Deep in the Weeds with MOTHER!—An analysis of the film’s details and specific moments, as well as some general interpretation
2nd screening thoughts – details I missed in 1st screening.
NOT a Review of the Film but an Analysis and Speculation on the film's finer points
Broken down in outline form, for ease of reading and skipping around
by Paul Woodson
(Watch/listen to the AUDIO/VISUAL version of this article on YouTube, HERE! Narrated by Paul Woodson)
WARNING: These notes utterly spoil the entire film, from general plot points all the way down to specific acting beats. The film is best experienced the first time by discovering it for yourself! I highly advise reading this ONLY if you have already watched “mother!”
1. Octagons! Octagons everywhere!
(An octagon is sort of a compromise between a square and a circle, half masculine, half feminine, in keeping with the duality of the couple.)
Octagons are present in: the shape of the house’s overall blueprint (from above), the layout of the winding staircase, the windows, the lamps, the door & wall trim, the cards which bear the “Poet”’s image, the uniform insignia on the police in Act III, the Poet’s book cover (I think). The shape begins as the shape of everything representing Him & Mother’s world (I will call Him “God” thru much of this analysis), and is later adopted by his followers as a symbol.
2. In the Beginning: Him & Mother alone
God is frustrated that he’s not creating. He seems to love Mother, but he’s clearly bored and restless. His moodiness evaporates immediately upon the arrival of Man (Adam).
Mother is spackling the walls with a yellow paste created from a powder in a vial. The tincture she takes each time she feels faint or anxious (which directly parallels each time God creates something new) is the same color, drawn from a similar vial.
3. Man (Adam)3a.
Almost directly before Adam and Eve each appear, God is seen looking out the window and murmuring something unintelligible. These 2 instances would seem to be his act of creating human life, or at least anticipating it.3b.
Anytime a new human (created by God, not born from man) enters the story, Mother has pains and stumbles, usually taking a yellow tincture to replenish her strength. This happens before the arrival of Adam & Eve each separately, and several other times I didn’t note down closely enough, but each time was connected to a new human.3c.
Adam can almost never speak to Mother without coughing or stuttering. The first time he attempts to speak to her, it is as if he’s never seen a woman before and is in utter awe (perhaps lust as well). Watch Ed Harris’s initial reaction to Mother; he is momentarily stunned and speechless. He is clearly impressed by her youth and beauty (“I thought it was your daughter!”). He tries to speak to her and either coughs, or stutters, with his stutters turning into a cough. This happens several times afterward as well.3d.
Adam’s coughing fits frequently start after trying to speak to Mother, but they occur on their own as well. Of course he is consistently chain-smoking against Mother’s wishes, illustrating Man’s predilection for self-destruction, but it also seems to be (to me) a way to show Man’s mortality and frailty—unlike God and Mother, his lifespan is brief and limited. Mother can be hurt, but she is resilient and destined to be long-lived (barring calamity, of course). Adam’s days are numbered, though, and this is a great way to show it.3e.
Adam’s smoking is also a convenient way to introduce his lighter, which, like his travel bag, bears either the symbol of the Wendehorn Rune or of Pisces (considered the astrological sign of the Age of Christ, 1 AD - 2150 AD). The lighter can of course be a stand-in for Man’s discovery of fire. The lighter will later be the tool, introduced by Man, that Mother uses to destroy the house.3f.
The smoking is also a first way to introduce humanity’s casual disrespect for Mother (Nature). Man is repeatedly asked not to smoke in the house, but within a short time he is doing so anyway. The first time Mother asks him to stop, he quickly complies, but carelessly tosses the fully lit cigarette out the front door onto the porch without extinguishing it or disposing of the stub.3g.
God: “She’s not much of a drinker.”3h.
Mother: “I drink.”
She does still decline Adam’s whiskey, but I took this little exchange as a clever nod that fermentation does occur in nature without manipulation, while Man utilizes this process for pleasure, sometimes to excess (as with everything man touches).
Yes, Adam appears to have a rib wound when God is holding him over the toilet, the night before Eve appears (in the Bible, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib.) The next morning, God is chipper and jovial, and says (paraphrase) “I couldn’t sleep, I was so inspired”.
