Holy elixir: mother! and the yellow powder

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t see “mother!” but plan to do so, you probably want to skip this post. However, seeing the film on opening weekend with no prep beyond a high-level NPR summary and the urging of my film-student son, I was expecting a “Rosemary’s Baby Meets Amityville Horror” experience. If I had gone in knowing what director Darren Aronofsky was riffing on, I might have appreciated the relentless ride even more so from the outset. But that’s just me.

You’re still reading? Cool.

Mother! is rich in abstract symbolism, overlapping religious references and blunt-force metaphor, but you know that by now. You know Ed Harris shows up in the middle of nowhere, loses a rib but gains Michelle Pfeiffer. You know their son’s blood left a permanent scar on the paradise Jennifer Lawrence tirelessly toiled to nurture throughout the film. You know Javier Bardem was, let’s call him a perfectionist, hell-bent on creating a masterpiece and all too willing to scrap his draft for something better.

There are dozens of reviews and essays out there mulling over all that stuff. But what’s still fair game is an explanation for the yellow powder Jennifer taps into a glass of water several times throughout the first half of the movie to calm her nerves, open her lungs, and get a grip. Is it an anti-anxiety potion? A feminist nod to The Yellow Wallpaper? Darren seems to allude to that notion in an Entertainment Weekly interview, but leaves room for doubt there as well, the minx.

My theory — presented with the caveat that I have little depth in religious studies — is a correlation in some way to the Biblical golden calf. Destroyed by fire and reduced to a fine powder, it was scattered into the water and the people were made to drink it — so they would swallow their own sin, rid the earth of idolatry, and/or be punished for worshipping molten gods, yada yada.

Again, I’m no Old Testament scholar, but just as the people turned to golden idols fearing they had been forsaken, Jennifer tends to go for the gold immediately after a chaotic character upheaves her paradise-in-progress. In one explanation of the story, “Aaron’s calf was a god the people could identify with, a god that reminded them of themselves, a vulnerable, comfortable, available god.” And remember (if you’ve seen it), she ditches the dust only when a new “god” is en route. (Then again, pouring the dust into the water supply might be a stronger reference to the apocalypse to follow.)

What do you think? Right or wrong, at this point I could really use a drink.


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