Mother! Isn’t Actually About A Haunted House — It’s So Much Scarier Than That

by Danielle Burgos

Buzz has been building around Darren Aronofsky's latest film since it was announced, but now that its his theaters, mother! actually seems more confusing than ever. Is mother! an allegory for the creative mind? Is it a spooky take on The Giving Tree? Or is it just a straight-up haunted house movie? Yes, actually — but the house in mother! isn't haunted by what you think. If it wasn't obvious by now, this is going to be a spoiler-heavy read, so please, stop now if you want to go into Aronofsky's latest the way the director intended: with nothing more than hope and a prayer.

Mother's house, still under construction, is a Georgian-Victorian gothic marvel in shades of off-white, ecru, and alabaster, an utterly neutral landscape Mother's carefully created for her and her husband. Also, it's implied, for their potential children, but there's an unspoken tension about reproduction and sexual neglect that fills the home's empty rooms. And when the guests, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, make themselves at home by blatantly poking around forbidden rooms and sullying up Mother's perfection, Mother's house takes on ominous dimensions.

As the guests keep coming, Mother's mansion goes from empty Pottery Barn perfection to a literal living nightmare. Organs in the toilet, false walls, blood dripping from the ceiling — what was once a quiet refuge forged by Mother's love is now a writhing mass of outsiders, inspired and even encouraged by Him. But it's only Mother who sees the horrors, soothing herself with a yellow concoction when things get too crazy. Mother believes its their home, and wants the interlopers OUT to get Him's attention back for herself. This is her mistake.

Mother may have built the home, but it existed before, and it was always His. Mother raised the home, phoenix-like, from burned-out husk into her particular incarnation of the space. But ultimately, all her hard work and care mean less to Him than his poet superfans who stream in just to be near Him. Him allows them to fill and occupy the house to the point of madness without a thought for Mother, and as he does, the blood flows and house disintegrates into horrifying images.

In a scene narrated by Aronofsky for the New York Times, the director says straight off the bat Mother is the "spirit, the mother of this home". Ultimately, the land is His, and it's Mother herself who's haunting the occupants of what she believes is rightfully hers. When the poet "gives birth" to a brilliant poem, thousands come flocking. Mother wants Him's many, increasingly violent interlopers out so she and husband Him can be together. Unfortunately, her husband's egotistical neediness for the attention of his worshippers (an appropriate term given how there's plenty to say about a Biblical take on mother!) comes first, leaving Mother to fend for herself.

When Mother finally brings her own occupant into the house, the baby is immediately snatched away and given over to the crowd. Mother's acts of creation are only for her husband's needs and wants, so it's no surprise domestic surroundings turn against her in the form of broken dishes and dangerous stoves. Aronofsky's been there before — a malevolent refrigerator turning against another mother strung out on diet pills was one of the most disturbing scenes in Requiem For A Dream.

When Mother's attempts at exorcism don't work, she gets rid of her husband's guests the only way she can — burning the whole space, guests, and herself in an ultimate act of mutual destruction. And yet she lives, charred, until her husband takes the one thing that was truly hers: her heart. He turns it into a shiny bauble, a token keepsake to place with the others in what will eventually become the next haunted home.

Creeped out? You should be. Mother! is as weird and disturbing as it gets.