4. Eve (Woman)
Almost immediately after this (and after God mutters something unintelligible and glances outside once again), Eve (Woman) appears. Seemingly crafted as an idea by Him after seeing Adam’s reaction to Mother (watch Bardem’s performance during Adam’s first night to see the gears turning), Michelle Pfeiffer as Eve bears a certain maternal resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence— the film seems to imply that God intentionally modeled Adam’s mate at least partially after Mother, based upon God noting Adam being so taken by Mother’s femininity, and Adam’s mentions of wandering and loneliness. But where Mother is preternaturally graceful and stoic, Woman is a grotesque humanized perversion of Mother’s feminine attributes.
While we see God and Adam bonding instantly and going off to hike together (and getting on like a house on fire ;) ), Mother and Eve are left alone together in the house as well, presumably to have some “girl-bonding” time too. Eve doesn’t possess the same difficulty communicating with Mother as Adam did—they speak together quite candidly— but they possess NONE of God & Adam’s easy camaraderie. Eve is constantly judging Mother, looking for a shortcut or an angle to make life easier or subvert the natural order of things in the house (“Don’t you have some painkillers? Are you telling me the truth?” or “Can’t you do anything?”), touting hers and Adam’s sexual life and mocking God & Mother’s lack of one, and even disparaging their lack of having any offspring. Ultimately, Eve is much more human than godlike, and these intimate scenes between the 2 of them illustrate this. (While Mother’s powers are not nearly equal to those of God’s, they are also shown to be greater than any individual man’s or woman’s, and only unleashed when pushed to the brink.)
God & Mother seem utterly intrigued by Adam & Eve’s carnal nature and the fact that they have children, but for different reasons; when Adam and Eve unabashedly share a passionate kiss right in front of God & Mother during their first moments together, Mother blushes slightly, but God watches with delight. Mother takes note of God’s reaction to them as well, which seems unexpected to her. He may be anticipating their procreation and expansion of the human race; he may also be taking enjoyment in the wonders of his own creation and the seeming perfect duality of Man and Woman, or even of how they express Love, which is purportedly one of God’s superobjectives throughout the film (and in religious tradition).
In fact, only moments after Adam and Eve have broken God’s most prized possession (which I don’t need to explain is the Forbidden Fruit), enraging Him and causing him to board up the study for all time (until his son’s birth, at least), Mother discovers Adam & Eve, who should be sulking guiltily in a corner, SCREWING PASSIONATELY in a side room with the door open. Eve even makes eye contact with Mother and is utterly unashamed about it. Later, Mother returns to kick them out, and Eve appears in only her underwear, doesn’t express guilt, and doesn’t even hear her out before shutting the door on Mother, insisting that God said they could stay and that she has to “check on her husband” (coughing in the bathroom yet again).
4e. It’s worth mentioning that, despite their having already mentioned having sons, the sons DON’T APPEAR until after we’ve seen Adam & Eve having sex. This would seem to be a reference here to Original Sin? Or the sinfulness of sex outside the Garden/Study, after the Fall of Man? Not quite sure, but I’m pretty sure this sex scene has meaning. Certainly there’s plenty of implication that they were having lots of sex beforehand, but this is the first instance AFTER the Fall from Grace.
5. Cain and Abel
Even Abel, the “Good Son”, leers lustfully at Mother the very first time he meets her.
God tries to calm an enraged Cain by holding him against a wall , touching Cain’s head, and saying (I think) “Will you listen?” Cain is subdued immediately, but as soon as God turns away, renews his attack on Abel and this time, uses the doorknob that GOD HIMSELF knocked off the door to his study when he barred it for eternity, to strike and kill his brother. (In the Bible, God is said to have given Cain the idea—although not the motivation—to kill Abel. This is a literal representation of that concept.)
Cain returns to the house for his wallet while Mother is left there alone. They stare each other down for a moment and Mother wields a large pliers to defend herself from him. Cain shows no sign of being there to harm Mother; rather, he just smiles and nods, “You DO understand,” as if to say, “Good, you DO recognize the darkness in all of us; your husband seems to look the other way.” There may even be a touch of sympathy in his words, as he has clearly rejected God by defacing his image and pities Mother for being stuck with him. Then Cain leaves forever. Cain’s dark worldview, and his seeming approval of Mother’s unexpected fortitude, draws an unlikely bond between them, but one which makes sense.There is an argument to be made that after Cain forsook God, he lived by the laws of Nature in the Wilderness (considered paganism by Christians).
