This post contains spoilers. You've been warned.
From the moment its gory poster was released, I knew Jennifer Lawrence's new movie mother! was going to be wild. But how crazy is it, actually? Really f*cking crazy indeed, and incredibly up for debate. So if you're looking for spoilers—or just want to be well prepared for the insanity—we've got you covered.
First of all, the only information I knew about this film before watching it was from a bland synopsis: Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a married couple called Mother and Him (um, okay), whose lives are thrown into turmoil when visitors played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up at their door. That didn't exactly prepare me for the film's first shot: a shocking close-up of a woman's flesh peeling off as her face burns. This casual moment is followed by Him placing a gem on a pedestal, seemingly prompting an ash-strewn house to look brand new. Moments later, Mother wakes up looking for her spouse. Okay, sure, why the hell not.
We never learn much about who Mother and Him are, but we do know that he's a struggling writer, and she's a dedicated wife whose made it her life's mission to fix up their creaky home. And speaking of said home, there's something very off about it. For starters, when Mother touches the wall she has a strange sensation that there's something resembling an organ pumping in its crevices. In fact, the whole structure seems to be an organism, alive and oozing blood. At one point after their guests arrive, Mother attempts to flush mysterious red-dotted tissues down the toilet, and when it clogs a pumping body part appears.
But all of this weirdness is nothing compared to the film's insane climax. Mother somehow gets pregnant and is just about to give birth as Him finishes what appears to be a masterpiece—and for a moment things are peaceful. They're going to celebrate with an elaborate dinner, when suddenly hordes of people start appearing at their door, demanding an audience with the great writer. Mother becomes more and more frantic, and goes into labor as the masses begin taking over the house—stealing items, starting a rave, and eventually turning to violence and murder.
She manages to have the baby while locked away in a room with Him, but he refuses to make his adoring fans leave, wanting to show them the child. When he finally steals the baby away from Mother, the crowds lifts it above their heads as it pees everywhere. 😐.
Mother pushes through the bodies, only to find the infant gutted and the people munching on its flesh. Understandably, she flies into a rage and burns everything down—but Him survives the blast unscathed, and carries around the charred body of his onetime lover. She mourns: "You never loved me, you just loved how much I loved you." Finally, he asks her for one last thing, and she willingly gives it—prompting him to rip her heart out. It crumbles, and in it he finds a gem. And lo, the whole thing begins again.
So what does it all mean? Well that depends on how you read the film, and how patient you are with director Darren Aronofsky in general. While walking out of the press screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was told by another critic that mother! was quite obviously about the Bible, with each character standing in for a theological figure. In other words, I was mother!-splained.
"If this is Aronofsky's acknowledgement of those he has hurt in his life, then it is grossly remorseless."
The bible theory is emerging as a common opinion, but I haven't completely latched onto it. That's because you can just as easily look at mother! as a metaphor for the creative process, with Him representing the perils of being an artist. He's on a hunt for inspiration, and ignores and abuses Mother when she doesn't provide it. When she does, she's the object of his affections until he produces his work, and then rejects her for the worship of his supporters. Mother is a victim of his ambition, a sacrifice that must be made so he can produce something great. The whole thing reeks of male egotism, and it turns out Mother's perspective barely matters by the end.
If this is Aronofsky's acknowledgement of those he's hurt in his life, then it is grossly remorseless. And if you've ever dated a guy who claims he's only being a dick because he's "just so consumed by his art," watching this movie stings.