MOTHER! – YET ANOTHER CINEMATIC CASUALTY OF POORLY UNDERSTOOD THEOLOGY

Aron  SHORT TAKE: Brutally violent and deeply disturbing metaphor for poorly understood Judeo-Christian theology.

LONG TAKE: Having seen Darren Aronofsky’s unusual and creative but theologically sound Noah, I had hopes that the rumors Mother! was a Biblical metaphor would play out and that the grosteque brutality I had also heard tell about would be justified.

I was disappointed…and more than a little shocked. Rex Reed savaged it as the worst movie of the century, calling it a "delusional freak show…of pretentious twaddle." I wouldn’t go that far, but even reading two synopses in advance I found it hard to watch.

There have been a lot of movies which allege to "interpret" the Bible but which mishandle, mangle and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Bible in general and Judeo-Christian theology in particular. Some are Dogma, Paul, Michael, Legion, and pretty much anything written by Dan Brown. Some are merely misguided, some just foolish, and some viciously biased anti-Christian propaganda.

To give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Aronofsky, and because of his Noah, I like to think Mother! falls under the sincerely meant but ignorantly misguided category. It is my understanding that Aronofsky attempted a metaphorical telling of the entire Bible, from pre-Genesis to the Apocalypse and, for a little while, he got it right.

SPOILERS

The premise has an almost Thorton Wilder – Skin of Own Teeth feel and made me think it might work better as a play. The story is about a never named young Woman (Jennifer Lawrence), deeply in love with her also never named older Husband (Javier Bardem), living in the quiet pastoral countryside in a charmingly creaky mansion that might have, at one time, been a farm house or even minor plantation. The Husband is a once famous writer with block and both patiently wait for his inspiration to happen again.

Unexpected guests appear in the form of a sickly doctor who is a fan of the Husband’s work (Ed Harris) and his boozy prickly wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). The Woman wants them out but the Husband wants them to stay. The sons of the guests show up (played by real life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), fight over the coming inheritance and one kills the other then flees but not before demonstrating the mark of Cain on his forehead in his brother’s blood.

Up to this point I get it. The idyllic scene is Paradise. Bardem is the Creator whose very Words will fill their world with life. Lawrence is the paradigm for Mary. Harris and Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve – Harris brings death in the form of cigarette smoking and his own disease. Pfeiffer represents the vices of lust, uninhibited behavior, spite, and vengefulness. Their sons are, obviously, Cain and Abel. And up to this point, if you are prepared for this vision, it plays out as an interesting allegory. Had Aronofsky kept to the Biblical themes it might have been a great film. But it is at this point his theological symbology train goes off track.

God is love and desires obedience of His Creations but does not NEED love or adoration the way the Husband does. If Lawrence is playing Mary then she would not be clueless about the arrivals to her house, nor scream at "God" nor slap Him nor tell him no. As difficult as we humans all are, Mary is our adopted Mother. While she might be grieved at our condition, she would not try to bar us from her house – this is if we are keeping to the theology from which Aronofsky is supposedly dipping his ladle. And the linchpin of all Creation is that Mary told God "yes" in ultimate obedience to Him – "Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.'”  Luke 1:38.

By the end of this very odd film, Aronofsky’s Woman is more Kali, Hindu goddess of destruction and sexuality than Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus our Savior and Prince of Peace. By Aronofsky's own admission Lawrence's character is a "Mother Earth" figure, which druidic reference is completely inapproriate to a movie with all the Judeo-Christian themes and symbols. This inclusion alone exposes the glaring errors in Aronofsky's vision. 

Bardem is more like one of the Roman gods who craved worship and "needed" the love of others to thrive and be creative. In Christian theology, God is not the greatest among creations, yearning for approval and recognition, but is entirely outside of creation, being Creation Itself, and requires nothing from us – any more than a painter requires anything from his painting. But in Aronofsky’s misguided understanding of the Bible he seems to see God as suffering from creative entropy until he has one really good night with his wife and is greeted by a crowd of adoring fans. He is more admiration addicted rock star than God of Jacob, Joseph and Issac.

And, frankly, Aronofsky’s interpretation of the sacrifice of Jesus had me running to take a judiciously timed bathroom break. Again, Aronofsky's version is theologiocally unsound as Jesus was more than full age of consent and knew exactly what He was doing, what was being done to Him and why. He was not an unwilling infant martyr to a misguided divinity’s misplaced trust in his groupies.

Mother!, to borrow from a What Culture evaluation, is really only for film students and critics. It is a study in art house script writing which might have risen to masterpiece had Mr. Aronofsky had a firmer grasp of the theology he was supposedly analogizing. Instead it comes off as the violent musings of a gifted high school videographer who didn't pay enough attention in Bible study but only vaguely, and without context, remembered all the gory bits.

