I recently finally saw the movie Mother! It had received extremely mixed reviews, none of which I read because I had heard that it was best to view it without any preconceptions. So I did, and found it to be a pretty good horror movie about a woman enslaved by love to a brutish man, leading to horrifying consequences for herself and none whatever for him. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do before reading any further, as it’s certainly worth seeing. But if you have, or don’t plan to, here’s a recap:
Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is restoring the big old country house she shares with poet The Man (Xavier Bardem) after a fire, while he mopes around trying to recover the writing mojo that brought him fame. One day a man arrives at the door and Lawrence watches helplessly as he, his wife and their sons basically move in and start wrecking her happy little life. One son kills another and, starting with the funeral, her space is invaded by increasingly objectionable guests. She becomes pregnant (she’s not sure how), which inspires The Man to start writing again. When his poetry is published, fans begin arriving at the house to pay homage. They start getting unruly, abusing her and trashing her beloved home, until she is forced to give birth in the middle of a riot. The Man takes the baby and presents it to his adoring fans, who promptly kill and eat it (maybe I should have caught on here, but I really thought it was generic ritualistic mob behaviour). Finally she’s had enough and blows up the house with everyone in it. Somehow the two survive, she in much worse shape than he. He charms her, Stockholm Syndrome style, into offering up her last shred of love so that he can be inspired to restore everything again, complete with a new Mother.
As the author of The Acts of Simon Magus, I guess I should have been alert to the messages rather blatantly shouted at me during my first viewing. Having watched it, I told my son, who had already seen it and read all the commentary, and learned to my surprise that it was in fact a Biblical allegory by Darren Aronofsky, creator of Black Swan and the Enochian epic Noah. Bardem’s character was apparently the Judeo-Christian God, with the long-suffering Lawrence as Mary (or Mother Earth as seems to be the alternative intent). Though the Old Testament analogies are in hindsight obvious, I think there is another mythos that corresponds more closely to the story told here.
Everyone knows the Christian myth: the God of All, after a couple of millennia hanging with a small Middle Eastern tribe, decides to give everyone the chance to worship him. He impregnates a young Jewish woman and becomes her child, then starts a new cult preaching love and brotherhood for all. Finally (this part gets a little confusing) he offers himself up as a sacrifice to himself, declaring that all who believe that he has done so will be saved from his own wrath, and rises from the grave to confirm it.
There are obviously some elements of this tale in Mother! Certainly the Old Testament is well represented: a paradise corrupted, the first man and woman with their battling sons, a flood of sorts, but when it comes to the New Testament, the analogies are less obvious. The Man suffers nothing, and as in the New Testament Jahweh became the Christian God by becoming human, so Mary was exalted by her brief fling with her divine baby daddy. Mother is destroyed by it.
Aronofsky is obviously familiar with obscure heretical writings, and I think the whole fits much better with the Gnostic myth as first proposed by Simon Magus in his Great Announcement and expanded upon by generations of Gnostic fabulists. According to them, the God of the Christians and Jews is in fact Ialdabaoth, a demonic creature born in error to Sophia, Divine Wisdom of the True God. It has created Earth for Its own evil purposes and now delights in tormenting its inhabitants. On discovering that It’s not the highest God, It casts Its Mother Sophia down to Earth in a fit of jealousy, where she suffers all manner of degradation and ends up in a brothel. When the True God learns the truth, He descends to Earth as (you guessed it) Simon Magus, rescues her, and the two travel the world spreading Simon’s doctrines.
So what is the real relationship between Mother and the Man? The first and last line she speaks gives the clue, as she affectionately calls out “Baby!”. He is her child; she is the ultimate source of his creative power. All she wants is to look after him and give him a nice life, but he rejects her at every turn, deliberately doing all he can to wreck that life while seeming to be solicitous and caring. Although it may seem that he is guilty of, at worst, extreme negligence and lack of concern for her well-being, his treatment of her comes from something deeper. He seems to genuinely hate her, so much that he forces her to undergo horrible degradation and agonizing death again and again. Like Sophia, she is cast down, tortured by the monster she made, who created the world and everyone in it to worship It, and will brook no co-creator.
And what is the real title of the movie? The ! tells the story, as I think it’s named not after Her but Him. True, like Mary, Mother must watch her child being killed by a howling mob, but her motherhood is among the lesser elements of the story, just another way for The Man to make her suffer before driving her to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The fact that she is impregnated by her own son means the film should really be called not Mother!, but Motherfucker!
Finally, one thing in the film which is foreign to both the Christian and Gnostic versions of the story is the eternal cycle of death and reincarnation endured by Mother. Both those faiths stress the directionality of time, a purpose to which everything is ultimately heading. In Christianity it’s the return in glory of Christ; according to Simon, Simon himself is the agent of Sophia’s eventual redemption. I am therefore eagerly anticipating Aronofsky’s next opus, Mother! 2: Saved by the Magus!