The Mark of Cain makes it into the movie, of course. A bloody wound on his forehead. Not much to analyze there because it is a 1:1 literal physical representation. (Ironically, to scholars, the “Mark of Cain” has meant many dozens of metaphorical and literal things in their analyses, meaning different things to different people—a rare case of the movie being LESS metaphorical than the stories it’s based on.)
The blood spot from Abel’s murder renews itself constantly, despite Mother’s continual attempts to eradicate it. The blood is shown to act as an acidic astringent on the house, eating through the wood and stone and dripping down to the basement, where it has eaten away at a wall enough to allow Mother to chip through it and discover a hidden room near the furnace which contains an oil barrel (and out of which a frog leaps). It is easy to forget, as I did the first viewing, that the entrance to the deepest cellar room is ONLY revealed to Mother once the blood has eaten away at its stone facade. Not only does this symbolize the never-ending sorrow and sin of the first murder eating into the original purity of the world (which can never be renewed, save through total destruction), but it is a parallel to the Bible story which states that the ground upon which Cain murdered Abel was forever cursed.
Later when the masses descend upon the house, the wound begins gaping even more widely once again, and some enthusiasts are proudly taking photos of themselves next to the bloody hole.
6. The First Party and the “Flood”
After the death of Abel, Adam & Eve return to the house with an ever-growing number of “family and friends”. Eve, in her grief, seems to have transformed from GILFy tart to buttoned-up holier-than-thou Church Lady, even admonishing Mother to “put on something decent”, despite flaunting her own sexual prowess (and underwear) to Mother earlier that same day. Thus begins the shaming of The Feminine Nature, ironically and tragically by another woman.
The young black gentleman who seems mostly benign (compared to the other guests at least) still sizes up Mother’s figure, like all the other men, and later attempts to seduce a young lady up in God & Mother’s bedroom. There is lust and carnality represented in this, but also, reproduction and gradual population of the Earth are possibly being referenced here. The guests are desperate to be fruitful and multiply. Mother has another of her “attacks” at this moment, which drives her to the bathroom and the yellow tincture again. (Is this because the young couple found a place to copulate, created a baby, and Mother is straining again with the stress of too many humans?)
The old dude who stumbles in on Mother in the bathroom while she takes the potion this time: “Just exploring!” An effectively comedic line for such a seriously themed film, and probably meant to be dead literal. He and others “explore” Mother’s house despite warnings and pleas not to enter certain areas, just as humanity begins to fan out from its initial tightly-penned beginnings and populates the planet.
The young Lothario is seen again, along with others, this time using rollers to paint the downstairs rooms. He claims they are helping her—again, it comes off as sincere—they probably genuinely believe they are doing something good for the house. He implies that they are helping her, but the subtext is that clearly they are painting the house to suit themselves. Besides, the paint is noticeably green, NOT yellow, the color Mother had chosen.
The smarmy guy who flirts with Mother at the wake and tries to take her outside and “give you my number” and says he can “make things happen for you” (paraphrase), then calls her a “cunt” when she rejects him; he COULD be simply a stand-in for sleazy lustful men and trademark misogyny in general, but like the whole film, I think there’s more at play here. On a second viewing, this character seemed the most parallel to the Devil. Perhaps this is a reach, as his character gets only one rather unremarkable scene, but here are some thoughts… Unlike every other character who dismisses Mother as an unimportant nonentity, this one is actually trying to seduce her for awhile and even woo her to his side, to take her away from Him (literally “outside” the house, something never suggested she do before or after). The surface reason seems to be sexual, of course, and there’s always the argument that this is supposed to be Man trying to exploit Natural Resources, or Women’s Sexuality, for his own material or lustful gain. But he specifically is trying to charm her in a way that no other character ever bothers to, which prompts me to wonder if he is at least a minor stand-in for some kind of Satan or Lucifer character trying to subvert Nature from under God’s nose and get her to be with him instead. When he is rejected, he stalks off cursing at her. That this slime ball character is Satan may be a reach, but it felt real enough to bring up here.
