A Netflix film, I Am Mother is a science fiction thriller produced by first-time director Grant Sputore. A brilliantly frustrating and thought-provoking film, I Am Mother is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world that debates between ethics and morals. A philosophically rich film, this is a must-watch especially for fans of Black Mirror and The Good Place.
Viewers are introduced to a highly advanced automated bunker and lab where Mother (performed by Luke Hawker), a droid, is missioned with the repopulation of humanity. Voiced by Rose Byrne, the seemingly maternal Mother takes care of a human child that she had meticulously developed in the lab. Clara Rugaard has delivered an outstanding performance as Daughter, the human child, who lives dependently with the droid.
Days and years soon pass as Mother cares for Daughter as lovingly as a human mother would. Mother begins to impart complex moral and ethical lessons, stimulating thought-provoking questions that have neither right nor wrong answers.
The film is unhurriedly paced, elaborating each and every details of the scene. While one may appreciate the detailed temporal realism, viewers may find the film somewhat dreary for its drawl. However, the human and droid’s peaceful lives eventually come to a stop. Daughter’s curiosity is piqued when she finds a young rat during the bunker’s electrical malfunction. The strong bonds between the droid and her daughter are tested when the former ruthlessly incinerated the rat in front of the frazzled child, citing lethal contamination from the outside world.
Increasingly curious, the fettered Daughter explores the bunker, finding a wounded woman (Hilary Swank) gasping for help in the airlock. Fighting for Woman to stay in the bunker despite Mother’s protest, Daughter’s trust in Woman as an immediate ally is completely puzzling and unfounded. The following chaos that ensued is rather perplexing, lies and truth are interwoven as both Mother and Woman struggle to gain Daughter’s trust. However, despite how unfeeling Mother is supposed to be with the lack of sympathy and compassion as a robot, the droid seems to be disappointed by Daughter’s momentary distrust. As a viewer, I felt a strange pang of sadness when Daughter turned on her Mother.
The Daughter then takes an examination, including which she passes a psychological testing and is rewarded to ‘select’ her next sibling. Subsequently, Woman convinces Daughter to leave with her, to the mines where other humans live together. Daughter is shown to be torn between staying for her brother or to join the survivors of her race. It is the daughter’s search for truth that led to a horrifying find of a human jaw amid ashes, to realise that these are the remnants of the embryos that did not pass Mother’s acceptance. Finally persuaded of all droids’ evil nature, Daughter left with Woman, traversing a desolate wasteland and arriving before the sea.
The intricate scenery of the post-apocalyptic world in I Am Mother is beyond beautiful; the details of the sky, the coal black sand grains, and the slow, rhythmic crash of waves. Droids are shown to be terraforming the land rather diligently, planting crops in a systematic way, a far cry from Woman’s claims of these malevolent machines. Daughter is then horrified when she reaches the Woman’s home, the latter is actually living by herself. Woman is lonely, I realised, she has selected Daughter to be her sole companion, perhaps driven mad by loneliness. I had initially believed the Woman’s role is to vie for the spot of ‘Mother’ which turns out to be a mishmash of ‘Mother’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Hostage’, in which the film does not fully elucidate Woman’s intentions.
A frenetic build-up to the climax, Daughter escapes yet again, frantic and angry at Woman’s lies. Although there is no right or wrong choice between staying with Mother or with Woman, Daughter is reminded that there is someone that needs her — her baby brother. A shocking revelation is shown, Mother is the Artificial Intelligence behind all the droids in the world.
Regarding humanity as self-destructive creatures, Mother discloses the fact that she is the one who activated the extinction event. Exalting herself as God, Mother decides to remake humanity, to educate them to be ethically right and to value society in a bigger picture. It is a strange paradox as the actions Mother has taken to eradicate the ‘lesser’ humans are wrong (“Better humans will flourish in the new world”) while she attempts to teach Daughter to do the right thing.
“You murdered your own children because they don’t measure up.” “But you do.” Daughter’s pain is palpable as she gazes at the droid she has once loved dearly. Eventually accepting Daughter’s vehement stand, Mother agreed to let Daughter take care of her brother and all the remaining embryos. And now, Daughter becomes the new ‘Mother’.
I Am Mother puts an interesting spin on the sci-fi genre with its use of ethics and morals, and the sudden plot twists and riveting storyline. Packed with sufficient action, the film is portrayed wonderfully by stellar actors and actresses, the intricate droid designs, and dystopian backdrops. Although the film is full of bewildering turns, including sudden personality changes that are definitely not in character (perhaps an actual human flaw), one may be more inclined to discussing the thematic thoughts behind it. An excellent science fiction, the open ending of I Am Mother leaves much to ponder upon — how will the new era of humanity begin?