This reading of mother! (2017), with a narrative based on Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (1978) in conjugation with The Invention of the Everyday (1999), focus on the subtle tensions of gender in the film, as opposed to the more dominant, biblical, and apocalyptical readings of it.
This reading of mother! (2017), with a narrative based on Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (1978) in conjugation with Rita Felski’s The Invention of the Everyday (1999), focus on the subtle tensions of gender in the film. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a dense work layered with references and cultural criticism. In a nutshell, the film is an allegory for humanity on earth and climate change, permeated with biblical references and ecocriticism. Aronofsky used the work of, and created the film in conversation with, ecofeminist Susan Griffin for this work. Griffin’s text Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her poetically narrates the many historical, mythical, and nature oriented connotations to femininity which has constituted Earth as ‘Mother’. mother!, therefore, by intentionally adopting the historical and deeply rooted oppression of women, is a forceful feminist text. As such, rather than focusing on the allegory, references, and themes of humanity, modernity, and environmental change, my analysis considers the pervasive and historical account of gender.
The film, focalised through the Mother, invites the audience to engage with the female experience of this historical oppression. Sixty percent of the film is “simply looking at Jennifer Lawrence, or looking over her shoulder, or showing you her point of view” (Kermodeandmayo 4:11- 4:14). In addition, the Mother never leaves the house, making her everyday within the home a crucial component for understanding her experience. For this reason, Felski’s The Invention of the Everyday is a useful complimentary reading that provides a concise framework for understanding the elusive everyday that “simply is” (15). For example, Felski discusses that there has been “persistent association of maleness with travel and femininity with stasis” (23), reflected in the fact that the Poet on several occasions leaves the house, whereas the Mother, again, never does. Furthermore, the Poet is “in tune with the spirit of the critic, described as a restless analyst, constantly on the move” (23), and she represents home, which, ”by contrast, is the space of familiarity, dullness, stasis” (23).
These gender roles are not only depicted in the film’s characters, but extend beyond them and mark their presence in the very narrative, technical, and stylistic features of the film. The most pronounced aspect is the connection between the house and the Mother. As the Mother becomes more and more agitated the house starts bleeding and breaking without any direct action, not only suggest that the home is an extension of the Mother, but echoes Felski’s statement that women ”have often been seen as the personification of home and even as its literal embodiment.” (23). When looking closer, a pattern of masculinity as linear and feminine as cyclical also start to emerge (Felski 18-19). Felski recognises that repetition, the cyclical, is the temporality of the everyday, and that many scholars, Henri Lefebvre, amongst others, “returns repeatedly to this apparent contradiction between linear and cyclical time” (18). This conceptualisation of a contradiction assumes that progress, the future, mobility, and new experiences are hindered by the everyday: the eating, sleeping, cleaning, working, that is “slowing down the dynamic of historical change“ (Felski 19). With this contradiction there is also a tendency to correlate woman and the domestic sphere to these “natural circadian rhythms which, according to Lefebvre, have changed little over centuries” (Felski 19). Within the film, the cyclical is not only seen in the very storyline itself (the first and last scenes are identical apart from different women as the Mother) but also in the depiction of the Mother’s everyday, in her interactions with both the Poet and other characters, and in the camera that moves in a circular pattern around the house with and around her.
The conjunction of Griffin’s and Felski’s texts encourage a reading where these subtleties can surface. The everyday is often neglected, perhaps because we are drawn in by the extraordinary more so than the ordinary. But, in this ”focus on the particular, however, everyday life is rarely taken under the microscope and scrutinized as a concept. Like any analytical term, it organizes the world according to certain assumptions and criteria” (15). Therefore, my intention with this essay has been to bring exclusive focus to the mundane and ordinary, which in the film underlies the experience of its more pronounced features, and outside the film, shape our lives. Much like the film itself was finally created without a score, also I realised that a minimal auditory guidance effectively allows for this tension to manifest itself. By and large, in order to bring these subtleties that often stay unnoticed in the background to the front, I have carefully combined Griffin’s creative essay with Felski’s concise examination for a poetic narrative of the gendered temporality of the everyday in mother!.
Aronofsky, Darren, director. Mother! Paramount Pictures, 2017.
Felski, Rita. “The Invention of Everyday Life.” New Formations: Cool Moves, no. 39, 1999, pp. 15–31.
Griffin, Susan. Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.
Kermode, Mark and Simon Mayo, directors. Mother! Reviewed by Mark Kermode. YouTube, YouTube, 15 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVRfmuHLjmA.