:19 She grabs the lighter from under a heating grate and runs into the basement, where she opens up the large fuel tank and sparks the flame.
Him: I love you.
Her: You never loved me. You just loved how much I loved you.
This is more confirmation that mother! is autobiographical in the sense that Aronofsky sees himself as a selfish creator who craves the love of others. It also confirms that men are assholes.
1:51:46 She drops the lighter and the house goes up in flames like a 1980’s Talking Heads song.
[N.B. Note the similarity between this shot and the shot of the first mother being burnt, which started off this post.
Also, why did the house explode with such ferocity? Way back at 6:14, when mother was painting the walls, do you remember the additive she used to the paint? Sulphur!]
Her: What are you?
Him: Me? I am I.
So, he’s Popeye?
[N.B. In fact, the quotation is a reference to a famous Bible quote “I am that I am“, which is God stating the obvious when Moses asks him what his name is. God is the smartest ass.]
1:53:18 He carries her burnt body to what he refers to as “the beginning” (A.K.A. the desk in the charred remains of his office, where he created).
Him: It won’t hurt much longer.
Her: What hurts me the most is that I wasn’t enough.
Him: It’s not your fault. Nothing is ever enough. I couldn’t create if it was. And I have to. That’s what I do.
Welcome to Darren Aronofsky’s break up speech.
Him: I need one last thing.
Her: I have nothing left to give.
Him: Your love. [He places his hands on her chest.] It’s still there, isn’t it?
Her [nodding]: Go ahead, take it.
Proof that God makes people heartless.
1:54:54 Suddenly, all warmth drains from the house and he holds her still beating heart. Perhaps he does have the whole world in his hands.
1:55:48 He peels away the coal around her heart to reveal a diamond inside. Laughing, he places this diamond on a stand and the house is restored anew. I, too, would laugh like an idiot if I didn’t have to clean up after a party like that.
1:56:18 The end of the film (beginning with the placing of the crystal heart on a base [see 1:55:48]) is an exact copy of the beginning. The crystal, the renovated house, and a woman waking up in a bed without Him, wondering where he’s gone. [The new woman is credited as “maiden”, and is French-Canadian actress Laurence Leboeuf, who I adored in 2015’s Turbo Kid.] God, it would seem, has a way with women, which would explain why they call out his names in the throes of rapture.
The song playing during the credits is Patti Smith’s version of the “The End of the World”, an oldie popularised by Skeeter Davis. That’s the end of my Revelations!
- WTF!?’s: 0 mothers
- When to Follow: Best watched on a weekend evening when you’re all alone and there’s no one around to ruin it for you by asking stupid questions or force feeding you unsolicited opinions.
- Where’s This Found: I’m a confirmed Aronofsky fan, and went into mother! in that frame of mind. I came out of her in a completely different frame of mind, namely confused and impressed. After a little research, I went back to mother! and was able to unabashedly appreciate the complexity of the spectacle. In an era where everything is sequel or remake and no one’s willing to take a chance and make an intelligent film, mother! comes along and knocks us on our ass. She is brave, daring, and wholly beautiful. Out of a possible 10, I have 9 F’s to give.
- What To Feedback:
In addition to the invaluable assistance provided by dozens of readers who shared their insights in comments below, I used the following online sources as research tools: Collider, Vanity Fair, The Telegraph U.K., and Time.
Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos
Left over photos
A couple of notes about the secrets hidden in the film’s poster… Apart from the obvious reference to her literally giving her heart to Him even though it kills her, I’ve circled in yellow the different clues Aronofsky leaves us regarding the symbolism in mother!.
- Beginning with the uppermost image on the right, we see a crystal heart (representing love) sitting in a bloom
- Not far beneath it is a frog (representing the Biblical plagues God forced upon the earth to punish men)
- On the opposite side of the poster, at the same height, is His holy card (representing organised religion)
- In the flower beneath that is the doorknob (representing evil)
- On the right hand side of the poster, at the bottom is the lighter (representing Knowledge of Good & Evil)
The above are the best shots I was able to come up with for the yellow powders. On the top line, I can make out ‘—able Remedy’, the I096 (which may or may not refer to this drug), then nothing of the name except ‘yellow’, then ‘(illegible) by’ before what seems to be the pharmacist’s address in ‘Buffalo, NY’. Does anyone have anything to add?