Another interesting angle of the worshiping God/disrespecting Mother dynamic that seems to be at play repeatedly throughout the film: When there is pain or death, the human beings seem to seethe at Mother as being somehow responsible for it, or for not doing enough to prevent it; while there is a grain of logic in this (Death and Pain are Nature, after all), none of them ever turn on God Himself for causing their pain. God comforts them all at the funeral with his deeply emotional, healing words of Love and Hope, while Mother—given her Big Break of sorts—asked to finally contribute a few words, can say very little on the subject (and really never gets the chance, as she’s once again interrupted by more guests wreaking havoc in the next room). Knowing the metaphors upon second viewing, this felt like one of Mother’s most tragic scenes: it’s one of the ONLY times she is pointedly ASKED to say something, we WANT her to say something meaningful, and she either can’t or won’t. This may diminish her further in the eyes of the already dismissive guests. But of course, it’s not Nature’s nature to provide existential comfort or meaning; that is traditionally God’s role. We may find beauty in Nature, but rarely do we find poetry—that role is always assigned to God.
“That sink’s not braced!”
Clearly the Flood. This metaphor is so on the nose I don’t really need to even mine it for details. The comical, carefree way the 2 women taunt Mother, as if it’s a big joke, is actually a great allegory for the buildup to the Great Flood. And of course, once all the guests are driven out by Mother and God, it is raining heavily.
7. Making a Baby/Making a Masterpiece
7a. God finishes his “Masterpiece” (The New Testament?) at the EXACT MOMENT Mother’s baby kicks noticeably for the first time. She runs to tell Him about the baby, and he has JUST COMPLETED the last word. Simultaneously. Not a coincidence; it likely symbolizes Jesus and God and God’s Word, as one entity (maybe even the Holy Spirit? to create the Trinity).
7b. The Masterpiece is known to the world within MOMENTS of the last word being written, without God seemingly having sent it to anybody—yes, there are smartphones in this universe, but neither God nor Mother seems to own one, and anyway, he has just finished in that moment. The ink isn’t even dry on the page when he gives it to Mother to read for herself, and before she’s even finished, the Masterpiece is already known by the world and he’s getting a phone call from his publisher.
8. The Second Party, or The Worst Houseguests in the History of the World
This section needs longer analysis, so it won’t be a breakdown by numbers here.
OVERVIEW of Section 8
I’ve been trying to work out whether the next sequence is meant more to reflect the latter part of the Bible, finishing with the Book of Revelation, or whether we are brought all the way into modern times with this part of the allegory. We are certainly treated to all the most horrific aspects of being ugly humans. Mass executions, religious persecution, religious wars, sex trafficking, and all the other horrors depicted, existed both in Ancient Times and in Modern Times. So while modern analogies like handguns, police in riot gear, sex traffickers speaking in Russian, give this a modern feel, that may simply be a by-product of setting this entire allegory within the modern American paradigm.
The Christ metaphor of their baby would seem to imply that the lead-up to his birth represents the latter part of the Old Testament, and that everything after the child’s sacrifice represents Christianity (especially the Holy Communion ritual), but I’m not sure if Aronofsky is attempting to follow any strict 1:1 timeline parallel in his allegory by this point, or if he simply wants to spray paint all over the canvas now for a stronger, more visceral emotional gut punch. After all, the New Testament which coincides with their Child (Jesus)’s conception was in reality not written until AFTER his death, and written ABOUT his life and death, while the “new work” God puts out to the world BEFORE his child is born is almost certainly meant to be the New Testament. But how the historical timeline wends together with the allegorical one at this stage actually doesn’t matter. The killing of their baby and its aftermath MUST play, from a narrative standpoint, as the film’s climax, so what we sacrifice in linear strictness we gain in a bonkers, horrifying build-up to Mother’s breaking point. Humanity has destroyed her house and now it has murdered and butchered her child. She has nothing left at this stage but God, the central figure who has allowed, even pushed, for all her pain to be inevitable. Her last straw breaks with God’s urgent plea to forgive mankind.
