First Ten Pages: Mother! (2017)

By January 17, 2018March 11th, 2018First Ten Pages, Screenwriting 101

Screenplay by: Darren Aronofsky 

Disclaimer: as any film, much can be open to interpretation. But with Mother!, especially so. Below are my own digested thoughts, as well as through research via an in-person Q&A with Darren Aronofsky and many online interviews with him and his cast. Which brings us to…

Mother!, an unapologetic cry to society that’s depicted through a couple who lead a quiet life, until they are interrupted by unexpected guests. Through symbolic and universally relatable themes Mother! shamelessly exhibits selfishness and greed of “Man” – its all-too-real capability to destroy and take for granted, as well as how religion has taken part in this and can continue to. A cycle.

1. Establishing tone and/or genre:

A psychological drama that’s immediately felt via meticulous subtleties – expression, mannerisms, internal weight, eye contact… With no score or soundtrack to gear the audience’s emotion or attention, one is forced to genuinely feel the film’s protagonist – Mother – and the world she exists in.

She turns on the kettle and prepares three cups. One slips

and shatters on the floor.

HIM (O.S.)

You all right?


(barely squeaks)


But she’s not. Her chest tightens — the space right beneath

her STERNUM. Her breaths get shallow. She feels real


The house shifts slightly, her reality on fire. She fights

to re-find her breath. Some sweat on her brow.

After a moment the pain passes. She cleans up the broken teacup

. She replaces it as the kettle whistles.

Then, she carries everything back to the


Where Man and HIM sip whiskey.

2. Introducing the main characters:

Mother! is poignant, expressive, and clear with words, managing to communicate through the minimal presentation while delivering effortless set up that ultimately comes full circle. An example is shown through the immediate introduction (page one) of the world’s protagonist (a doting, yet oppressed wife – Mother) and the main antagonist (a self-centered husband who’s an accomplished, yet struggling writer – Him). But more importantly, who they each represent.

MOTHER (Mother Nature aka paradise):

We see just a WOMAN’S EYES: defiant… sad… defeated…

but free…

HIM (God):

They belong to HIM. His eyes torn with misery and sadness.

He calms down. Closes his eyes. Wishes.

3. Crafting the world of the story:

Set in one location, likely the most relatable location Aronofsky could have chosen to communicate Mother!’s deeply personal themes… Through the use of home. Where people become a person through years of growth, emotional connection, and memories. Where people invest their money, time, space, heart, and sanity. Where people build (figuratively and literately), change, and develop. This could be exceptional, good, bad, or devastating, depending on an individual’s situation, but it’s still theirs… Their home.

She mixes plaster. A perfectionist when it comes to details,

she carefully makes sure the tone is the perfect off-yellow.

But she can’t seem to get it quite right.

None of this is a chore. She enjoys every moment. But still

she is frustrated a bit.

She walks to the blank wall. She puts her hands against it.

She breathes the scratch coat as she closes her eyes to the


She hears air breathe between the home’s walls, the deep

rhythmic beat of its mechanical systems, the fluids flowing

through its pipes. We see the house, we see her, we see

them. Back in the


She looks back at her mixture. She knows exactly what is

wrong. She opens a small old wooden box filled with vials of

colored powders. She adds some from one filled with a

yellowish tint.

As she mixes it a smile creeps in. The color is right. She

starts to plaster.

I interpreted home in Mother! as Earth. Something so tediously, carefully, and impressively constructed by Mother Nature, of which we are lucky enough to exist on, enjoy, love, and to call our home. Yet, how do we thank Her?

Through contributing to Her destruction, which can sound as simple as someone throwing away a cigarette on Her land, rather than the garbage. Not so simple when that cigarette wasn’t put out properly then causes mass destruction through non-controlled wildfires.

Point is, when one reads Mother!, watches Mother!, they gasp… They are appalled… And rightfully so, because how dare someone treat another’s home so disgracefully!

…Sound familiar?

A world brilliantly created by Aronofsky that can actually help people understand and reflect upon their own actions. At least, that is the hope.

4. Establishing theme and/or the message:

Aronofsky refers to his film as a biblical allegory, which it very obviously is. The themes go so deep, they spiral so out of control (in only the best of ways), that it’s practically impossible to confine within discussing the first ten pages.

In an attempt, though, the biblical attributes are certainly there from the very beginning (example: Mother and Him). Just as an audience, it’s fair to have not picked up on it, yet. These themes naturally – and quickly – cultivate to a more intense state.

What is noticeably planted within the initial ten pages (prior to having knowledge of the entire film, that is) is the selfishness and greed that creeps in – its apparentness.

Mother finishes cleaning dishes at the sink. She has just

prepared two beautiful plates of food but the kitchen is

spotless, there’s no mess. HIM enters and reaches for a pair

of drinking glasses.


Can I grab these?


I got it.

He carries the glasses to the table by the windows. He sits

down and opens up his napkin. She serves him.


Perfect. You didn’t need to do all

of this.


I wanted to. You’ve been working

so hard.



Yeah, right.

He digs in, barely looking at her.

As the film carries, this all ties into the (more recognizable) biblical allegories and how that is the progressive destruction of Mother and everything She has selflessly cared for.

What I found most impressive and striking toward the way Aronofsky delivers these controversial themes (controversial in the sense that everyone has their own opinions), is that he is frank. He is confident. He doesn’t shy away. He just does it. And that’s true art.

5. Setting up the dramatic situation: 

This comes down to everything addressed above, but primarily through characters, world, and what they signify. Ultimately, Mother does everything for her husband. She, by herself, so diligently rebuilds their home. She provides him ongoing support. She becomes pregnant with their child. Everything she puts effort and love toward is not only continuously jeopardized, but also disgustingly slaughtered as a result of her husband’s narcissistic need to be worshiped… And he allows for it, with no regard to his wife’s ongoing plea to save the precious things in their lives.

Once they’re alone, she turns to HIM.


We don’t know him.


He’s a doctor.


He’s a stranger. We’re just going

to let him sleep in our house?


You want me to ask him to leave?

He looks at Mother. She subtly shrugs.

But then, Man returns with a TOTE BAG.


Is that all?


That’s everything.

HIM helps the man and takes the bag.

Man pops a cigarette in his mouth and lights it with a METAL



Um, we don’t smoke.


That’s smart…


In the house, I mean.



Man flicks the cigarette out the door.


I’ll go get you some linens.


I’ll show you to your room.

Danielle Karagannis is a writer/director. She currently has a feature script entitled INSOMNIA (ensemble comedy) that’s been accepted into filmmaker labs and is taking her to the 2018 Berlinale / EFM. You can watch Danielle‘s latest film, GIRL (short), here: and can follow her on Instagram:

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