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8 thoughts on “MOTHER! – YET ANOTHER CINEMATIC CASUALTY OF POORLY UNDERSTOOD THEOLOGY”

      1. I agree with your synopsis and it is definitely one of the worst films ever but Noah was way off base as well but not as badly.  To me Barden was lucifer and the fires were the lake of fire.  Lucifer and his legion as well as the unsaved are reliving this lake of fire experience for eternity.  This is not an adam or eve or mary depiction but is a cain and abel depiction.  Maybe the director meant to portray his characters the way you suppose but in actuality the lake of fire is being depicted and all of the characters are either demons or the unsaved–maybe this film is a God thing in that the director is actually saying what God directed him to say though unwittingly to the director.

        1. i wish to correct my reply of yesterday to say that abel is not scripturally depicted since he received salvation  as explained in Genesis 4 vs. 4 in that God had respect for  him ; therefore both of the sons of the demon parents as depicted were also demons; to say that the barden character was a portrayal of God is complete blasphemy if the director was actually making him out to be GOD.  I HOPE that the director was just making a stupid horror film for if he wasn't he is on shaky ground and needs to repent of making such an evil movie.  terry

  1. It seems to me the reviewer is taking HER own pre-conceived notions about a: the movie, and b: her views of the Bible, what it means, or should means – according to her. The film's writer and director would appear to take another view. The reviewer seems to want HER interpretation of the Bible to be the norm, as in 'God' does this, or 'Mary is the mother of'…and so forth.

    The reviewer has the right to do this but it doesn't make for good movie criticism when she lectures us on what the Bible means. For many billions of people – and many movie watches – the Bible, especially the Old Testament (which is regarded by most sane people as illiterate hogwash) is a deeply flawed, many times translated and bowdlerised, telling of some quite literally fantastic – as in, unbelievable – tales.

    For me, and I'd suspect a lot of movie goers, to go into a movie, immediately start setting it against a Bible allegory, and then saying, well, sorry but it's god the Bible wrong, is an exercise in arrogant futility. I won't see this movie now, because I've read the spoilers. I suspect if I HAD seen it, I'd think of it as a spooky horror film and wouldn't have got even ONE of the so-called X is Adam, Y is Eve, Joe Blow is God, and Fanny Adams is Mary, allusions.

    I'm a fan of this reviewer as she usually takes an intelligent and different viewpoint into the cinema with her popcorn. But methinks the lady doth protest too Biblically much with this review. It may not even BE an allegory of the Bible, but if it IS surely the writer and director are entitled to their view of the Bible. I was a bit staggered also to read her earlier comment that she found 'Noah' Biblically sound or whatever.

    Who, today, truly thinks that God sent a flood and that Noah knew it was coming and built an arc and loaded it with potentially mating animals? I'll answer my own question – 1 out of 10,000,000,000 people in the so-called Christian world, I'd say. I mean, an overweight Australian as a contrived absurd figure from the Bible. Oh yes, intelligent movie-making that. About as real as Charlton Heston coming down from Mount Sinai to tell everyone to keep on taking the tablets. And hell, when he gets down from his long descent, it's all orgies and golden graven images. I liked that when I was about 14….but then I became a man and put away childish things (I'm sure THAT was in the Bible). So, sorry Movie Maven Mom…I'd leave your Bible at the refreshment station when you review movies.

  2. Forgive the frequent bloopers in that review. 'Twas written in extreme haste and stupidly not checked before posting.

    1. Well – I make the point that it wasn't ME who set the rules for the Universe in which he wrote this movie. Aronofsky was the one who established this as a Biblical analogy (again he confirmed this in an interview) – but my point is that this is not Biblical. Had he presented a pagan universe then I would have reviewed it based on that, but I will call out anyone who violates their own rules (unless it's a broad comedy, like Monty Python, in which case anything, by definition goes – but then that WOULD be the rules of THAT Universe so I'm kind of making my own point). Mother! no more follows a Biblical construct than including a Barney doll would be appropriate in a Star Wars movie. If you were making a Barney movie then Barney would be the correct choice. On Noah – my point in THAT review was that Aronofsky followed a legitimate interpretation of that part of Genesis – a bit loosely, but what he presented DID fit within the confines of the piece of literature/history/theological allegory he chose to convey. He did NOT do so in Mother! He began with one premise then sequed into another without rhyme or reason. He combined Judeo-Christian theology with Druidism – which is just nonsense. Much like if someone started playing football then in mid play began to apply the rules of bowling. Or you begin by making a chocolate cake, then decide to dump the iced pastry into the dishwasher.

      Whether you believe the stories in the Bible to be historic, analogies or rubbish – if you intend to present one you need to stick with the characters and story as presented or what YOU are filming will be utter rubbish. For the record I fall between historic and analogy. While I suspect the Genesis stories are intended to explain what we understand as evolution to  people with limited scientific knowledge but great intelligence and imagination, I have an open mind as to whether some or all of these things actually happened and there IS evidence that supports Biblical claims as being accurately told. It is my understanding that the Catholic Church supports either position.

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