Everyone agrees that Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is an incredibly obvious allegory. Nobody agrees on exactly what that allegory is. Though Darren Aronofsky is happy to talk to the press about exactly what he was trying to do, the movie’s birthed dozens of other interpretations, and pissed off a few audience members in the process. See, [adopts the voice of a man smoking an herbal cigarette outside of a screening of Mother! at BAM] Mother! is actually about everything and nothing. There’s no way to really explain it — also, you have to think hard about the Trinity. But maybe, just maybe, we can help you “get” Mother! by explaining what it is really, really (no, really) about.
Mother! is about the environment: Aronofsky himself has been pretty explicit about this. Jennifer Lawrence’s “Mother,” who’s obsessed with keeping her house together, is a stand-in for “Mother Earth” — a.k.a. Gaia, a.k.a. the patron saint of Shailene Woodley — while Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris are the humans who use, abuse, and defile her creations. It’s not a perfect metaphor — Mother’s baby is … what, exactly? The animals we shouldn’t eat because we could be vegan? — but there’s an overwhelming amount of force behind it. How else to describe the moment when Mother gets fed up at the end of the movie and lights the house on fire, other than as a bit of accelerated global warming?
Mother! is about the Bible: Another common interpretation, and the one that has the most obvious hooks in the movie. Javier Bardem, “the Poet,” is God and/or the church writing scripture. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are Adam and Eve. The Gleeson brothers are Cain and Abel. Jennifer Lawrence is a kind of Mother Earth slash Virgin Mary slash all-women-when-subject-to-the-church figure, whose sacrificed child is the Messiah. You get the feeling Aronofsky’s not a big fan of organized religion.
Mother! is about being Darren Aronofsky: An older man (Javier Bardem is 48; Darren Aronofsky is 48) is dating a younger woman (Jennifer Lawrence is 27). He’s creative, which means he has to ignore her and spend time alone, consumed by his craft. She hates this, but ends up forgiving him because the work is just so beautiful — should she? Really, that’s a question for Lawrence, who started dating Aronofsky during production, and probably also for Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky’s ex.
Mother! is about The Giving Tree: Darren Aronofsky has said it was a key inspiration — except in this version, the boy and the Giving Tree have sex.
Mother! is about being any creative male figure: J.Law’s mother — a mystical, eternal, feminine being — has the power to give birth. Bardem’s Poet, however, can only create through other means — i.e., poetry. He screams at her that he is “trying to bring life into this house.” Also, he has trouble getting it up, which feels like laying it on a little thick.
Mother! is about being a woman: As Michelle Pfeiffer (helpfully credited as “Woman”) tells Mother, “You give and you give and you give,” and when you resist, everyone yells gendered epithets at you, knocks down your (unbraced) sinks, and steals your babies.”
Mother! is about the hell of living inside a metaphor: Jennifer Lawrence just wants to paint and live her life. Javier Bardem insists, No, this has to mean something. Michelle Pfeiffer is “grammar.”
Mother! is about how being a woman is like being a metaphor: [Loudly burps.]
Mother! is about fame: The Poet loves getting attention from his fans and can’t stop himself from inviting them into his house, despite the fact that they keep destroying both it and his relationship in the process. Kristen Wiig is the Poet’s publisher, who lures him away from Mother and also shoots people in the head (is this a metaphor for editing?). In a pivotal moment, when Mother demands his full attention for her and their baby, he betrays her by handing said baby over to the masses. Rumor has it, they cut a part where Harvey Levin slurps on baby guts out of a Big Gulp.
Mother! is about being Jennifer Lawrence: In her Vogue September cover story, Lawrence talked about how she got rid of the crystals in her house, and it flooded. This is also the plot of Mother!
Mother! is about being an introvert: Jennifer Lawrence so totally needs her alone time, while Javier Bardem needs to be around people. Once the pressure of being around people for too long gets to be too much, Jennifer burns down the house. Michelle Pfeiffer is a BuzzFeed quiz.
Mother! is about home renovation: Most couples think they can redo their kitchens without destroying their relationships. Few do. Please remember to brace your sinks.
Mother! is about fracking: Why is there a spot of blood on Jennifer Lawrence’s rug that she just can’t get out? Original sin! Also, Javier Bardem has clearly been covertly injecting water into the shale beneath their house at high pressure, so as to better extract oil from the ground. That’s why the house blows up so easily at the end.
Mother! is about being a Sim: Jennifer Lawrence exhibits a limited, repetitive range of emotion and expression. Her outfit and costume choices clearly read as “I forgot to customize this character.”
Mother! is about sex and death: But so is everything.
Mother! is about being alive: Make me alive, make me confuuuuuuused.
Mother! is about Moana: Both are movies about mystical gems that turn burned fire beings into verdant earth goddesses. Kristen Wiig is Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Mother! is about the 2009 one-season NBC modern-day Biblical drama Kings: Javier Bardem is Ian McShane. Jennifer Lawrence is Sebastian Stan. The sink is Macaulay Culkin.
Mother! is about Darren Aronofsky’s relationship with his mother: Javier Bardem’s character is spiritually and emotionally 5. Jennifer Lawrence is clearly his mom, who tears out her heart to give him life. Doctor Freud himself decided this was too obvious.
Mother! is about your relationship with your mother: Have you called her recently?
Mother! is about you watching Mother!: Checkmate.