Warning: This post includes spoilers for the movie mother!.
Fun fact about me: I love horror movies, even the bad ones. All I need is an inkling that I might be in for a few cheap jump scares or some creepily suspenseful scenarios in order for me to commit to seeing it. This was the case when I starting hearing buzz for mother!, the new Darren Aronofsky film that stars Jennifer Lawrence. From what I’d heard, I thought it would be about a couple living in a haunted house, or perhaps targeted by sociopathic killers. I was mostly wrong. A friend and I saw it this weekend, and it turns out that mother! isn’t the horror flick I thought it would be. It’s more of a surreal psychological thriller that makes quick leaps in intensity and doesn’t come together until the very end.
There are still scenes that are perplexing and downright disturbing, including one where a day-old infant is killed by a mob and eaten — yes, really. But as the film neared its end and the meaning behind all of its dark symbolism became clear, I found mother! to be triggering for completely different reasons. It's surprisingly reminiscent of Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade. I didn’t leave the cinema afraid to sleep with the lights off. I felt a strong desire to don a yellow ruffled dress and smash car windows.
mother! starts off slow. The characters don’t have names — Lawrence plays the titular Mother, and her partner is simply Him (Javier Bardem) — and the only thing out of the ordinary is that the house that Him and Mother live in seems to be an extension of her own body. Things don’t start to get really weird until, over the course of about a year, unexpected guests begin showing up and completely destroying the house. Mother’s husband won’t ever try to assuage her discomfort or ease her fears.
Their relationship is pretty much defined by the lows of Mother’s isolation while her husband works on his writing and tends to uninvited guests, and the highs of Him finally overcoming his writer’s block and Mother getting pregnant. She craves his attention and time. He is incapable of giving either to her. She cooks and cleans all day while he does…whatever. Things hit rock bottom when crowds of adoring fans of the poet’s latest work turn the house into a warzone on the night that Mother goes into labour. Despite her protests, her husband lets their child also become an object for adoration for the crazed fans that worship him as a god. The infant is killed as a result.
When Jay-Z followed up Lemonade with his own 4:44, he confirmed the claims that Beyoncé made in her fifth studio album. More notably, he essentially waxed poetic about how he had matured, evolved and became renewed by going through the experience of nearly fucking up his family. This was the point of all the mayhem in mother!. In order for Him to have his home and life restored, he had to literally rip out the heart of his partner and extract a diamond-like gem that had been created there from all the pressure of his bullshit.
Although mother! doesn’t deal with infidelity, which was at the centre of Bey and Jay’s issues, it explores the lengths to which a woman will go to save her relationship, even when that energy isn’t being returned. When Mother begins stabbing the fans that killed her son, I was reminded of Bey’s violent streak in the visuals for “Hold Up”. Mother threatening to set the couple’s home on fire seems like the direction Queen Bey was headed after “Don’t Hurt Yourself”. And Mother burning alive after actually setting the place ablaze near the end of the film — finally fed up with Him and his neglect — felt similar to Beyoncé walking through fire in the video for “6 Inch”. This song represented the moment that she was willing to walk away and focus on her own affairs. For all intents and purposes, mother! is a white woman’s Lemonade, and my friend and I sat in the theatre shook for at least five minutes after it was over, trying to process it.
In fact, I can’t help but wonder if some of the negative reviews of mother! are the result of a male gaze unintentionally perpetuating the idea of “not all men”. Could it be that these critics' perception of the film stems from their inability to relate to Mother as a woman in a toxic relationship? Many thought Beyoncé's album was an overreaction for publicity, and the dramatic scenes in mother! have already drawn similar responses. I'm willing to bet that these reactions aren't just about Aronofsky's cinematography skills.