The house is as big as it is quiet and isolated.
A couple lives there. He writes. Well, he used to write. Lately, he struggles to put a single word to paper. But he’s trying. Really, really trying.
As for her, she serves his every need. She’s restored their mansion following a fire. She would do anything for him, so great is her love.
Then comes a knock at the door. It’s an older gentleman. A doctor, he says. With a cough. His wife soon shows up, too. They thought it was a bed and breakfast, they lie.
Then they change their story. And offer a confession: They know who the writer is. The older man just wanted to meet the writer he idolizes before he dies.
Such is the small price of fame.
The writer indulges the older couple—an odd pair who speak their mind. As for the writer’s wife, well, she just wants the newcomers to leave. They’re saying and doing inappropriate things. The writer? He loves that they love him. How could he possibly ask them to leave? After all, his words have meant so much to them.
The older couple’s two feuding sons arrive. A tragedy ensues. Horror grips the writer’s wife. But the writer is just glad he can provide words of comfort to the grieving family … and to the many mourning friends of the older couple who soon flood in.
Finally, they all leave. An interlude blossoms. Anger turns to intimacy. An embrace. A joyful pregnancy.
And inspiration for the writer. Finally.
But when the writer’s poem gets published, the cycle begins anew. First one fan shows up. Then another. Then another. Then more. Then dozens more. Then hundreds. All enraptured by the man’s words. Dazzled by his brilliance. Battling to get close to him. Just to see him. To talk to him.
And as the young, forgotten, soon-to-be mother prepares to give birth, fandom morphs into worship, then brutal violence then … unthinkable things.
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
The writer’s wife could hardly be more devoted to serving her husband. But as the story unfolds, the woman becomes increasingly, bitterly aware that her love is never reciprocated in the same way. And when the couple’s baby is finally born, she’s determined to protect the child from her husband, whom she realizes will likely just give the infant to the mob of adoring fans who now occupy every square inch of their home.
The house, in a way that’s never explained, is somehow … alive. The writer’s wife occasionally touches walls and has visions of its beating heart. And she’s linked to the house as well: When she gets angry or distressed, blood seeps from the walls, the floor, the carpet.
The writer calls his wife “my goddess” at least two times.
There’s very little other spiritual content in the film until about the last 20 minutes. And then, director Darren Aronofsky’s film gets very spiritual indeed—in some of the most disturbing, jarring and horrific ways you could possibly imagine.
The people at the house soon morph into a mob that’s more like a group of crazed cult members than simply overzealous fans. They long for a glimpse of the writer, to be close to him. Some self-appointed leaders in the group begin to act like … priests. There’s a ceremony where ashes are put on people’s heads. Shrines emerge in the house with pictures of the writer and his books. Followers begin to kill each other (more on that in Violent Content).
The birth of the baby feels eerily like a dark version of the nativity. Then the movie’s true horror: the writer takes the infant from the mother when she falls asleep, handing it to the mob of followers surrounding him. There’s a cry, a horrific snap and then suddenly … the baby’s remains are placed on an altar as the followers snatch and eat pieces of its flesh.
The sickening, shocking scene certainly seems intended as a nightmarish, ghoulish echo of communion, with the father giving the sacrificial son to sustain the faithful.
In the end, the writer takes the woman’s heart, fashions it into crystal, and miraculously restores the home … with a new woman awakening in his bed to start the whole cycle over once more. (I’ll return to the film’s overarching spiritual themes in the Conclusion.)
We see the writer’s wife in a semi-transparent nightgown that makes it obvious she’s not wearing anything underneath.
After the grieving family and friends leave, the writer’s wife angrily confronts her husband in a scene that quickly turns sexual. They share a passionate embrace on the stairs that obviously shows the beginning of a lovemaking session. (We see some movements, hear a moan, but no nudity is shown.) We then see the couple in bed the next morning. (Her bare shoulders and his bare backside are shown, with his frontal nudity barely being avoided as he gets out of bed.) She announces to her husband that she’s pregnant.
