What’s Actually Happening In The Beginning And Ending Of Mother!, According To The Film’s Production Designer

Jennifer Lawrence in mother!

One of the best movies of 2017 (and easily one of the most controversial), Darren Aronofsky's mother! serves as a perfect circle, ending in basically the exact same way that it opens -- with a crystal object being placed in a holder, and a house being "born" from some fiery wreckage. What happens in between the bookended "birth" scenes is open to interpretation -- and it's there that the movie, and all conversation about it, tends to go off the rails. But when we hopped on the phone with mother! production designer Phil Messina ahead of the movie's Blu-ray and DVD release, we asked him if the "house" in the opening scene and the "house" in the closing scene are meant to represent the same location, and he confessed:

It's an iteration. That's sort of the idea. Something Darren told me very early on, and I'm going to mash my religions, too. I think it's Hinduism. Muslims or Hindus believe that the Earth... that we are in like the 260th iteration of the Earth. And God will keep creating us and destroying us until he reaches some sort of perfection. So I think that's sort of the hook for that. You can take it as God. You can take it as an artist trying to create. It's like painting over the canvas and starting fresh. I think that's kind of the idea. He's trying to get at something, and these are his attempts. We witness one full cycle of attempt.

The longer we dove into the possible meanings of mother! with Phil Messina, the more it became clear that even though he had worked with Darren Aronofsky on the multi-faceted movie -- and had, in fact, designed the house that would capture the action and serve as the central metaphor for the movie -- his version of what the story meant was both different and the same as ours. We had a few likeminded observations. We also broke apart on some of the takeaways regarding the film. He explained that for Aronofsky, that was basically the point, stating:

When I speak for my interpretations, a lot of things that we didn't talk about in the script, they were there. And he amazing thing about Darren is that he left things open to interpretation and didn't want us to put hard labels on things. As we were making it, he wanted it to be fairly open-ended. So when I'm giving you my interpretation, this is not a party line. So my interpretation is that the opening of the film, you are seeing the destruction of the last iteration of the house. You then go through Jennifer Lawrence's arc. She gets destroyed, in very much the same way, and then you go to the next iteration. That was how I interpreted that cycle.

The cycle is violent. The cycle has many twists and turns. The cycle is unpredictable. With that in mind, I asked Phil Messina if he thought things might play out differently for the lady we saw waking up at the end of mother!, who calls out, "Baby?" He emphatically stated:

Yes, yes. I think that is the creator's intent. That it not play out the same way each time. I'm not sure if that's his ultimate disappointment in life, that it does... I'm not sure that there is going to be a sequel. [laughs] That would be kind of an interesting sequel to make. Maybe it turns into a romantic comedy?

The point being that with mother!, no explanation is right or wrong, and no analysis is ever fully complete. It's a movie I've revisited, taking away new interpretations. And I know it will morph and change as I evolve. It's that type of work of art.

Catch up with mother! now that it's on digital, Blu-ray and DVD.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.