A solid sci-fi thriller that keeps you guessing and leaves you with intriguing questions.
After the extinction of the human race, a girl is born and raised within a protective bunker by a robot with maternal and parental programming. But when the girl encounters another human from the outside, her reality is turned on its head.
Released in 2019 on Netflix, I Am Mother gained distinction for its computer generated effects of the robotic Mother character. Indeed, once the film gets into its stride, the effects are certainly decent for a Netflix production. The robot was designed and created by Weta Workshop, the craftsmanship behind The Lord of the Rings. This character is centre stage, and certainly needed all of the skill and attention to detail brought down on it. Mother is incredibly trustworthy, voiced by Rose Byrne, and yet her appearance is ever so slightly discordant with this. More function than form, human with human-like features and yet not.
The film’s clinical surroundings, an underground bunker facility, aids in this believability; computer generated imagery is especially convincing when the subject and surroundings are clean and stark. But along with these surroundings is a story told minimally, practically a stage play in it’s quiet moments and its subtle (and often not so subtle) story developments.
With Mother is Daughter, played by Clara Rugaard, who plays the part of audience surrogate and emboldened female protagonist well. There is a frank but believable chemistry between her and the only other entity she has ever known: a robot. Hilary Swank is channelling a lot of Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2, as a frantic and determined survivor, which was awesome to see; adding even more complexity and doubt to the proceedings.
As the story progresses, we see a great deal of exploration of “nature versus nurture” philosophy, and wider spanning science fiction theories. It will leave you pondering what happened, and what will happen.
It is likely that the ambiguity of its setting and narrative will alienate some audiences, but this reviewer greatly enjoys the more nebulous, ponderous side of science fiction.
To proceed further is to give away story elements, so if you do not want spoilers, consider this your warning.
There is some disappointment to share, however. The film juggles several themes carefully, with its matriarchal trappings I Am Mother explores the concept of creation and destruction, and of course the theory of artificial intelligence and what it means for humanity.
While the chemistry of a mother-daughter relationship is at the film’s heart, the story never quite hits the emotional heights or emotional complexity that other genre movies achieve. The film’s third act escalates dramatically, and drives much harder towards science fiction action and thriller, with even borderline horror elements, instead of the emotional chemistry it began with. Even its ending tease, albeit captivating and intriguing in equal measure in terms of “history repeating”, feels brash and forceful compared to a more nuanced conclusion suggested in the earlier acts.
Ultimately, the film chooses the slightly easier route: a sci-fi thriller more suggestive of The Terminator than something more cerebral like Black Mirror. Where we see humanity destroyed, only to be reborn by machines, only to fight back once again. The idea of a singular, insulated robot designed to restore humanity, while a war rages between those same robots and the remains of Humanity, with our Mother-Daughter relationship being a microcosm of what once was, what is, and what could have been.
However, this is subjective. I Am Mother was intriguing and drew the attention from start to finish. If you are a fan of science fiction of a slower nature, such as Moon, this is highly recommended.