The heavy, thunking footsteps that only a parent can make. The kind that tells a child to expect a talking to. Maybe they’re in trouble, maybe not. But that thunking, at least momentarily, gives you more stress than anything. Sci-fi film I Am Mother uses this feeling to its advantage, for the parent here is a robot during the post-apocalypse. The thunking, no matter what kind of response it generates in the context of a given scene, still summons many a memory of adults walking down the hall and towards your room, floor creaks, anxiety, and all.
The premise is bleak, being about a sheltered/uncontaminated safe space where, in the event of an extinction level event, will serve as a breeding and nurturing ground for the new mankind. One single robot is in charge of all these embryos and ultimately raises one baby to its teen years, called only “Daughter”. The bot called “Mother” has a calming woman’s voice (Rose Byrne) but when it needs to, can run and fight like a sophisticated and near perfect machine – which I suppose she is. Daughter is played by Clara Rugaard who, based on the demands of her role here, I can only expect big things from. She spends her time learning ethical and philosophical queries, and winds down watching Johnny Carson on a tablet. That this version of The Tonight Show was chosen as appropriate and primary entertainment for a teenager, among an endless library of media, makes me smile to no end. Of course, a robot would choose something like Carson for a maturing mind…
I Am Mother is the kind of sci-fi we hope for, causing one to contemplate the world as it is now. The movie deals in the choice Daughter is cornered into making, to either remain in the home she knows or ventures outside with the strange survivor woman she ends up letting in (Hillary Swank). This push and pull isn’t just a trust exercise between two maternal-like units, but also a test of what’s more important: self-preservation or the greater good, and if humanity is worth saving after all. Indeed, things get dark rather quickly, but oh so heartbreakingly too. For a film that begins this sad, the only place to go isn’t up as we know it.
While the only male seen in this film is but a drawing, I feel I Am Mother isn’t specifically saying something about gender. Sure, it’s occupied by three actresses mainly, and sure it’s about the potential beginning of a new world, I think the more interesting aspects are in the choices Daughter makes. To obey or disobey. To evolve or just stay safe and keep to self. The magnetic-like pull to either side of the spectrum matches the clean metal sheen and tube lights that cover the setting of the shelter, all cold and scary efficient.
I don’t know if I Am Mother will win any hearts for its views on civilization and our species, effectively being a movie where our fate depends upon Ultron from the second Avengers film, but for those analytical few, there is a minefield of behavior and instinct to sift through. There is science to this fiction, and that science may be too terrifying for some viewers to consider or accept. However, I Am Mother isn’t talking down to anyone, meeting us face to face instead, almost smiling with a warning or a lecture about the good and bad of humanity.
That’s… refreshing? Maybe just satisfactory? No, it’s more than satisfactory. It works, cleanly. Like a glossy but bleached floor.
RATING: 4 / 5
I Am Mother is now available for streaming on Netflix.