mother! ★★★½


Just like Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is no mere sci-fi film but rather symbolizes the pregnancy process from fertilization to birth, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother (2017) too is not just a horror film but follows a strict symbolization code as well. On the one hand, the unnamed writer (Javier Bardem) symbolizes the hard-working Judeo-Christian God, who both in Genesis and in Mother creates the world together with the first members of a fanbase that will get hooked on his all time bestseller: the Bible. On the other hand, the writer’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) symbolizes Saint Mary, who becomes the eponymous Mother by giving birth to his son, that, of course, symbolizes Jesus.

Now, once the members of God’s fanbase engage in the sacrament of “communion”, i.e., once they start eating the body of Jesus, shocked mother Mary blows up the cannibals together with the whole world that was created by her husband, for it not only demands the life of her beloved son but also seems to exist just in order to increase (her) man’s fame. Therefore, we can say that Mother depicts a feminist critique of Christianity, because it shows the revolution of dispossessed Mary against male narcissism, i.e., against men’s obsession that everything has to be sacrificed in the name of hard work and being successful at it; an idea that paradigmatically derives from the Judeo-Christian God, since in order to create the world in Genesis, he works six days a week and on the seventh day only talks about how perfect his creation looks.

However, this interesting setting has its prize: Unlike in the Bible, God in Aronofsky’s Mother introduces Judaism after Christianity, for Mary is already pregnant with Jesus when Adam (Ed Harris) and – after we see him wounded at his side (as if there was a rib removed) – Eve (Michelle Pfeiffer) knock on the door and join the happy couple. Furthermore, Adam and Eve are portrayed just as unsympathetic as their children Cain (Domhnall Gleeson) and Abel (Brian Gleeson), who are introduced right after Mary witnesses the former two having sex. This unsympathetic element arises because just like in Genesis, we see Cain killing Abel, whereas Adam and Eve follow God’s word with one fundamental exception: While in the Bible they violate the one and only rule by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, in Aronofsky’s film they do not care about God’s beloved wife Mary and, finally, join the rest of his fanbase in eating her child Jesus. Thus, Aronofsky’s feminist critique of Christianity comes along with a slight touch of antisemitism, because all characters from the Jewish Bible, i.e., the Old Testament, are portrayed in a dubious light, to say the least.

Yet, there is reason to believe that Aronofsky is not aware of this antisemitic element; and even if he was, it would not change the fact that Mother – with its symbolism – is a truly creative and interesting work of art. Hence, if one still feels the necessity to criticize the film, one cannot raise the antisemitism claim but rather has to criticize the film’s symbolism instead.

In this regard, one could – by following Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics – argue that this symbolism is an anachronistic principle that has been the principle of ancient Egyptian art and is outdated ever since the Greeks. Yet, such an argument requires a whole philosophy of art, and – more importantly – Aronofsky’s film would nonetheless stand out from what Adorno would have called the “culture industry”, i.e., other mindless Hollywood productions. Therefore, we must conclude that even though from the point of aesthetics proper there probably is a way to criticize Mother, it still remains a notable film in the pool of conceptually blind competitors. In other words: One should not miss watching Mother!

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