The environment? Really? Narcissism is more like it. I’m sorry, Darren Aronofsky. Not in a million years would I 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. Just trying very hard to be good enough and self-sufficient. And, 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, marriage, hopes, and her dreams. Not to mention her baby – all rabidly destroyed in one two-hour movie. She doesn’t read “metaphor” at all.
Mother! Hits All The High Notes of Narcissism
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. That of his cult of admirers/cult leader Guru/Nazi-like soldiers/in the gluttonous hero-worship of the poet of himself. And, 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. So, I’m going to do what I do better. Specifically, I’ll think with you about what is embedded in the film’s disturbing characters and rather submerged symbolism. Yes, let me shed light on the most extreme problems of being in love with a narcissist. And, accordingly, 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. That pain, inside Him, is at best fleeting, or nowhere to be found.
What might the film tell us, then? About a relationship with a narcissistic man? In Mother! and it’s 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. So, she mixes paint. Yes, She’s reconstructing His house; making a fantasy life; in which there is nothing for Her.
His is a story of projected feelings. To this end, 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. Must think. And, 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 the Seven Deadly Sins (although not all of them), if we want to use religious references (as Aronofsy is inclined to do). Or, in psychological terms, the invaders are very human feelings. Feelings that, because they are projected or denied, become blown out of proportion into frantic mania. Or they implode inwards into physical symptoms. These feeling-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. Love that goes only one way, to Him. If he is God, as Aronofsky claims, it’s because he has to be. Must be the greatest one of all. Trying constantly to get reassurances. From the doctor (Ed Harris) and the other fans that are too unsubstantial to truly make Him believe that he is what he’s afraid he’s not.
And, then there’s the doctor’s cruel wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who coldly flaunts her sexuality and everything His wife does not have. She is His insensitivity to anyone’s feelings besides his own. He makes Her feel like nothing; when actually he envies her beauty, youth, capacity to work. To restore the house, be self-sufficient, appear to need so little. These are all things that He is not able to do. He also cannot love.
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 hunger to leave her alone. He invites the hungry ones in, to satisfy his need for admiration. It’s because 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.
Finally, She begins to feel her deprivation (“I’m about to have our baby. Why isn’t that enough for you?”). Now, we enter the war zone. It’s the war of both their hunger for love that can’t get satisfied. His admirers turn into the hungry beggar he already is, But, She, too, is a beggar, starved of love.
Remember that spot that won’t go away, that seeping, oozing, bloody hole? The spot, right there, is what’s been left of Her heart. It’s the rage She tries to hide, cover over as if it doesn’t exist. Covered up, in her self-sacrifice. 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. No, 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. Because 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. He’s so greedy for love that He will use anything and anyone to get it. This is where it ends: “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. That’s his ultimate projection. No, a narcissistic man can’t face that no matter how much love or adoration he receives, it’s He who never feels 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 repetitive acting out of the unconscious forces that possess Him. He must use Her so as 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 head-on, it continues, endlessly. How we treat the environment? Sure. But that’s not the real story. It’s, how we treat ourselves. And, how we’re treated. Yes, that’s it. It’s how a narcissist destroys, ruins, and eats 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 at all. 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.