Prints suitable for reposting!
WTF!? did they say?
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This addendum is simply a crib sheet to the film.
The General Idea: The film is about the Bible, especially Genesis and bits of the New Testament. Him (Javier Bardem) plays the poet/creator, and Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother, meaning Mother Nature.
The Initial Guests: Man (Ed Harris) represents Adam and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) represents Eve. They arrive in the Garden but partake of the forbidden fruit (by breaking the crystal) and so are thrown out of the house. Before they can be exiled, however, the Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) kills his Younger Brother (Brian Gleeson) in a retelling of the tale in Genesis when Cain kills his younger brother Abel.
The Staircase: The massive, spiral staircase in the house represents the border between Heaven (the upper rooms where, later, the guests are discouraged from going) and earth (the rooms in the bottom where the people live). One reader, likka, has mentioned in the comments that it is also a symbol of the Tower of Babel, which people wanted to create in order to reach Heaven, but then God dispersed them to the four corners of the world (which would explain the Poet’s separating people of different origins). [Heartfelt thanks to Simon, likka and John in the comments who’ve developed this idea.]
The Bloody Floorboard: The earth is a living being, not an object. When she’s hurt, she bleeds. This open wound gets worse, the more people are present in the house / on earth.
The Sink: The sink that collapses represents the flood. Humans are mucking about and not doing as they’re told, so a flood is sent to clear them all out of the earth.
The Basement: The hidden room in the basement represents the entrance to Hell.
The Workshop: [Shout-out to Lucas Araujo, who brought this up in the comments]: The room between the ground floor (Earth) and the bedroom (Heaven) could possibly represent the Garden of Eden, especially when considering He evicts Adam and Eve from here and boards up the room when the couple disobey his orders and break the heart he forbid them from touching.
The Poem: After the Flood has cleared everyone away, the Creator makes a new creation which is idolized by the world. Unfortunately, the creation is so beautiful that everyone comes to the house and destroy it by their sheer number, greed and selfishness. This new creation? Simon (in the comments) realises this is the New Testament! The New Testament of the Bible caused people to arrive en masse to the Church on Earth, and then to treat the planet badly, using their love of God as an excuse.
The Baby: The Baby is Jesus, and is sacrificed by the adoring masses and then eaten in a parallel to the Communion, where Christians eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.
Peeing Jesus: [Brought up by Squilliams in the comments] The image of Jesus peeing all over the people that pass him around is meant to symbolise baptism, I’m convinced.
The Yellow Powder / Liquid: [Shout out to Adrian in the Comments Section who shared this with us.] The gold powder is something called ‘monoatomic gold‘, an element found in nature that purports to perform miracles. It’s currently sold online by disreputable sites as a cure-all, much like elixirs at the turn of the 19th century. Just read the claims of one site:
Monatomic Gold helps with physical and mental energy. It is very calming and balancing, strengthens the blood and heart, reduces infection, and boosts the immune system. It’s great for the skin and hair and has anti-aging properties. It invites from within you a truer form of you, a natural youth that you’ll see and feel.
The placebo mentioned above sells for $84 per ounce despite doctors’ research stating it has the same health benefits of table salt. Still, in olden times, these types of spurious vitamins were all the rage.
The reason she stops taking the powder when her son is born is that she feels she no longer needs artificial cures as being a mother will heal her naturally.
Another commenter, Pippa, theorises the yellow powder is sulphur. While it’s use as a paint additive makes sense for a plethora of reasons (see 6:14 above), I’m more hesitant as to its use in making Her feel better… Read her comment below and let me know what you think! Also, Nian adds that sulphur was used in the treatment of angina, which would seem to support Pippa’s claim.
The Crystal: The crystal represents Love. In the final sequence, the Poet desperately asks if she’s still in love with him and she begrudgingly admits that she does. Then he asks her for one more thing before she goes and she says she only has one thing left to give. Following that, he reaches into her chest and pulls the crystal from where her heart would be. [A shout out to Simon, who explained this in the comments!]
