I AM MOTHER
No MPAA rating, 114 mins.
2019, No MPAA rating, 114 mins.
Hilary Swank as Woman / Clara Rugaard-Larsen as Daughter / Rose Byrne as Mother (voice)
Directed by Grant Sputore / Written by Michael Lloyd Green
The new Netflix film I AM MOTHER is an atypically handsome looking and thoughtfully scripted sci-fi genre effort for the streaming network, one that refreshingly favors compelling themes and empowered performances over bombastic action and VFX overkill.
Based ever so
loosely on the young adult novel THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA by Tony DiTerlizzi,
this Grant Sputore helmed film represents a solid feature debut for the
Australian director, one that's small scaled and low budgeted, but
nevertheless ambitiously high concept.
I AM MOTHER dabbles into ideas that are as old as the genre itself,
that of mankind's troubled relationship with dangerously unhinged android
artificial intelligence, making this film a part of an already heavily
Thankfully, Sputore places great faith in his performers - and the
intelligence and patience of viewers - in crafting an intelligently
scripted and visually dynamic outing that remains hypnotically intriguing
The film is set
at an unspecified time in the post-apocalyptic future, during which time a
gigantic extinction level event has ravaged the Earth, leaving humanity on
the verge of being wiped out forever.
The opening sections are hauntingly powerful, as we are introduced
to a massive sterile scientific facility that's replete with thousands
upon thousands of human embryos that are being cared for by one being...a
robot dubbed "Mother" (voiced by Rose Byrne).
Her task is a lonely, but crucial one: to care for these unborn
beings and ensure there future survival, no matter what the cost.
In the introductory sequences we witness intricate machines taking
one embryo out of cryo-storage and mechanically growing and birthing it,
which results in a baby girl within 24 hours.
The first thing this child sees is not a human's face, but that of
Mother, and despite the fact that she's made up of gears and wires, she
still cares for the vulnerable infant's every need.
A time lapsing
montage ensues and we see Mother tending to the growing baby's day-to-day
requirements, and we witness her grow into childhood and adolescence.
This "Daughter" (Clara Rugaard, an extraordinary new
find) has literally spent years with her robotic parent, never having see
another human face-to-face, but Mother has still provided for her
everything that a human needs while maturing, like a well constructed
education, and it's clear that Daughter has emerged as a highly
self-sufficient and remarkably bright girl, despite her highly unorthodox
Still, Daughter has never known the embrace or voice of a human in
her life, and has never ventured out of her facility home and into the
outside world, the latter of which Mother has insisted is a place of
dangerous, life threatening contagions.
Mother cares for Daughter arguably as much as a human parent would
and is just as obsessively protective of her.
Daughter, in turn, obeys Mother, but she still has a lot of
questions about what lurks outside.
magnify tenfold with the fateful appearance of Woman (Hilary Swank), who's
banging away outside of the facility, frantically begging to be let inside
This, of course, goes explicitly against Mother's orders to never
let Daughter go outside and for her to never let anything from outside in.
But, like any rebelliously inquisitive teenager, Daughter blatantly
disregards Mother's wishes and lets the bleeding, weapon brandishing Woman
in to care for her wounds, which upsets Mother to no end.
Endlessly complicating things is the fact that Woman begins to
plant the seeds of easy distrust of Mother (and A.I. in general) in
Daughter, which threatens to completely unravel her decade-plus long
harmonious relationship with the being that has looked after and protected
Woman begins elaborating on her claims that other humans exist outside of
the facility and have been treated dreadfully by malicious robots like
Mother, this sends Daughter into an emotional tailspin of anxiety plagued
paranoia, leaving her unsure of who - or what - to trust: The flesh and
blood human or her mechanical surrogate parent.
notion of a robot raising a human from birth to her mid teens and
completely separate from the rest of humanity is compulsively fascinating.
Mother herself joins a too long to count list of other hyper
self-aware and smart androids that may or may not turn on people that have
populated science fiction, and early on it appears that Mother is a figure
to be trusted.
She does indeed look after Daughter in every emotional, mental, and
physical manner...buuuut...it remains unsettling to see a nearly faceless
and somewhat intimidating robot pick up a newborn baby that's utterly
helpless and vulnerable.
Something just feels...off...about her from the get-go, and the
audience's growing unease with Mother only continues to grow with Woman
appearing to upset the tight status quos of the facility.
Mother is the product of some truly cutting edge and eerily
convincing visual effects, but comes more to life with Byrne's emotionally
detached vocal demeanor that hints at a distant female cousin to Hal-9000.
She has a soothing voice, to be sure, but one that's almost too
unnervingly laid back.
On top of
Mother's bravura design and execution, Sputore makes a thoroughly
exquisite looking film that greatly benefits from superlative production
design work and art design.
The lush and sumptuous cinematography also does a stellar job of
evoking the vast, yet paradoxically claustrophobic confines of the
facility that Daughter has called home for years, and that Mother has
potentially lived in for way, way longer.
When the film does open up and gives us foreboding vistas of an
Earth that has been severely diseased and scorched, you gain a keen
understanding that Sputore is a strong cinematic visualist that knows how
to marry startling images with narrative and performance particulars.
I AM MOTHER is anything but an
empty minded endeavor.
Everything visually here works in concert to tell the enthralling
story of a young girl's unraveling faith in her robotic caregiver, whereas
so many other mindless examples of the genre wow us with million dollar
visual delights and ten cent scripting.
The central ties between Mother and Daughter is as morally complex
as one would be between two humans, but seeing as Daughter owes her entire
livelihood to Mother it creates this whole other added dimension of
conflict to her ever escalating unease that she experiences as the story
Thankfully, I AM
MOTHER is, as mentioned, an actor-driven paradise of riches to compliment
the stupendous imagery on display, with Swank in particular given the
thankless task of crafting a character that will either emerge as
relatable and sympathetic or a manipulative liar...or a combination of
both...and all without prematurely tipping off the audience as to her true
Her tightly wound and intense work here is a reminder why she's a
two time Oscar winner.
The true acting find of the film is the 21-year-old Rugaard, who
easily runs the widest possible emotional gambit during the course of the
She traverses between being a steadfastly obedient young adult to a
questioning skeptic and later to a chillingly distrusting soul that's on
the verge of total breakdown when her world comes crashing down around
Rugaard's tour de force and tenacious performance carries the heavy
dramatic load of I AM MOTHER.
Yet, for as much as there is to admire here in terms of its unsettling themes about the nature of A.I. and what constitutes real motherhood and a proper upbringing, I AM MOTHER is a top loaded affair that's consistently mesmerizing in its first two thirds, only to give way to a final climatic act that doesn't quite come together and pay off as splendidly as I would have liked. The best parts of the story occur in the post-apocalyptic scientific bunker and highlight the three way stalemate between Mother, Woman, and Daughter, with the former two trying to usurp control and influence on the latter. This ideological tug of war is where I AM MOTHER truly flourishes, but I couldn't shake the feeling that Sputore and screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green wrote themselves into a corner when it comes to bringing everything to a close. The final moment has an ambiguous potency, but is also the result of a few too many distracting and preordained plot twists. I AM MOTHER audaciously grasps for genre greatness, but falls a bit short, but as far as sci-fi fare - either on the small or big screen - it innovatively breathes new life into an old premise, which isn't easy. And it's quite wonderful to see another sci-fi thriller (after last year's ANNIHILATION) completely dominated by women...in this case human and non-human alike.