The terrifying element about Darren Aronofsky’s latest, mother!, has nothing to do with things that go bump in the night, creaky stairs or phantom blood. No, it’s a different sort of psychological horror: the type that most women have had to deal with at some point in their lives or aren’t yet even aware that they’re dealing with it in the moment. Barring the primary interpretation and intent of the film–that Jennifer Lawrence’s nameless character represents Mother Earth and we’re all just destroying the fuck out of her while she begs us not to–the underlying motif speaks to the devout love that only a woman seems capable of.
Looking at the movie poster, the blank expression and sad eyes of J. Law, appropriately nameless in a stead we later come to find is more about serving Him (Javier Bardem) as an insert basic bitch here figure, it’s apparent that it’s as she’s said by the conclusion, “I have nothing left to give.” To be driven to this point, as a woman, in a relationship means the man has pushed her to a very severe extreme, as He ultimately does by way of turning their paradisiacal home (she even says, “I want to turn it into a paradise”) into a free-for-all of guests ranging from the Adam and Eve figures (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, who adds high camp comedy value to the narrative) to obsessed fans. That’s right, to add to His douche bag qualities, Aronofsky in his meta Creator form, has made Him a writer working on another book, one that Mother and her interactions with the guests eventually inspires. And that’s the other misogyny on steroids element of the film–that the woman serves the male artist as muse. It can never be the other way around (unless you’re Chris Kraus). He can take of her life and pillage of her psychosis as much as he wants. That’s just part of the “joys” of loving an artist. And Mother goes along with it because, it’s true, she loves him with a purity and genuineness that the illogicality of the sentiment can’t explain. Seeing the extent of her devotion, Pfeiffer remarks, “Oh, you really love him. God help you.” And God, of course, is Him–overt chauvinism for a political statement is sometimes necessary.
The unfortunate part about mother! (aside from a certain scene of cannibalism) is that it took a man’s voice to get this extremely cartoonish version of the message to mainstream Hollywood–and therefore audiences that really don’t want to hear or see what Aronofsky is commenting on. Then again, Patty Jenkins can’t direct every feminist film. Especially when Aronofsky so succinctly encapsulates the perspective of a privileged and revered male. It’s a viewpoint he brings with a vengeance, treating Mother as little more than a gnat to be swatted away when she starts to speak up too much, and as a servile being when she’s actually needed for something like cooking. The film’s lack of belonging to any one time period only draws attention to a certain antiquatedness when parodying lines make a cameo, like, “We’ve got laundry to do” as the men go out for a hike. Technology–other than a landline–is absent, just like in a Woody Allen movie (maybe that’s why we can suspend disbelief long enough to buy into the notion that people would get this juiced up over a writer, considering no one reads anymore). And in exchange for her 50s-style chores and restoring the wreckage of the burned down house all by herself while He “writes,” all Mother asks of Him is for some quality alone time, demanding why she isn’t enough. When more people start to arrive to pay him their respects, He assures her only that he’ll always come back to her. It isn’t much consolation as the impromptu “celebration” in the third act escalates to insane heights that have to be viewed to be believed (Kristen Wiig’s appearance included).
Through all the madness and the bedlam, however, Mother is still willing to make it work with Him, to accommodate Him as best as she can. Because, for whatever reason, she can’t shake the love she feels for him. Pfeiffer, who long ago put the seed of doubt in her mind that maybe He doesn’t love her, treats Mother like the background noise that He has relegated her into the position of. Both she and the public will only defer to the artist/god/man. Yet another elucidation of how women are treated in the art world–if considered at all–be it writing, directing, painting or any other medium.
But maybe the reason men always seem to thrive no matter what they do is because of how much self-love they possess. So much, in fact, that it leaves little room to consider another person. In an alternate version of the film’s poster, an illustrated J. Law offers her bleeding heart to seemingly no one. No one because He doesn’t actually care about her specific love. He just needs to feel loved in general. Toward the final scenes of mother!, she finally realizes (much too late, of course), “You never loved me. You just love how much I love you.” So, back to the true message of the movie, a woman is the perfect representation of Mother Nature, getting used and defiled to the point of physical and emotional ruin, and, in the end, men still expecting to get something more out of her–or at least that she won’t act so fucking uptight about it.