Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
‘If you gave an extremely bright fifteen-year-old a bag of unfamiliar herbs to smoke, and forty million dollars or so to play with, ‘mother!’ would be the end result’ - Anthony Lane
This is how one critic chose to describe the 2017 American psychological film, 'mother!' The film, directed by Darren Aronofsky, created much disagreement with cinema enthusiasts. Aronosfky has a reputation for generating controversy for his often surreal, disturbing films, such as Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream (2000) – with mother! being no exception. The plot follows a young woman, and her husband, living a peaceful life in their country home until it is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple; characters played by Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. This film has been met with very mixed reviews – with Anthony Lane being a strong example. A review which fairly summarises the film is by Dan Jolin – ‘A difficult film and one that’s likely to offend in some ways. But as an elliptical, dream-logic infused visual poem, it certainly leaves a searing impression’. The question posed here is: Would Anthony Lane, and the many others who left one star reviews, be changed with hindsight?
This film is an allegory of the Book of Genesis. Lawrence, plays a naïve and caring Mother Nature and Bardem, a self-obsessed God. After being visited by Adam and Eve; Harris and Pfeiffer, the ‘Apple’, symbolised by a crystal, is smashed causing destruction and panic in their home, The Garden of Eden. Aronofsky, when questioned about the making of the film – ‘Finding the structure was the great breakthrough that allowed me to write this screenplay so quickly. When trying to think about Mother Earth’s relationship to people, I decided to turn to the stories of the Bible as the best way of describing a version of peoples stay on Earth’. Apparently, this is blatantly obvious, but to the many people describing this film as ‘confusing’ and ‘a mess’, I’m sure they would disagree.
Much of this can be seen in literature. Many of Franz Kakfa’s novels are only understandable through hindsight. The Trial and Metamorphosis, for most, need re-reading and a quick Google search for the meanings. His repetition of certain nouns and verbs can leave the reader confused and even though it’s an interesting book, how difficult it is to read can sour the overall impression. It’s the same with language. If you had a Clockwork Orange dictionary next to you while reading the book, wouldn’t it make it slightly easier? The understanding of a book and the true meaning might not be explicit and the feeling of satisfaction may only become apparent in the research afterwards.
Mother! continually references other similar texts throughout which, at times, threw off watchers when trying to find sense in the chaos. The film shares many similarities with The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. All three plots centre around an innocent, and sometimes weak, woman being controlled by her husband’s confidence and command. By trying to overthrow the power the husband has, they ultimately end up destroying themselves one way or another. Mother! pays homage to The Yellow Wallpaper with Lawrence drinking a yellow potion throughout that is never truly named, and a whole scene in which she actually paints a wall yellow. In mother! Lawrence also falls pregnant and is reluctant to let her husband care or hold the baby, much like in Rosemary’s baby, for fear that he may hurt it. Even the marketing poster used for mother! shares strong similarities to that of Rosemary’s baby.
Allegory’s are present in many different types of literature to reveal a hidden meaning, particularly a moral or political one. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one classic example of an allegory, with the use of pigs on a farm to reflect the events leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Stalinist Era of the Soviet Union. The theme and meanings present in literature add more depth. If Animal Farm hadn’t been representing the Russian Revolution, I highly doubt that would it have had the impact and status it has today.
Hindsight Bias is the inclination, after an event has occurred, as seeing it as predictable – despite their being little or no basis for predicting it. We all like to think that if we had just one more inkling, a slightly more blatant clue, a suspicion, we could have guessed anything. As a person we always like to think WE know, what we think we know, is completely irrelevant. After watching something completely unpredictable, many can claim ‘we knew it all along’ - mother! being no exception. Reviews starting with, ‘First, I must laugh at all the reviews of people who had no idea what they were watching’ – could be a prime example of hindsight bias. The ‘how can you not see this’ and ‘some people just don't understand a metaphor’ is the overarching theme across many opinions of people who ‘just got’ the film. You have to ask, did they really? If you require having to Google search the meaning of the film after watching, did you really ‘get it?' - can you claim that you were just ‘double-checking’ your own theories? In most cases, I highly doubt this. The hindsight bias may appear sometimes as arrogance. Hindsight has managed to shape the views of watchers against watchers, the ones who ‘got’ the film versus the ones who couldn’t. Battle of the hindsight bias.
In the case of mother! hindsight is a very powerful thing. If the many people leaving 1 star reviews had known the meaning beforehand I would guarantee that their reviews would be different. But then, should we have to rely on hindsight? Should film and literature be explicit? Dramatic Irony has been fooling characters for years so, shouldn’t we be fooled once in a while? Before the film screened at the Toronto Film Festival Aronofsky spoke to moviegoers apologising – ‘Sorry for what I am about to do to you’. The mystery surrounding the film, from the confusing and unclear trailer to the puzzling and peculiar movie posters, gave audience little clues to go on. Aronofsky may have relied on hindsight a little too much in the making of mother! but that is not to say that it shouldn’t be relied on at all. It may have taught watchers a lesson. To be more open minded is a wonderful thing. To have to ‘connect-the-dots’ can give a film more appeal. It can teach viewers, like Anthony Lane to open their eyes. It can leave a searing impression, and with mother! – whether you loved it or hated it – it has to be admitted, it definitely did that.
Lucy Cranfield, Student
Lucy Cranfield is a third year student at the University of Westminster. She studies Creative Writing and English Language. Her current course electives include; Screen Writing, Studies in Literary Language and Language and Power.