Unpacking the Religious Metaphors of Mother!

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Jennifer Lawrence in Mother! Photo: Paramount Pictures

Spoilers for Mother! below.

Auteur Darren Aronofsky has made no secret of the fact that his divisive new effort, Mother!, is allegorical. He’s told a number of outlets — including Vulture — that it’s predominantly about the environment and its destruction, an issue on which he’s long been active off camera. But even just one viewing of the film clearly suggests that there’s at least one other layer of meaning: religious metaphor. What, exactly, leads one to believe that? Here’s our working list of potential Judeo-Christian echoes in the flick.

The house is Eden
The domicile in which the action takes place is gorgeous, palatial, and surrounded by lush greenery. Over the course of the film, humans abuse the privilege by populating it and are duly punished for their transgressions.

Him is God
This one is, perhaps, the most obvious of them all. Javier Bardem’s character’s name comes with a deifying capital H. Teeming hordes of people come from far and wide to worship him, and he offers them his blessings and his only child. He is the source of a text that those teeming hordes worship. Late in the film, he tells Mother, “I am I,” which sounds an awful lot like God’s Old Testament claim, “I am that I am.” And if Aronofsky is going for an anti-religion message, that would fit with the fact that Him is, ultimately, a real jerk who ruins everything in His quest to be adored.

Mother is Mary
This isn’t a perfect fit, but it’s hard to ignore either way. Jennifer Lawrence’s character is impregnated by God/Him, figures out she’s pregnant through vaguely mystical means (she somehow just knows that she’s having a baby right after conception), and is then forced to watch as her child is murdered by a misguided mob. The character works better as an environmental metaphor for Mother Earth, but that’s not incompatible with the religious stuff: You can interpret Mother’s torture by the Him-worshippers as an indictment of the way that religion makes humans feel they’re above crude nature and, therefore, not required to devote much attention to protecting it.

Man and Woman are Adam and Eve
I mean, come on, their official names are just straight-up “Man” and “Woman” — does it get more archetypal than that? Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer play a couple who are invited into the Edenic house and proceed to mess stuff up through their selfishness. At one point, we see Man’s naked back, which bears a scar that could imply a plucked rib. They’re parents of two brothers, one of whom kills the other out of jealousy. Plus, there’s the whole thing with …

The study is the Tree of Knowledge and the crystal is the Apple
… what they do in the study. Mother tells Man and Woman not to enter Him’s sacred working space. Once they do, Him tells them to absolutely not, under any circumstances, touch the mysterious crystal he has on display there. Of course, they sneak back in and take the damn thing, anyway. Once they’ve dropped the crystal and left it shattered all over the floor (perhaps a vague gesture toward the story of Onan and his sperm?), Him explodes into a rage, expels them from the room, and excludes everyone from entering it by boarding it up. Thus we see the Fall of Man (and Woman).

The brothers are Cain and Abel
After that Fall, Mother catches Man and Woman groping one another in what we can presume is a precursor to wild, postlapsarian copulation. Soon afterward, we meet their children, two brothers played by dual gingers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson. Domhnall is billed as Oldest Son and Brian as Younger Brother; the Oldest Son, feeling he’s been denied his birthright in the form of Man’s changed will, proceeds to kill the Younger Brother. In Genesis, Cain is the older of the two brothers and feels a similar grievance, then kills his younger sibling and wanders out into the wilderness. Pretty straightforward.

The bloody spot on the floor is either the Mark of Cain or stigmata
I mean, it’s literally an indelible mark left by the actions of the Cain analogue. That said, the Mark of Cain is Biblically inflicted by God and prevents Cain from dying, none of which really has anything to do with the bloody spot in the film. So maybe it’s a mash-up of the Mark and the stigmata of Christ, which are also a bloody reminder of accursed violence?

The frog in the basement is a plague
This might be stretching things, but at one point, Mother sees a frog hopping around in her basement, and frogs represent one of the Ten Plagues. Since the Plagues were harbingers of the defeat of the Egyptians, it’s possible that the frog is a similar harbinger of the murdering of all the awful worshippers later in the film.

The broken sink is the Flood
Once a bunch of visitors crowd up the house during a funeral for Younger Brother, a few of them decide to test Mother’s patience by disobeying her order not to sit on the unbraced countertop that contains a sink. They hop up and down and cause it to break, bursting a water pipe and partially flooding the kitchen. Soon afterward, the people are gone as a result of Mother’s hatred of them. Terrible people getting punished with a torrent of water? Not dissimilar to the last Biblical story that Aronofsky adapted, no?

The new book of poetry is the New Testament
After all of that Genesis-y stuff happens, Him and Mother bone, a child is conceived and, right afterward, He is inspired to jot down a momentous new work after a long period of writer’s block. The resulting text is spread all over the world and brings Him more worshippers. Sounds a lot like some new books of the Bible being scrivened as a result of Christ’s arrival.

The Herald is, well, a Herald Angel
Kristen Wiig plays a book-industry professional who spreads around His new text and amps people up for it. In other words, she’s heralding His word. And in the credits, she’s literally billed as Herald. Not a lot of mystery there.

The head-marking is the marking of Ash Wednesday
His worshippers get little black marks smeared on their foreheads, which is exactly what happens to observers of Ash Wednesday. The timeline there is a little messy, though, since Ash Wednesday is related to the final days of Jesus, and the Jesus analogue in Mother! hasn’t even been born yet in the timeline of the film. Speaking of which …

The newborn is Jesus
The offspring of God and a woman got 33 years to live in the New Testament; the doomed baby of Mother! only gets a few hours. Nevertheless, the child’s parentage fits the Biblical template, as does the fact that he’s killed by a pack of terrible humans. Subsequently, those aforementioned humans consider it a blessed act to eat of his body. Sounds like Jesus to me.

The gasoline is the Seventh Vial
After the murder of His and Mother’s only begotten son, Mother goes ballistic and runs down to the basement to enact a plan that will stop the insanity once and for all. She places herself next to the flame-bearing furnace and pours gasoline everywhere. She ignites it and the whole place blows up. You could read this as a version of the bit in the Book of Revelation when seven vials (or, in some translations, bowls) of plagues are poured out, the last of which causes the foundation of the entire world to erupt.

The explosion is the apocalypse
Along those lines, the destruction of the house is pretty Armageddon-y. Everyone dies except for God, after all.

The final minutes are either the beginning of the post-apocalyptic Heavenly Kingdom or are a reference to one translation of the first line of Genesis
Once Mother’s burned the mother down, Him reaches into her chest and pulls out a new crystal, which he then uses to restore the house to its exact state at the beginning. You can read this as the setting up of God’s perfect world after the trials and tribulations of Revelation. But you can also read it as something a little more obscure. Some have translated the first line of Genesis not as the well-known “In the beginning,” but rather “In a beginning,” which would imply that God has created worlds before this one. Perhaps He’s stuck in a rut, cycling through world after world, hoping that each creation will be the one that finally works, Quantum Leap–style? Until we see Mother! 2: The Mothering, we’ll never know if it worked.

Unpacking the Religious Metaphors of Mother!