Rating: 4 Stars
mother! starts off pretty conventionally. You have a older successful writer (Javier Bardem) (actually a poet) and his young wife (Jennifer Lawrence). The house they have been living in has burned down and the wife is slowly but surely restoring it to its original glory. Meanwhile, the poet is trying to write again but has been blocked, apparently for some time.
An unexpected visitor (Ed Harris) drops in. The wife is clearly discomforted by his appearance, but her husband encourages him to stay. The next day the visitor’s wife turns up (Michelle Pfeiffer). The visitor admits to the poet that he’s dying and that he intentionally dropped in on the poet to pay his respects. Meanwhile, the visitor’s wife intrudes upon the poet’s wife and generally makes a mess in the house.
Later the younger and older sons of the visitor show up. The younger son is infuriated with his planned inheritance, and in the ensuing argument, strikes and kills his brother.
Having nowhere else to hold it, the wake for the son is held at the house. Many people attend, the poet’s wife becomes increasingly distraught as people willfully damage the house. Finally, the poet’s wife goes off on everyone and chases them away. Afterwards, the poet and the wife fight but then passionately make love.
The next morning, the poet’s wife announces that she’s pregnant (because that’s how that works). With the previous night’s carnage in mind as well as the news of his now pregnant wife, the poet is inspired to write.
He finishes his poetry. His work is so powerful that it immediately sells out (again, because that’s how poetry sales work). He is immediately overcome with exuberant fans that over time treat his words as cultish wisdom and that over some more time form dangerous, violent, conflicting sects at war with each other.
And then it gets weird.
And when you think it’s done being weird, it gets weirder.
And when you think it’s about as weird as it can get, it gets fucked up.
So, what’s going on here?
First of all, from the name of the characters (Him, mother, Man, Woman, Younger Brother, Oldest Son, um…Cupbearer), it’s pretty clearly some form of religious parable (think Christian traveling from City of Destruction to the Celestial City in Pilgrim’s Progress).
The filmmakers point to the poet’s wife as being symbolic of mother earth and the poet being God. The visitors are the human race coming to worship God and despoiling (in an almost casual manner) mother earth in the process. There’s obviously a Cain and Abel thing going on there. Without going into too much detail (since it’s still in theaters and I don’t want to ruin the experience of the millions of my readers), there is a sacrificed son aspect to the movie (which, by the way, is heads and shoulders the most fucked up part of the movie, caveat emptor).
Pretty clearly, if this is a religious allegory, it’s a pretty bleak one. The process moves shockingly fast from exuberant fans to worshipful fans to cult like fans to reckless/raucous fans to mass organized violence, chaos, and anarchy. If the message here is that this is the cycle that all successful religions ultimately pass through, then it’s a pretty grim one (although sometimes possibly hard to argue with).
I also think that there was a fame message to it as well. Once a person becomes famous, then his/her personal life effectively ceases to exist. The poet’s wife has basically built her life around providing a refuge for the poet to feel safe and secure to write in. Once he reaches a certain level of fame, despite his obvious love for him, he has no choice but to turn his back on her to feed his ravenous public. The poet, willing to sacrifice literally everything for his creativity, regretfully but greedily takes everything that his wife has to offer.