I Am Mother
Isolated in an underground bunker and raised by a robot called “Mother”, a teenage girl grows up believing that humanity has gone extinct. When a woman from the outside world suddenly shows up, the girl is faced with some alarming news.
1 hour, 55 minutes
June 7, 2019 (Netflix)
Director: Grant Sputore
Writers: Michel Lloyd Green, Grant Sputore
Composer: Dan Luscombe, Antony Partos
Starring: Rose Byrne (voice), Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
After dropping its first trailer and revealing its intriguing plot, I Am Mother immediately started to appear on many “most anticipated upcoming releases” lists. It hit Sundance, then the Sydney Film Festival, and now it’s coming straight to your home on the comfy confines of Netflix.
There is still some tension between festivals, cinema and online streaming services, with many in the industry still under the impression that the latter automatically equals lackluster quality. As an ambitious sci-fi project, particularly since it’s coming from Australia–a film industry that tends to focus on other, cheaper genres like drama, comedy, and horror – will I Am Mother prove Netflix critics wrong and demonstrate that high-quality content can be found? With only a handful of sci-fi films a year, is this 2019’s big hit?
Violence/Scary Images: Some blood is shown. Close-ups on an open, bleeding gunshot wound, along with shots of related medical procedures. A person holds another hostage at knifepoint. Gun violence–a character shoots at another. Fistfights resulting in injury. One character slaps another in the face multiple times. Murder is implicated and seen off-screen. Close up shots of a human bone and ashes. The film constantly flicks its distrust between a robot and an unhinged woman–both characters are seen as intimidating at times.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is dropped once or twice. Minor insults such as “dumb” are used.
Drug/Alcohol References: Syringes and pills are shown within a medical context.
Sexual Content: None.
Spiritual Content: One character is Catholic. They are seen holding a crucifix in times of distress. Statues of the Virgin Mary are seen throughout the film, alluding to motherhood over a creator figure.
Other Negative Content: Human embryos are seen in stasis, where some have been aborted. One could possibly interpret this film as being pro-abortion/pro-eugenics, although this wouldn’t be the main reading of the story. Genocide is also mentioned.
Positive Content: This film analyses and deconstructs the essentials of motherhood, whether it’s all about nurture, or if one should be allowed to follow nature. There’s also some exploration into the creator/created relationship and the dynamics between the two.
I Am Mother has all the makings of a great sci-fi film. In a post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone extinct, a single robot operates a “repopulation facility” for mankind. While the underground bunker houses over 60,000 embryos, the android, affectionately called “Mother” raises a single girl (simply named “Daughter”) into her teenage years. Despite the odd relationship, we’re treated to a montage of a loving relationship, where Mother teaches Daughter everything from medicine to dance.
Just when the film is starting to become reminiscent of Chappie, an injured woman appears (Hilary Swank) outside the bunker, which forces Daughter to question everything that she knows. From that moment onwards, the movie dabbles in the thriller genre, toying with the audience in regards to whom we are to place our trust. Do we believe the calm and logical robot (disarmingly voiced by Rose Byrne), or the frenzied and bedraggled newcomer with a deep mistrust of androids?
The plot may feel derivative and predictable from the outset, though it does hold a few twists throughout its runtime. It keeps a steady pace and maintains the audience’s interest, despite being only a three-hander film. All three characters are distinct from each other, with Mother and the woman managing to uphold an air of mystery even until the credits roll.
Considering the action is spent in an underground bunker, I Am Mother is a visually striking film. The simple décor is sleek and refined, much like Daughter’s upbringing. Every shot is gorgeous and wonderfully lit. With only a modest budget the movie’s production and special effects team have done well to set the tone of the story. It’s an ambitious undertaking; it’s rare to see such a strong genre film come out from Australia, and it’s an exciting achievement for that movie industry.
Despite being a relative newcomer on the acting scene, Clara Rugaard delivers a captivating performance as Daughter, demonstrating that she is capable of carrying the weight of a feature film on her shoulders. Luke Hawker’s movements as Mother needs commending, whilst Hilary Swank balances the narrative by delivering some much-needed unkempt hostility. However, the performances, partially hindered by uninspired and deliberately coy dialogue, lack that extra bit of nuance that’s needed to elevate this film into something spectacular. Unfortunately, it does begin to play one note in some scenes.
Yet the biggest criticism is that the concept is stretched thin across its unusually long two-hour runtime. The film is intent on raising a number of fine questions, from redefining motherhood to deliberating on the timeless conundrum of what quantifies humanity. However, there is a shallowness present.
In order to keep the mystery contained within the narrative alive, the movie constantly sidesteps answering any big questions. The story builds and builds, teasing an exposition dump that never comes. As a result, it’s left frustratingly open-ended with many questions still unanswered, only hinted.
Now some narratives thrive on this tactic, yet I Am Mother is an uncommon example where it’s only weakened by its lack of decisiveness. It fails to be bold and commit to a particular interpretation and unfortunately ends up saying not much of anything. It’s obvious the filmmakers wanted to leave the audience a bit of meat to chew on after the final scene, though it’s not as mentally stimulating as they’d hoped. It’s a lukewarm chicken wing, not a steak.
A lot of other, better sci-fi movies cover the same topics as I Am Mother. Moon captures that feeling of isolation well, whilst Ex Machina nails issues concerning artificial intelligence. I Am Mother is equally ambitious as a production but lacks the gumption to really stand out in a genre that’s naturally strong.
But let’s put it all back in perspective. There is a severe shortage of pure sci-fi films, with only a handful of releases each year. I Am Mother may not become one of the greats, but if you’re a fan of the genre, by all means, make sure you catch this movie. It’s a Netflix release. It’s easy to access. So there’s not much you have to lose by watching this one. There are certainly worse films to waste two hours on.
+ Intriguing concept
+ Pacing - maintains interest
+ Production design
+ Netflix release
- Not as deep as other films in the genre
- Light on message
- Acting becomes a little one note