An alternate theory [which Kyana outlines so well in her extensive comment], is that the crystal represents knowledge. This certainly makes sense when remembering the woman is responsible for breaking it, just as Eve was responsible for taking the fruit in the Old Testament.
The Lighter: [Shout out to Khalid who mentioned this in the comments section.] The lighter probably represents knowledge. In many cultures, Gods give fire to humans as a power, but a double-edged power because it has the power to destroy as well as to help. The lighter is Man’s way of defying the Poet and Mother and to show he has some god-like powers (the power of fire), as well. Which is directly linked to…
The symbol on the lighter: It has been misidentified as a Pisces symbol, but I think the article at Popsugar successfully identifies it as a Wendehorn. The symbol represents life’s great opposites (man / woman, fire / ice, night / day, life / death…), which demonstrate that Man has this ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, a direct quote from the Bible in which God tells Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man has awaken, and is now aware of both sides of life.
Why Adam is a doctor: Adam is an orthopaedic doctor, which is mentioned too many times for it to be random. Orthopaedics, in fact, is the study of bones and joints, so would be the speciality required to treat someone with a…damaged rib. [A hearty ‘thank you’ to Simon, who explained this in the comments!]
The Thing in the Toilet: The day after Adam is sick in the toilet, She notices there’s a beast which resembles a heart which is clogging the bowl. She prods at it with the plunger, it screeches and then emits an inky substance before disappearing. This creature is a flash forward to the Book of Revelations in the Bible. Revelations Chapter 12 mentions a woman who is clothed by the sun about to give birth who is confronted by a dragon who attempts to destroy her by shooting water at her from its mouth, but is then defeated when the earth swallows it up. [A generous ‘thank you’ to JohnnyTerrible, who explained this in great detail. Be sure to read his note in the Comment Section where he also addresses the man’s sickness and another aspect of the toilet mystery, which inlcludes Revelations Chapter 17].
Here are some questions that I and other readers have which are still considered to be unanswered. Will you be the one to solve the mysteries of the womb?
Adam’s sickness: A dear friend of mine recently asked at a dinner party, “Saint Pauly, Adam is constantly sick and coughing in the film. What The Fuck is up with that?” Good question! I’d completely forgotten how important it is to the first act. Would any of you have an idea as to what the first human might be ill with? I could offer that it’s to symbolise he is mortal, thus is fatally ill with the human condition, though this feels a bit vague. Any better ideas?
Earth’s exile: Jennifer Lawrence’s character cannot leave the house. If Mother Earth is Eden / the planet, this would be logical, but then begs the question where does the Poet / God go when he walks around? And from whence come all of the other people / fans?
[What follows is my personal interpretation] I think that Darren Aronofsky strays from his initial outline in the third act. Rather than continuing to focus on the Biblical aspect of the film, he opens it up to include aspects of his own, personal story in the movie.
Aronofsky sees himself as God, in a sense and, as he’s an atheist, this doesn’t trouble him all that much. After all, God and film directors are both creators who are looking to please the masses. Aronofsky realizes here that he’s drawn to the adoration of fans, to the point where he unwittingly lets them distract him from his personal life. Like the Poet in the film, he finds it difficult to turn away admirers, even when they are invading his privacy.
That adoration can be more important to a creator than the love of a partner. After all, what is the logical outcome when presented with a choice between the love of one or the love of many? For someone who craves love and attention, that choice is an easy one.
When the creator turns his back on the person who loves him the most, she then destroys the relationship between them. She’s the one who demolishes the house, not the others. That she leaves saddens him, but also prepares the way for a new relationship where he’ll continue to make the same mistakes. My personal take on the ending of the film, then, is that it’s autobiographical. Aronofsky recognises his own need for attention and admiration can interfere with his personal relationships, going so far as causing some of them to end. Yet he doesn’t learn from this, because when one relationship ends, he simply moves on to the next.
That’s it then! What do you think of my analysis? Do you have any questions about the symbolism? Does my interpretation of the ending ring true? Please feel to leave a comment with any questions or observations of your own! I’d love to hear what you think!
Also, if you know somebody who has seen or might want to see the film, please consider sharing it on Facebook or other social media! The more of us there are, the merrier it will be when we decipher the entire movie!