We have reached one of the film’s central points: that to forgive so much evil is Insanity, and Mother says as much (“You’re insane!”). We are told this entire story in an allegory, a parable, because many of the key tenets and foundations of Western Religion, which seem benign by their antiquated easy familiarity, become terrorizing nightmares when presented as happening to a contemporary, familiar figure with whom we can identify and sympathize. It is great to think of God as all-forgiving and all-loving as a concept, quite another to realize that this means he will forgive the monsters who destroyed your life, your love, your very existence. In other words, it’s another story when it happens to YOU.
There is of course also the environmental moral about abusing and destroying the Earth itself through carelessness, destruction, and baseness. The figurative “heart” of Earth (Mother and the house, who are one) gets destroyed emotionally, bit by bit, until her Love has burnt out almost completely, but the actual physical being of Earth is pummeled senseless as well: Mother is kicked, beaten, stripped, insulted, and maimed; and the exact same happens to the physical structure of the house. I find the Biblical metaphor and the environmental one to go hand in hand rather readily; the sin and evil of mankind, as well as the reckless abuse of its celestial home, combine together to push Earth to reject us all, destroying all of us in a fireball and taking herself out in the process.
Section 8 Details:8a.
Mother goes into labor at the MOMENT God touches her to calm her down about the guests beginning to take over the house. It wasn’t as apparent to me the 1st time, but he clearly CAUSES her to go into labor. He WANTS the child born at this moment, with the house full of followers. Also, the way he touches Mother in this moment (with a very deliberate gesture) has a very “I’m putting the essence of God into you now” manner.
Some have misread the moment of the baby’s death that he was purposefully murdered and cannibalized as part of a preconceived ritual; it doesn’t play this way, however. They are 2 separate beats, although they happen in quick succession. It was most likely misinterpreted by viewers not fully immersed in the metaphors of the parable, but who were somehow apparently (although by this point in the narrative, this seems unbelievable) tuned into what they thought was a real-world, literal story. Watching closely, one can see that the baby’s death via snapped neck is NOT premeditated but happens through utter carelessness. Moments later, he is eaten as a literal means of Holy Communion by the McHattie faction, but only as a REACTION to his death, not as part of a preconceived notion.
Certainly religious types will take issue with this portrayal of the Christ, as he is depicted as only a newborn who preached no Sermon on the Mount, or fed the poor, or healed the sick, nor did he even reach adulthood before his destined sacrifice. But keep in mind the metaphor: We are seeing this tale through the eyes of Mother, and to all mothers their children will always be their precious babes, no matter what their age. Additionally, the allegorical timeline at this point is moving at breakneck speed (possibly even jumping around randomly to amp up the tension), and the Crowd itself seems to feel “saved” and revel in the babe’s presence, just as effectively as if he were a grown man preaching his Father’s inspiring words. In other words, for them the child’s EXISTENCE is Salvation enough. Plus, there is the common characterization of Jesus as being “innocent as a newborn babe” even on the day of his crucifixion; the film uses that concept and brings it to literal, physical fruition, which is just as horrifying as the literal, physical portrayal of the Eucharist, wherein Catholics eat and drink the representative body and blood of Christ. It is a ritual that, like other aspects of religion and the Bible, has been sanitized through familiarity, but when one thinks on the idea of “eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the son of God”, is it not a revolting concept at face value? Even though this ritual in the church today is meant to be a remembrance of Christ’s words, and not a literal consumption of his flesh, it was taken much more literally by the Church for centuries, the fact remains that this sentiment (according to the apostles and Church at least) was uttered by Christ and eventually repeated symbolically by hundreds of millions of followers. The film again reminds us that our common religious practices are often rooted in bloody ground. Perhaps it’s not bad for us all to be reminded exactly what we are worshipping, and how, in a literal sense. Religion serves to comfort us at times, but one can argue that it is meant to discomfort us in equal measure.
