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Film review: mother!

15 June 2018

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (Paramount Home Entertainment)

THE film mother! (Cert. 18), now on DVD, is directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose output includes Black Swan and Noah (Arts, 4 April 2014). Both films have been described as psychic odysseys, their characters learning and moving towards who they are meant to be.

His latest film has a similar trajectory, complete with biblical allegories and religious symbolism. Only this time it’s no longer just about individual salvation, but on a cosmic scale. The dramatis personae don’t have names but descriptions. Jennifer Lawrence plays mother (title and credits are presented in lower case), childless at this point, and married to Him, a poet (Javier Bardem). It’s a paradisal existence set in beautiful countryside with nothing to affright them until a couple, Ed Harris (The Man) and Michelle Pfeiffer (The Woman), arrive and violate their gracious hospitality.

The narrative, thus far, is a contemporary parallel to early chapters of Genesis describing the Fall. Bardem is the Creator, Lawrence the human face of God, making Harris Adam (including rib injury) and Pfeiffer Eve.Their Elder and Younger Sons follow and carry out a violent Cain and Abel scenario.

Life gets worse as hordes take over, ostensibly admiring of the husband’s poetry but behaving very badly — so much so that a flood overwhelms them. The supernatural is a key feature of the plot, with walls containing a beating heart and an inferno of apocalyptic proportions. As the title implies, there is a birth, but one that feels more like a death to shared values, a portent even, as Aronofsky has hinted, of an imperilled planet unless we change our ways.

That may be so; but this is a film where ecology meets theology. There is something messianic about it. A child is born, one who has the potential to save us from ourselves. There’s sacrifical redemption of various kinds. We’re being asked to consider whether the real enemy to our humanity lies within us. Light has come into the world, but we have preferred darkness.

I was particularly intrigued by the crystal motif that appears at moments of renewal. Deluge and flames may cleanse the world of its greed and pride, but something else is required. If “mother” lacks a capital M in this narrative, is that because God’s grace is always offered in total humility? Divine love is literally beating at the heart of the universe, as Jennifer Lawrence’s character has earlier revealed. The ubiquitous crystal could therefore be a reference to the white stone (sometimes translated as brilliant bright) mentioned in Revelation 2.17, given, as with Roman athletes, to those who are victorious over sin and death. New life is restored. But will it last?

I am reminded of the W. H. Vanstone’s classic Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense. Our notions of God must change from omnipotence to a realisation that we worship one who is self-emptying and vulnerable, forever adjusting to accommodate our confused aspirations and mistakes; and mother! is definitely hot on confusion. Viewers will have to join up the dots for themselves, though not necessarily as I have done. The chances are that they will find it a worthwhile enterprise.

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