The ending of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is just the beginning.

We’ve been there before—that vicious cycle of failing to learn from our mistakes. 

A house that was consumed by despair and hate is destroyed and reconstructed by the poet/God (Javier Bardem), and the mother (Jennifer Lawrence), who seems to have been here before, wakes up and admires the peace and beauty of her home until it is once again destroyed by outsiders. In the case of mother! the mother's journey is both the end and the beginning of this cruel world the poet is trying to perfect. 

Darren Aronofsky’s commitment to arthouse horror shines throughout his 2017 modern horror classic mother! It is a bizarre nightmare-fueled fever dream with a confounding ending that leaves us speechless as we reevaluate the way we interact and treat Mother Nature. While there is no distinctive ending to the film, there is something we can take away from the film’s magical realism and very explicit message.  

Let’s break down the meaning behind mother! and how the ending will always bring us back to the beginning. 

The Ending of mother! Explained 

The film follows a young woman, the mother, who spends her days renovating a Victorian mansion that she lives in with her poet husband in the countryside. When a stranger knocks on the door one night, the couple invites him into their home. Later, his wife and two children arrive and are welcomed, and soon, terror strikes as more and more people come and destroy the couple's home. The woman is enraged with her husband for being so friendly and accommodating to everyone but her. 

This film is an allegory about the relationship between God, humanity, the Earth, and Mother Nature. Javier Bardem’s character, the poet, is God, and Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is the mother, is Mother Nature. The house that the mother is constantly tinkering away on is the Earth, and each character that is introduced throughout the film has a direct link to a story from the Old and New Testaments. 

In a sense, mother! is Aronofsky retelling stories from the Bible through a nightmare lens—one that isn’t much different from our own world. 

Mother_ending_explained'mother!'Credit: Paramount Pictures

The story is told from the mother’s perspective with careful camera angles that allude to these nightmares or bizarre scenarios existing only inside her head. As the film unfolds, the viewer begins to realize that nothing is a dream. Everything is happening and has happened. Those who grew up with or have some understanding of biblical stories can see direct correlations throughout the film. 

Ed Harris’ man and Michelle Pfeiffer’s woman represent the story of Adam and Eve, while their children (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) represent the story of Cain and Abel. There are biblical floods that chase the destruction of humanity away from the home, and the birth of a long-awaited messiah that is stolen from the mother and given to mankind, only for them to take the baby, kill it, and eat its flesh as they worship an altar made for the poet but not for the mother. 

Even when presented with a savior and total innocence, mankind only kills as they mindlessly eat the flesh of the messiah. The mother, who is unhappy with the poet’s creation and inability to control his creation, attempts to bring peace back into the chaos, only to be assaulted and beaten. In retaliation, she sets fire to the house, bringing herself and humanity to an end. 

But why doesn’t the poet stop any of this from happening? 

In a nod to the Hindu religion, the poet takes the mother’s charred body to the bedroom and takes out her beating heart with his hands. She turns into ash and the burned heart becomes a new fire crystal, replacing the one that the woman broke earlier in the film. As he places the new fire crystal in its holder, we are brought back to the beginning of the film, only to have a slightly altered version of the world we just saw destroyed. While the mother (or Shiva in Hinduism) ultimately destroys the universe, God (or Brahma in Hinduism) starts the process of creation all over again. 

The poet cannot control his creations, so he remakes them and hopes for the best. 

The_ending_of_mother'mother!'Credit: Paramount Pictures

It's kind of bleak, right? 

Considering that Aronofsky often borrows from other established works, using biblical text, especially the book of Genesis, Aronofsky is not only telling the story of an egomaniac obsessed with his followers to whom he makes offerings that are accepted and destroyed with little to no respect, but a story about the dying planet around us that will fight back with floods or fire until the Earth is protected. 

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Aronofsky explained his intentions for the film’s chaotic visual storytelling, saying, “It’s important to reflect back on ourselves and think about what’s really going on in the world to be able to change course.” 

Aronofsky says there are consequences to our actions, and brings this to light through the surrealist imagery that burns itself into our brains. The shot of the baby after the guests have mutilated it is jarring. People will remember mother! for its nightmare-level shock factor. 

As Aronofsky says to Vanity Fair, “[mother! is] one of my best accomplishments, just because it’s a nightmare. It just builds and builds on top of documenting the horrors of our world, and throws a pregnant woman into it.” 