8c. The Religious Leaders
There are 2 primary religious leaders that I picked up on, who have their own small character arcs; possibly a third, or even more, but here are the 2 I was able to note this time:
The Publicist (in credits as “herald”) played by Kristen Wiig: arrives at the house deferential to Mother only on a surface level (“The Inspiration!”), but absolutely fawning over Him. Makes it clear that HE is the Central figure, not her. She and Religious Figure #2 (coming up) later fight over possession of the Original Manuscript (2 religions fighting over scripture and dominance), and even later, she has taken over a room of the house, methodically executing hooded prisoners in the head with a handgun. As she calls for “6 more!” to be brought in to their deaths, she greets Mother as “The Inspiration!” once more with a manic smile, then orders one of her henchmen to “Finish her!”—but their room is attacked, and the Publicist killed, before Mother can be taken down. Wiig begins her role here as already close to Him, part of his inner circle before even her first appearance. By contrast, Stephen McHattie’s character (in the next paragraph) begins as an unknown fan of little import, but finishes the movie as perhaps the film’s largest religious leader, especially since Wiig was killed off earlier.
Stephen McHattie is one of the first followers to appear at the House in Act III. At first he appears to be a powerless, harmless fan of no authority, merely hanging around the porch area praising Him directly for his works, but in short order he is taking more of a Command role, and telling the OTHER followers what to do, acting almost as His representative. At certain times, he actually shields Mother from the crowd, and helps usher her and God back into His Study, where she births their son. (He even tries to enter with them, but God shuts him out.)
Later, though, immediately after the son (the Christ figure) is carelessly killed by the adoring, maniacal crowd, McHattie is now leading a black-clad group of mourners gathered around the baby’s mutilated corpse, obviously partaking in a literal eating of the body-and-blood-of-Christ-style Communion. Because the timeline is moving at a frantic pace, their change of habit has happened instantaneously. Their reverence is never in doubt, as they treat this ritual with the utmost devotion with real tears running down their cheeks. All demonstrations of joy have abruptly ceased and it is now a funeral. McHattie attempts to calm Mother with words of her son’s sacrifice and remembrance, but when Mother finally strikes back at the crowd and kills some of them —it LOOKS like she stabs McHattie too, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was him—he is the FIRST ONE to strike her back and knock her to the floor (with, I believe, Cain’s murderous doorknob, the 1st murder implement), then enabling her to be beaten to a bloody pulp by the mob. McHattie seemed the closest character to embodying the Roman Catholic Church, especially considering the Communion allegory, and his relative power by the end of the film. And the Catholic Church, to put it mildly, was not particularly known for its respect for women or its appreciation of Natural Law (consider their treatment of Galileo for starters). However, it is incredibly devoted to one female figure alone: the Virgin Mary. So when McHattie protects Mother pre-delivery, it is likely out of concern for the Christ Child, and perhaps her role as the Holy Mother, but once that purpose has been served, and especially once she displays her wrath, she is as worthless to him as any other woman.
There may have been a 3rd sect, or perhaps it was part of McHattie’s—the Fever Dream is happening so frantically that it’s easy to miss—that celebrated the practice of adorning their foreheads with ink after God touched a woman in the crowd with ink in this fashion. (She, her male partner, and God were all speaking in Spanish BTW, apparently.) Later, one of the devotees is administering ink to the followers’ foreheads in similar fashion as they put octagonal cards of Him up on the wall that is blocking entry to the Study. (For those unfamiliar, this is an almost direct allusion to Ash Wednesday.)
The metaphor of warring religions is pretty obvious, as well as the execution of heretics or the innocent by religious leaders. I’m not sure if Wiig’s gender matters here, but she is shown to be the FIRST religious leader turning to mass murder, INCLUDING even Mother, before Wiig herself is taken down. Later McHattie also attempts to murder Mother when she exacts vengeful wrath upon the crowd that killed her child. Pretty much every sect that worships God/Him initially accepts Mother, sometimes grudgingly, but later turns on her. (Representing, likely, every Western religion’s subjugation of women, and the rejection of the earlier pagan roots that celebrated the Mother, Earth, and fertility goddesses. Even the older Israelite texts depict Yahweh as having a female consort named Asherah, who was later expunged from the Hebrew Bible. This mistreatment of Mother is a harsher step up from Eve’s earlier admonition to Mother to “put on something decent”.)
There are some of the outlier participants of the insane Act III Fever Dream who intrigue me:
•The soldier who rescues Mother, seems to recognize her, and is trying to get her to safety, before being himself slain;
• The midwife (or just random sympathetic woman?) who assists Mother while in labor, as God breaks back in to the study.
