What Is Mother! About?

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Here’s a question: Should you go see Mother!, the new, polarizing, bearshit-insane film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem that everyone is talking about though apparently no one saw and the few who did see it had no idea what in God’s name was going on? Well, here are some related questions for you first. (Spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.)

Do you enjoy movies about the creative process?

Well, back up for a moment. Have you ever been in love?

Like completely, utterly, heart-burstingly, in love, so much so that you’ve wanted nothing more than to swathe the object of your affection in a great big cocoon of love, giving them everything they ask and everything you have, taking the charred and mangled remnants of their emotional life and brick by brick, drywall sheet by drywall sheet, lovingly administered paint stroke after lovingly administered paint stroke, building them back up almost from scratch a new emotional home in which they and you could live together, protected from the problems and distractions and temptations of the outside world inside a mutually reinforcing boundary that allows you both to become your best selves?


And has this person you’ve loved not loved you back? Did they engage and delight in the atmosphere your love created, but did it feel like it was never you that they truly loved? Was it more like they fed off of your love like a baby nursing at a mother’s breast, a being born into love and nurtured by love but without the capacity to reciprocate? Did you keep on loving them in spite of this lack of reciprocity, ignoring sleights small and large as you toiled away on construction of the house of love you’d been building for the two of you, hoping that when everything was finished they couldn’t help but love it and love you for making it, so that you could live happily ever after?

And instead, did the one you loved show a curious but unmistakable disregard for your work? Did they take your devotion for granted? Did they welcome in the sorts of distractions and problems your home was meant to be a sanctuary from, doing so against your wishes? Did they feed off that outside energy they’d invited into your shared world the same way they once fed off the love you’d so selflessly and unstintingly offered them?


And did those strangers who entered your home take pleasure in parts of your paradise but also offer unwelcome critiques, even though they had no comprehension of the physical and emotional labor that went into it all, no real understanding of what this extremely personal thing meant and was intended to mean to the only two people who were originally meant to share it? And when you tried to convince the one you loved to get rid of these guests so that the two of you could get back to what should’ve really mattered all along, did they side with the outsiders and accuse you of overreacting, of being stifling and constraining?

And in this primordial setting—a world of love and order and routine newly polluted by chaos and jealousy and doubt—did your loved one combine all of this into a creative work, like maybe a novel or a movie or a song? And did it swell your heart to take in this work that so finely crystallized some important universal but also achingly personal truths about the life you two had shared, a documented testament to your love which you had offered up so benevolently, at last that long-awaited confirmation that they did truly love you back?


But at the same time did you wonder if that would be the beginning of the end? That you had been used, that you had offered them your entire being while also working tirelessly to help them rebuild their own self, and they had soaked up all of that and put it not back into you, but into a work of art meant to be shared with strangers who would treat them as a god yet never know anything of your role? And did you wonder, after your loved one had used you up, what they’d move on to next?

And when this work of art was released to the world, did the one you love become addicted to the fame, the validation, and adulation you hoped they’d find in you the way you sought and found in them? Did this cycle of adoration eventually overtake your loved one’s life, shunting you off to the periphery? Did the fans of the work twist its meaning, the crystalline truth you’d recognized in it originally turned into a totem of something wholly different? Did these fans comprise a rabid, almost cult-like band of obsessives who took things way past anything you or even your loved one could’ve imagined, warping your loved one’s mind and values through their deification, tearing apart the work and consuming it for their own ends, and in the process ruining that small special world you’d wanted for just the two of you, now disfigured into something you no longer recognized as your own and which didn’t recognize you either?


And did you finally work up the courage to say Fuck this, I can’t do this anymore and tear down what was left of what you’d built? Did this leave you feeling like a sponge that had been squeezed and squeezed of every last drop and tossed in the trash when the job was done? Did your loved one start all over again with a new builder who may as well be identical to you?

Would you enjoy this in a movie?

An extremely allegorical movie, told from the perspective of the selfless lover, with a literal house symbolizing the metaphorical house, where the creative work birthed in that house is represented both by a book of poetry and a literal baby, and this work inspires a literal cult, and this cult literally kills the baby and chops it up into little pieces and passes the pieces around for the cult members to eat as communion, after which the selfless lover literally sets fire to the home while everyone is inside so that she can end it once and for all, only for the unscathed artist to admit to his insatiable drive to create and to use those he loves for his own ends, and then to literally reach into her burned and blackened body and pull out the symbol of her love—her heart—thereby killing her so he can start all over again?


What about if this movie also had all sorts of religious imagery and symbolism and also apparently some high-minded environmentalist message, and was at times riotously funny, and the whole time nerve-wracking and terrifying and stunningly filmed? And if it could be confounding and heavy-handed, but also tons of fun and startlingly ambitious and supremely affecting? Would it bother you that the metaphorical nature of the story becomes so obvious about halfway through that the characters and situations ceased to exist as avatars of real people undergoing real experiences and instead could only be understood as broader statements about life and love and art and fame and religion and the integrity of the ozone layer?


Would this divergence between what the image itself means and what the movie uses it to mean make the fact that a newborn baby is killed, dismembered, and greedily eaten more or less appealing to you? Do you find feverish surrealism enriching and compelling in its own right? Have you ever wondered what might happen if someone remade Gertrud, only with a cast and crew that snorted bath salts before shooting every scene? Do you like movies that have you at the edge of your seat the entire time, whooping and yelping out of fear and hilarity and stunned disbelief, movies that compel you and the person you saw it with to go to a bar near the theater after the final credits, even late on a work night, so that you can have a much-needed drink and blab at each other for an hour about what you thought it was about and how it made you feel and what your favorite parts were?

Does all this, which is essentially what Mother! is and what it’s about and what it inspires in its audience, sound like a good time to you? If so, you should go see it. I saw it last night and it was a hell of an experience.