The Magical Realism of mother! 

It is easy to see the influences of magical realism throughout mother! It is one of the most unique literary movements of the last century, most commonly associated with Latin American authors, and the genre has slowly moved into cinema. 

Films that dive into the realm of magical realism are still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in the film’s world. The term was first used in 1925 by german art critic Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus to describe a style of painting that was an alternative to the romanticism of expressionism. 

Magical realism emphasizes how magical, fantastic, and strange normal objects can appear in the real world.  

The characteristics of a film that falls into magical realism often include: 

  • A realistic setting that is familiar to the audience 
  • Magical elements that do not occur in our world but are normal in the film’s world
  • Limited information about the world
  • A critique of society 
  • A unique plot structure that doesn’t follow traditional narrative structure

mother! resides under the umbrella of magical realism as it follows these elements of the genre. The magical elements such as the house and the fire crystal play a major role throughout the film, taking on different interpretations that critique humanity’s treatment of the Earth. 

Mother_and_the_magical_realism_of_the_houseThe magical realism of the house in 'mother!'Credit: Paramount Pictures

The house, which is isolated in the beautiful countryside, is an extremely important detail of the story as it is an extension of the mother. At several points throughout the film, the mother reaches out and touches the walls of the home, feeling something inside of them. The house is an extension of the mother. It is something she built from the ground up, and she can still feel that connection with her creation as she reaches out and touches the house. 

The house is the hub of nature, painted in earthy tones that represent the natural life force that the Earth has. The house also holds the beating heart of its creator. Unfortunately, that heart is fragile and unguarded which causes a slew of issues for the mother and the stability of the house. As people begin to show up at the house from seemingly out of nowhere, the house starts to cave, as does the mother’s sanity. 

Aronofsky’s house in mother! is a living organism that reflects the decaying state of the world. Production designer Philip Messina recalled discussing the liveliness of the house, saying, “You have to keep those rules of what the reality is somewhere in there, but kind of break it out into a broader interpretation of what we were trying to do.” 

There is a delicate line that magical realism rests on, and finding that balance between doing too much and doing too little is tricky. Having other elements of magical realism can help you establish how far you can take the metaphor of the object's magical abilities, and Aronofsky used the fire crystal, or the heart of the mother, to help bring balance to the film’s story. 

The_fire_crystal_in_motherThe magical realism of the fire crystal in 'mother!'Credit: Paramount Pictures

The fire crystal also holds a lot of metaphorical meaning within its magical origins and is a major focal point throughout the film. The fire crystal is what brings the house and the mother back to life, meaning that God has some control and level of ownership over nature, but he cannot fully control it even though he wishes he could. God has to belittle her power because, without her, his creations cannot live. There is a push and pull between the creations. 

Like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Eve is tempted to touch the fire crystal and destroy it for an infinite amount of time. This scene, as well as the fire crystal, reinforces the idea that humanity not only destroys nature presently but also destroys the remnants of what came before. 

The Film Magazine believes that the fire crystal could also represent humanity's ability to manipulate nature. As the poet takes the mother’s heart from her charred body and squeezes it in between his hands, he turns the ash into a diamond—the final gift from nature. The man-made object is not truly a gift from nature, but we can contain the essence of nature in a single, malleable object. The crystal is arguably the physical embodiment of nature vs. mankind. 

The critique Aronofsky presents is not coy nor does it try to hide within the visuals of the story. Instead, many have viewedthe film'scommentary on the death of Mother Nature at the hands of humanity is crude and spoon-fed, but that’s the point. We can’t avoid the consequences of our actions as we are assaulted visually and audibly by the chaos of humanity destroying itself and the beauty around it. 

Although mother! is not everyone's cup of tea, it does leave a lasting impression through its nightmarish visuals and audio. The sound of that baby's death will haunt me every time I think of this film. But that was Aronofsky's goal—you'll leave this film, unable to forget what you just watched. I don't think it matters if the film is clever in its execution or constantly bashes us over the head with its meaning. What matters is Aronofsky's ability to take risks and tell a story that he finds meaningful in a unique and bizarre way that challenges how we think of filmmaking and narrative structure. 

What do you think about the meaning of mother! and its use of magical realism? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! 

From Your Site Articles