Mother! shows us what toxic forgiveness looks like in evangelical culture


This post contains spoilers

Conservative Christians aren’t usually fond of how Hollywood portrays them on-screen, and Mother! is no exception. In a review on Plugged In, the entertainment blog of Focus on the Family, reviewer Adam R. Holz calls it “The most scathing, contempt-filled attack upon [Christianity] that I have ever seen.”

The Humanist summarizes the plot as follows:

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is Mother Nature and her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), is God. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s characters — we never get their names — are Adam and Eve. Harris’s Adam is overindulgent. He drinks and smokes too much (and has a wound on his right side). Pfeiffer’s Eve is lecherous and eager to know the sexual details of Mother and Him’s relationship. Him invites Adam and Eve to stay at the couple’s home — carefully cultivated by Mother, who faintly protests them staying but eventually gives in. After some time, the Adam and Eve characters’ sons (Cain and Abel) arrive and, following scripture, one kills the other. Mother and Him host a wake for the dead son. The house is filled with strangers who eventually start trashing (as well as renovating) the place. Mother begs Him to make everyone leave, which he begrudgingly does. At this point, it begins pouring rain outside (the Flood).

The second half of the film is the New Testament. Mother is pregnant. Him — a famous poet suffering from severe writer’s block — finally finishes another poem. The media and Him’s fans begin showing up at the home. Mother tries to keep the aggressively intrusive guests out but fails. She again begs Him to make them leave but he loves their affections too much to turn them away. The house is overrun. Him’s fan-followers start looting, ripping off even chunks of the walls.

Neither theory — “mother” as a nature metaphor, “mother” as religious allegory — holds up all the way through, though if the film is interpreted through Christian lenses, let’s put it this way: the God-like figure, played by Javier Bardem is definitely not a nice God. Actually, he seems quite a bit insane.

By the time the film really got going with more recognizable Christian allusions, my mind was reeling with other non-related questions, like what is the mysterious yellow potion Mother drinks when she’s upset? That was never explained. Why is Him such a toxic asshole? And how in the world can they afford that giant house on a poet’s salary?!

The film will likely offend many viewers, but toxic portrayal of religion remains the most problematic issue for Focus on the Family:

Taken as a whole, I’d suggest this film depicts God — Javier Bardem’s writer character — as an impotent narcissist who manipulates others but never gives love in return. He demands everything. And everything that isn’t ultimately given, he takes anyway — as symbolized by him plucking his wife’s heart out at the end.

Scenes involving ashes on the foreheads of worshipers, as well as the film’s unmistakable mockery of both the Nativity and the communion table, further reinforce its apparent rejection of organized religion and those who place faith in God. This “deity’s” followers are crazed, deranged and violent. His publicist’s brutal execution of helpless victims — itself never explained a bit — seems an obvious stand-in for religious-inspired purges and murderous violence.

Other clues? When the writer’s wife wants to kick the hordes out of her house, the writer parrots Jesus, saying, “They’re hungry, they’re thirsty.”

This isn’t director Darren Aronofsky‘s first film that’s portrayed religion in ways that Christians didn’t like — he also directed Noah, which Plugged In reviewed with just as much contempt. They really don’t like it when their God is misrepresented.

But I would love to ask Holz: is it possible that this is how non-Christians view God when they read the Bible? Or is this how evangelicals are making him look to the very people they are trying to reach?

After Mother’s baby is sacrificed, she is understandably devastated and beside herself with rage. But her husband merely tells her, “We have to forgive them.”

Almost immediately, I thought of a recent blog post that’s been making its way around the internet lately, in which a college student calling herself “Jane” is confronted by her pastor and told to forgive the man who raped her. The rapist made his peace with God, the pastor said; therefore Jane was obligated to offer that same forgiveness.

While others may have seen a film that focused on the most violent aspects of the Passion story, I saw something slightly different: an exaggerated, over-the-top portrayal of what toxic forgiveness looks like, and how critical it is to evangelical culture.

That same toxic forgiveness not only harms rape victims and abused, neglected wives like Mother, but was also used to hand-waive Donald Trump‘s obviously un-Christ-like behavior to get him into the White House.

This piece originally appeared on Friendly Atheist.


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3 thoughts on “Mother! shows us what toxic forgiveness looks like in evangelical culture

  1. I thought it was just some horror movie. I saw the trailer and found it interesting but would never have guessed from it that there were all these religious connotations. So now I do want to see it. I never watched Noah because it was supposedly very negative about the Bible. Exodus Gods and Kings I saw somewhere around my deconversion. God was portrayed as a resentful petulant child and it was oddly refreshing to me. It was called blasphemous too, of course, for good reason. To me it was somewhat liberating to laugh at and be critical of a God that I had feared and worshipped for so long.

    Toxic forgiveness is a huge problem in Christianity and it causes heaps of problems. And it does migate and facilitate abuse.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was not planning to go see this movie, which isn’t unusual in general considering the limited offerings here about, and now I have more reason not to. Somehow, it seems to me that Toxic Forgiveness and Toxic Narcissism make a fitting a couple as do Toxic Forgiveness and Toxic Masculinity.

    Liked by 1 person

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