Darren Aronofsky Confirms What ‘mother!’ Is Really About
Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is known for making challenging films, but with his most recent effort mother!, he’s taken it to a whole other level. The movie has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception, and was kept entirely under wraps until it was unveiled on the fall film festival circuit at Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival. There, critical reaction was divisive, but one thing was universal: once you’ve seen mother!, it’s hard to stop talking about the movie.
The film, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, is almost entirely allegorical in nature, and many people have been coming away from the movie with divergent takes on what it all means. Some see it as a retelling of the Bible, others as a story of the burden (and effect) that creativity and success can bring, and even some see it as a story about celebrity and fame. The curious thing is that lots of people have different interpretations, but they all insist that theirs is the abundantly obvious answer.
We’ve already posted our take on what movie means, but at TIFF last week, Collider’s own Steve Weintraub went straight to the source and asked Aronofsky point blank what he intended with this story. Somewhat surprisingly, the Black Swan filmmaker laid it all out there: it’s a retelling of the Bible.
“There [are] completely Biblical elements that I’m surprised—some people are really picking up on [them] immediately, other people have no clue, and I think that’s just how people are brought up. But that was the structure of the film was the Bible, using that as a way of discussing how humans have lived here on Earth. But it was also meant to be sort of ambiguous because that’s not really a story, it’s more of a structural thing. A lot of people aren’t picking up on all of it, there’s lots of little things and Easter Eggs and how things connect, and I think that’s the fun of unpacking the movie.”
Aronofsky confirmed one of those Easter eggs when asked what the crystal/egg means in the movie, saying it represents the apple on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, once Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters break it, “the poet” closes off his “office” and doesn’t allow them back in.
As for how Aronofsky went about writing and executing a film of this nature, he says he stuck to the themes throughout:
“I started off with the themes, the allegory; I sort of wanted to tell the story of Mother Nature from her point of view. I also realized that making her someone who took care of her home and took care of her man that they were linked, that there was a connection there. So that was like the thematic thing I started with, then I wrote the story, which became a very human story about this couple being invaded by these hordes. And then when you’re executing a film you go back to those original themes always, and you start to figure out, ‘Well how can I express this visually and sonically and with all the different tools I have as a filmmaker?’ So it’s kind of circular.”
Speaking of circular, Aronofsky also spoke a bit about the mother! ending and how it does stray from the allegory a bit:
“My first instinct when I first wrote it was that there would be that twist at the end, that final twist of just like, ‘Oh God it doesn’t end and this guy is just more and more of a narcissist and it just doesn’t end,’ and that would be like just another smack to the character and to the themes. How that lines up with the metaphor doesn’t fit perfectly, but I think that’s where the human story kind of takes over a little bit more and replaces the metaphor.”
Asked what he thinks about the film as a reflection of the creator/muse relationship, Aronofsky says it definitely works on that level but only to a point:
“People are getting the more traditional muse and the creator marriage, suddenly being invaded by all these outside forces and the terror of that—that’s like a good level to get it on. But then it really goes bonkers, the film, and unless you sort of have a sense that we’re talking about other stuff or you allow yourself to take a ride on that, you’re gonna resist it and not have a good trip.”
We also asked him about the film being a reflection of his relationship to his fans always wanting more:
“These are characters that are just great characters to draw on, that people sort of identify with. I don’t know, no one’s bangin’ on my door to make the next one. Everyone’s always kind of like, ‘Oh shoot here he comes again asking for money, he’s crazy. Why can’t he just do like a romcom and make everyone happy?’ I’m just like I don’t know, this is what gets me up in the morning. This is what I’m passionate about.”
And while the film ends in a very bleak fashion, Aronofsky quoted his cinematographer Matthew Libatique to point to an ultimately optimistic point of view:
“Matty Libatique said something smart in his EPK thing which is, ‘I see it two ways. I see it as a reflection and as a cautionary tale,’ and I think that’s very much truthful. The reason it’s hard for people sometimes is I’m pointing the finger at all of us about what’s going on and what we’re doing and how we’re treating Mother, but it is a cautionary tale too and I’m an optimist. I feel like the final chapter of Mother hasn’t been written yet and we can still write our way. All that said, at the core of it I wanted to make a film that was really intense and entertaining and filled with stars and weird stuff and things that just sort of spin people out. So it’s got a bunch of stuff because I think you can’t really go out and make that movie—unless you’re making a documentary—if you’re just trying to make it entertainment. So the first and foremost thing is to entertain people, to get people to come to the theater. If on top of that you could hang some cool ideas that actually affect people deep inside, sure that’s great. That’s been my goal always.”
One thing’s for certain: mother! definitely has people talking.