28 Sep MOTHER!
Narcissism? Yes. But, Mother Earth … I Don’t Think So.
The environment? Really? Narcissism is more like it. I’m sorry, Darren Aronofsky. I wouldn’t in a million years think Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Mother! is supposed to be Mother Earth if I hadn’t read an interview with you. But, even so, she isn’t exactly an earthy type of woman bountifully giving to everyone and then having her loving nature plundered and destroyed. She’s much more a naïve, undeveloped, easily replaced, beleaguered young wife trying to be good enough and self-sufficient; at the mercy of the self-obsessed poet/writer (Javier Bardem) she’s married to. Let’s not forget, we as the audience are watching the demise of this woman: her life, her marriage, her hopes, and her dreams – not to mention her baby – all rabidly destroyed in one two-hour movie. She doesn’t read “metaphor” at all.
But, hey, it’s not all lost. Aronofsky actually hit all the high notes when it comes to the problems of trying to love a pathologically narcissistic man. In fact, he couldn’t be more spot-on, except for the rather over-the-top, confusing, and jumbled climax of his cult of admirers/cult leader Guru/Nazi-like soldiers/in the gluttonous hero worship of the poet of himself. If there’s a metaphor at all, He, the poet, is an insecure Narcissus looking hungrily everywhere for the most flattering and adoring mirror.
Let’s forget, for a moment, the film’s failings. After all, I’m a psychoanalyst not a film critic. Let’s do what I do better – and think about what is embedded in the film’s disturbing characters and rather submerged symbolism to shed light on the most extreme problems of being in love with a narcissist. The difficult to access symbolism in the film is fitting – since, in narcissism, the hurt and pain of the real person (buried inside narcissistic self-protections) is projected into the people the narcissist is hurting – and that pain, inside Him, is at best fleeting, or nowhere to be found.
Let’s look at what the film might tell us. In this marriage between poet and struggling wife, we have three stories: Hers, His and Theirs.
Hers is a story of denied needs. She is nameless, except that Aronofsky unfittingly calls her Mother. As the film begins, she rises from bed. It’s morning, a normal looking scene. But, soon we see something is wrong. The house is deserted; the emptiness goes on forever. She can’t find Him. This is a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. She mixes paint. She’s re-constructing his house; making a fantasy life; in which there is nothing for Her.
His is a story of projected feelings. He will make Her feel what he doesn’t want to feel: unwanted, not enough, insecure about being loved. He does so by making Her feel insignificant. It’s all about Him. He has to clear his head. He must think. He must shower. Everything is what he must do. As He pushes all his feelings into Her and she denies her own, the film catapults to its destructive apocalyptic end.
Theirs is a marriage of Her denied needs and His projected problems; both of which become invaders throughout the film.
These invaders alarmingly take over the marriage, just as those invading the house take over the film. We could call the invaders, if we want to use religious references (as Aronofsy is inclined to do), the Seven Deadly Sins (although not all of them.) Or, in psychological terms, they are very human feelings that, because they are projected or denied, become blown out of proportion into frantic mania; or implode into physical symptoms. These invaders become serious problems. This is what we find:
His insatiable hunger for admiration is meant to raise him out of his insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, self-hate; all in the name of love that goes only one way, to Him. If he is God, as Aronofsky claims, it’s because he has to be; he must be the greatest one of all; trying to get reassurances from the doctor (Ed Harris) and his other fans that are too unsubstantial to truly make Him believe that he is what he’s afraid he’s not.
The doctor’s cruel wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), coldly flaunting her sexuality and everything His wife does not have – is His insensitivity to anyone’s feelings besides his own. He makes Her feel like a nothing; when actually he envies her beauty, her youth, her capacity to work, to restore the house, to be self-sufficient, to appear to need so little. These are all things that He is not able to do. Nor can he love.
The rivals, the jealous sons (Brian Gleeson; Domhnall Gleeson), might be Cain and Abel, as Aronofsky says. After all, Cain and Abel are the prototype for all jealous, murderous rivalry. No one else can exist. This too, is how the poet feels. He must be the only one. She, on the other hand, never feels she’s good enough to be loved. This is her side of the story. She tries so hard to exist on almost nothing that her reasonable jealousy and needs are pushed aside and have no voice.
The Cult of Fans/Hungry Worshipers at the door is both His hunger and Hers. Hers, she pushes aside; His is front and center. She wants her own hungers to leave her alone; He invites the hungry ones in, to satisfy his need for admiration. He can’t get enough. The fans play to his need to be revered and singled out; exemplified by the Cult Leader/Guru/ with his Shrine of Candles.
As She begins to feel her deprivation (“I’m about to have our baby. Why isn’t that enough for you?”), we enter the war zone of both their hungers for love that can’t get satisfied. As His admirers turn into the hungry beggar he already is; She, too, is a beggar; starved of love.
Remember that spot that won’t go away – that seeping, oozing, bloody hole? It’s what’s been left of Her heart. It’s the rage She tries to hide, to cover over as if it doesn’t exist; in her self-sacrifice; in her attempt to make do and need nothing. But, with the murder of her baby, that innocent unconcealed expression of hope for the future, she is sent over the edge: “You never loved me. You just loved how much I loved you.” A woman scorned, she incinerates the house and all she’s given him. But she can’t get out alive. She becomes the final sacrifice. She can’t stop giving her heart.
The Gem/The Heart/ The Baby
The gem is her heart, the baby – Her love. But, there is no love in Narcissus’s wide shadow. His love is self-love – and everyone else’s admiration is exploited for that purpose. The Poet waxes: “… now there is nothing to love, just vast infinite darkness inside. There is a voice crying out to be heard. Just listen. Do you hear that? It’s the sound of … Love.”
This sound of Love; its reflection; is what Narcissus can never get enough of. If he is God/the baby is Christ/ food for his cannibalistic needs, a sacrifice to get more for himself. His voice can’t stop crying out to be heard; so greedy for love that he’ll use anything and anyone to get it: He: “I need one last thing.” She: “I have nothing left to give.” He: “Your love. It’s still there, isn’t it?” She lets him reach in, and one more time, take out her heart.
All because He must make her feel she’s not enough – his ultimate projection. He can’t face that no matter how much love or adoration he receives – He never feels He is enough.
Without any real help, the story goes on and on.
A Repeating Story
As the film ends, we see how He’s replaced Her. That’s easy enough when a mirror is all He wants. No, this isn’t Phoenix rising from the ashes. There’s no redemption here; just greed, gluttony, envy, rivalry; and self-sacrifice. As in Narcissus, himself, there’s no self-reflection – just a repetitive acting out of the unconscious forces that possess Him. He must use Her so not to feel tormented by his insecurities. And She can’t stop giving Him her heart. It’s a sad and disturbing story for all concerned.
Freud was right about his repetition compulsion. When something isn’t consciously faced and dealt with head on, it continues, endlessly. How we treat the environment? Sure. How we treat ourselves? Yes. How we might destroy, ruin, and eat up love without giving it its rightful care and due? Absolutely.
The moral of the story is this. If you find yourself with a Narcissus: don’t keep giving him your heart. Use your wrath to pick up the ashes of a love that was never love – and go on. Don’t end up a sacrifice like Mother! It isn’t the end of the world if he doesn’t love you anymore.