Elsewhere, a couple is shown on a couch kissing and fondling. Another couple sneaks off to a bedroom to make out. A woman’s shirt is nearly torn off, revealing her breasts briefly. A woman is shown in a bra. A scene between the doctor’s wife and the writer’s wife involves the older woman verbally coaching the younger on how to keep her husband sexually interested. (She holds up skimpy underwear to illustrate that suggestion, and the writer’s wife steals the panties from the dryer after they’ve been washed.) An aggressive man talks suggestively to the writer’s wife, but she rebuffs his verbal advances.
Once the movie’s final scene commences, one room—shown very briefly—shows an embracing couple. Her back is apparently bare (whether from not having a top on or having a low cut dress is unclear.) Others embrace passionately as well, but what looks like the beginning of an orgy-like love fest isn’t shown again.
The house, as previously mentioned, bleeds when the writer’s wife is angry.
The doctor’s two sons tangle violently over who is getting what from the dying man’s will. The melee ends with one hitting the other in the head with a doorknob, which kills him. (We see him in a pool of blood, and the writer ends up covered in the man’s blood, too, after carrying him to a hospital.) The writer’s wife mops up the copious blood spilled and dumps the bloody water in the bathtub.
We glimpse some sort of bloody creature in the toilet (which is never explained at all).
The arrival of so many fans eventually leads to a chaotic, anarchic mob, with people fighting each other in various ways for no obvious reason. Police, then military personnel arrive, using more and more high-powered weapons to quell the violence. In the midst of that, the writer’s publicist brutally executes several people lying on the floor by shooting their hooded heads.
A man clenches his fists while holding shards of broken crystal, causing them to bleed. The writer’s wife is shown with blood on the floor between her legs as she gives birth. She’s later badly beaten by the mob of people in her house. And, as mentioned above, the writer’s followers kill and eat her baby.
The writer’s wife, grieving and full of rage, sets the house’s old-fashioned fuel tank alight in retribution, destroying the house and everything in it. Somehow, she is badly burned but not consumed, and the writer is completely unharmed. He carries his wife upstairs, lays her down and tells her, “I need one last thing.” He then plucks out her still-beating heart, squeezing it into the shape of a precious crystal that mystically, magically restores the house and starts the story all over again … with a new woman in the bed.
Two f-words, two uses of the c-word. One possible s-word. At least two misuses of God’s name. Someone is called a “whore.”
The writer’s wife repeatedly takes a drink of some kind of yellow, powered elixir when she feels overwhelmed.
A number of scenes picture people drinking (wine, beer) in the house. Several are obviously drunk. The old doctor smokes—a habit the writer’s wife doesn’t want him to indulge in the house. The doctor’s wife asks the writer’s wife whether she has any painkillers.
A little boy in the house wets himself.
Mother! pulses with a sense of building, pregnant tension throughout this increasingly absurd story. We know something very, very bad is likely going to happen to poor Jennifer Lawrence’s mother character. But few, if any, would guess how horrific things get by the time the credits roll—including the sacrifice and consumption of her newborn infant by her husband’s worshipful fans.
And that word, worship, is key here. The last twenty minutes of the film seem designed to deliver a damning perspective of God and those who would follow Him. Indeed, this film’s take on Christianity might be the most scathing, contempt-filled attack upon it that I’ve ever seen onscreen.
Taken as a whole, I’d suggest this film depicts God—Javier Bardem’s writer character—as an impotent narcissist who manipulates others but never gives love in return. He demands everything. And everything that isn’t ultimately given, he takes anyway—as symbolized by him plucking his wife’s heart out at the end.
Scenes involving ashes on the foreheads of worshipers, as well as the film’s unmistakable mockery of both the Nativity and the communion table, further reinforce its apparent rejection of organized religion and those who place faith in God. This “deity’s” followers are crazed, deranged and violent. His publicist’s brutal execution of helpless victims—itself never explained a bit—seems an obvious stand-in for religious-inspired purges and murderous violence.
Other clues? When the writer’s wife wants to kick the hordes out of her house, the writer parrots Jesus, saying, “They’re hungry, they’re thirsty.”
Finally, in the closing credits, the only capitalized name there belongs to the writer—Him. It’s a tiny detail, but one that cements my sense that Darren Aronofsky doesn’t think much of Him … or His people.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.