• The few people still determinedly painting the walls with rollers, while the majority are destroying the crap out of the house;
All these characters are friends to Mother (although the painters may not really be helping as much as they think, as I referenced earlier) and none of them are around for long. Perhaps this is meant to illustrate that a tiny minority of mankind actually DO care about protecting the Earth or the duality of God and Nature, but are vastly outnumbered. Some of the leaders help Mother initially (such as McHattie) but it seems obvious they are only doing so to ingratiate themselves to God (as McHattie later turns full circle).
9. The Apocalypse, or: In the Beginning Part II, III, or Infinity
Can God be harmed in this universe? Although in the finale he emerges unscathed from the Apocalypse (house explosion), he is earlier shown being maced by a soldier (along with Mother, who gets separated from him here), which slows him down at the very least. Near the finale, God does find her again, and he is wearing a gas mask. One questions whether he really needs it. When Mother finally rejects Him, she scratches His cheek, leaving bloody cuts. So he can be superficially banged up, I suppose, but never truly harmed.
If ever the film could be summed up in just 2 short lines of dialogue, here they are:
MOTHER: Who are you?
HIM: I am I. And you…you were home.
(“I am I” is a direct reference to the Biblical God. “You were home” arguably has different interpretations, but clearly seems to be the final confirmation that Mother was home not just for Him, but for mankind, his prized creation. It is said tenderly, but also illustrates her place in the cosmic pecking order: she was meant to be not just a companion for God, but also a vessel for keeping God’s creatures, the hordes of reckless humanity, alive. It probably would’ve been nice if she’d been consulted first, but hey…Creator gotta create. What’s an omnipotent genius to do?)
Another issue some take is with the depiction of God. “How could God be so cruel?” they argue. “God is good, generous, loving, forgiving.” They seem to be missing the fact that God IS depicted as ALL of those things here, TO MANKIND. He is represented as treating humanity exactly as he’s always been. The reason he comes off as cruel is because we are not viewing him through the usual POV; we are viewing him through Mother, who is herself a supernatural entity. She is his nominal partner, but not his equal. When God is depicted as a figure outside of the Man/God dynamic and seen from a third party, our viewpoint necessarily changes. Ultimately the message is that God does love and protect his Earth to a degree, but his love for mankind will always be greater. That dynamic is at work in nearly all Western Religion; we are constantly told that God cherishes Man above ALL his other creations. He also created the stars, sun, moon, and Earth, and the oceans, plants, and animals, but the overarching theme every single time is that Man is his ultimate pride and joy. So where does that leave his earlier creations, the ones made BEFORE Day 6? (Fun fact: DAY 6 was the working title of MOTHER!)
The End returns to The Beginning. Creation, and the film, start afresh, exactly as we saw in the opening moments. The “New Mother” is the 3rd Mother figure we’ve now seen. It is unclear whether the events of the film will play out again EXACTLY as we saw, or if there will be countless variations. Mother keeps changing slightly, so it’s reasonable to assume that the events will transpire differently as well. However, it’s also implied from the first burning Mother that God’s creations will continue to wreak havoc, and Mother will continue to be pushed to the breaking point of self-immolation time and time again. Some argue that this makes the film’s message meaningless if there are endless variations, as God can always start again an infinite number of times; on the contrary, the message is all the bleaker, because in this narrative, WE are not God, WE do not get to start again; WE die in the fire. WE are the sinning throngs of mankind, and we are destined destroy God’s home and ourselves unless we can better ourselves.
In ClosingI do hope to see the film several more times on video, especially to break down the Act III Fever Dream sequence into even further detail. It blows by so quickly and crazily—as it should—that much of it washed over me even on a second viewing, even though I was trying much harder to pinpoint the details that time.
Hope you've enjoyed! As I've said, I've recorded this entire analysis ON AUDIO, so feel free to listen instead of read. Perhaps when MOTHER! is released on home video I will reupload the audio analysis with even more still images from the film.
And perhaps listen to one of my audiobook narrations on Audible: www.tinyurl.com/paulwoodsonaudible