"I Am Mother" (2019) Movie Review
An unconventional Mother/Daughter relationship.
I Am Mother (Grant Sputore, 2019)
The sci-fi thriller is loaded with questions about the affects of the human race on the planet, and touches on the increasing sense of technophobia thats sparked from the ever-growing advancement in machines. The film is based upon the dystopian relationship between the robot droid known as Mother, and the human girl she grants life to, Daughter. Throughout the film we’re asked to question the bond between this unconventional mother-daughter relationship, and the basis upon which Daughter was born with a series of plot twists and deceptions. The film utilises many techniques to add to its conceptual themes and poses the same philosophical questions to the viewer. The film premiered at Sundance, and whilst its sleek look and feel successfully alludes to it having a much higher budget than it actually had access to, the dystopian thriller doesn't quite keep you on your toes in the way you would expect from the genre.
The film is set on a hi-tech repopulation hub after an extinction crisis swept the planet and wiped out the human race (or so we’re told). We follow Mother in the opening sequence as she selects one of the 63,000 human embryos to birth, which comes to be known as Daughter. She goes on to raise Daughter to be a highly intelligent, ethical and multi-talented young adult. It’s made clear to Daughter, and the viewer, that life can only exist within the hub, and that the outside world is infected with a highly dangerous contagion. As Daughter grows, so does her curiosity for the outside world, and this along with her trust for Mother is shaken when a dishevelled woman played by Hilary Swank arrives at the hub.
Swank’s character, known simply as Woman has a wildly different truth to tell, and attempts to persuade daughter that there is in fact no contagion, but that the droids have taken over the planet in an attempt to wipe out the existing human race. Both Mother and Woman proceed in an attempt to persuade Daughter that their version of the truth is reality in a series of manipulation and deception. These “truths” are played out to the viewer in the same way that they are for Daughter, we only know what she knows, sees what she sees, and receive new information only as Daughter discovers it. This plot device forces the viewer to question which version of the truth they believe along with Daughter- do they believe the bedraggled woman they've just met or the droid which has been seen to care for Daughter throughout the film so far?
However, the answer to this question is not particularly difficult to reach, contrary to what you would expect from the genre. Despite increasing fears around the advancement of technology, and in particular, the creation of alarmingly human-like robots, we know from films such as Transformers, Chappie and the Disney hit, Wallie, that robots can be extremely loveable. However, this was not Sputore’s approach when presenting Mother. There are many techniques used throughout which spark feelings of distrust towards Mother, and as these feelings build, the viewer becomes compelled to side almost immediately with the hub’s invader, Woman. The use of lurking long shots which focus on Mother throughout, create a threatening demeanour about her. As the camera lingers there’s a distinct lack of music, with only an eery, industrial thudding to accompany the shot, creating an unnerving atmosphere. Mother’s discernibly powerful aesthetic is highlighted by the lurking shots, particularly as she’s shown recharging, sitting with an eery stillness as her robust machinery powers up. As the camera watches throughout, a suspense is built, as though we’re waiting to catch Mother in an evil act. Our distrust for Mother is heightened by her control of Daughter. Mother seems a little too watchful of Daughter, always around the next corner when Daughter is doing something she shouldn’t, appearing suddenly to catch her out. Mother is also quick to shut down any of daughter’s curiosities about the outside world. This possessiveness plays on our scrutiny of Mother’s intentions and urges us to question what Mother is truly hiding from Daughter. The conclusion for this we assume is something unnervingly malevolent.
Sputore’s sinister representation of Mother can be seen as a method of foreshadowing, a common trope of the genre. By playing on the foundation of distrust felt by modern society towards robots, the film creates a sense of unease towards Mother. After all, it would be naive to think that we were ever meant to truly trust Mother. However, it’s possible the film may have gone too far in this respect. A successful thriller will keep the viewer guessing until the end, with unexpected plot twists, double crosses and deceptions. This is something that I Am Mother hasn't quite managed to do. The viewer speculates that Mother’s intentions aren't as they seem early on in the film, and as she continues to shut down Daughter’s questions about the outside world, the film’s sinister outcome is all too easy to discern. This speculation is only concreted, rather than stirred, by the arrival of Woman, and her version of events seem far more trustworthy than Mother’s, despite us knowing very little of her character. In all, the film’s conclusion is disappointingly predictable.
Something the film is successful in doing is posing questions on the negative impact of our lifestyle on the planet. Mother’s, albeit vague, reasons for the extinction crisis of “wars” and “contagion” play on prominent fears that are growing among today’s society. With political tensions rising and an increasing population, modern society is becoming increasingly aware that warfare and disease may become likely events. The recent outbreak of Coronavirus for example, has caused a global pandemic and is a prime example of how our way of life could cause our very destruction. These issues are reinforced by Woman’s version of the truth. She claims the droids have taken over planet Earth in an attempt to wipe out the human race. Had we caused so much damage to the planet, that in order to save it, the droids felt they needed to wipes us out and start again? This plays on the growing awareness of the environmental damage we cause and asks us to consider whether these extreme measures may actually be beneficial to the planet.
These questions are posed more directly to the viewer when Woman describes the fellow human survivors. When Daughter questions the whereabouts of the survivors, Woman states that it’s not somewhere anyone would like to be. She elaborates stating that “they went mad and started doing terrible things to each other”. Woman’s statement is an admittance that human nature is destructive, not only to the environment but also to ourselves. If Woman, a character who bears a deep hatred for the droids, seems to see the same flaws in humanity as they do, can we really blame them for their allegedly extreme actions? After all, the viewer has been purposefully detached from any violence committed by the droids, and have seen nothing of the extinction event to feel any real emotion about it. This in turn begs the question, are the Mother’s intentions really so evil, or is she simply aiming for a greater good? This is the resounding question I Am Mother leaves us to ponder.
Overall, the production of I Am Mother is incredibly sleek, with an expensively hi-tech look and feel to its main setting of the repopulation hub. The mise-en-scene immediately draws the viewer in to the film’s cold, futuristic vibe, and sets the tone for the unfolding of its dystopian plot. The film poses resounding questions on the affects of human life on the planet, and plays on the increasing sense of technophobia to create a growing distrust for Mother. I Am Mother is successful in asking its viewers to think on its conceptual themes, and leaves them pondering its philosophical questions. However, the film is somewhat disappointing in terms of the predictability of its plot. Whilst the storyline provides twists and turns which cause us to question what we had been told by the film so far, the outcome is displeasingly easy to reach. The viewer’s deep distrust of Mother makes it all too easy for the viewer to come to the conclusion that she is not what she seems. Unfortunately, the film fails to keep you on the edge of your seat in the way that you would expect from the genre. The film is worth a watch for those who enjoy dystopian science fiction, but those craving an excitingly mind-boggling plot may be disappointed.