I Am Mother

Release: Friday, June 7, 2019


Written by: Michael Lloyd Green

Directed by: Grant Sputore

I Am Mother is another movie ideally suited for those of us already harboring a healthy distrust of robots. An often disconcerting experience, this post-apocalyptic thriller from Australian and first-time director Grant Sputore uses the relationship between a matronly AI and her flesh-and-blood daughter to create a fascinating allegory for parenthood.

The DNA of some undisputed sci fi classics is infused into the core of this dystopian family drama. While I Am Mother nods toward The Matrix in the climactic moments and a pretty cool rug-pulling moment wherein our perception of the truth gets inverted, and on more than one occasion evokes Skynet’s ubiquitous presence and ruthless determination, the newbie director blends the familiarly awesome and uniquely eerie in a satisfying way, threading plot twists through a claustrophobic, stainless steel environment where not everything is as it seems.

Stripping the world down to a fail-safe bunker and a single automaton (voiced by Rose Byrne, ambulated by Luke Hawker), the story begins in the immediate aftermath of a cataclysmic event that has wiped out all of mankind. Mother awakens and promptly sets about her duties, making breakfast, reading the morning news and, oh yeah, seeing to the pretty important task of repopulating Earth. She’s in charge of some 60,000 human embryos, all waiting to be “born” into a decidedly more austere life where Mother’s many rules are a sophisticated calculus to keep everyone safe. From what, exactly, we’re not sure. A relatively fresh face in acting, Danish singer Clara Rugaard plays the first human occupant of the bunker, and to keep things simple awkwardly formal (and no doubt symbolic) she’s only ever referred to as “Daughter.”

Her formative years — halcyon days captured beautifully in a brilliant usage of Bette Midler’s “Baby Of Mine” — appear lonely but the structure is not unlike that afforded a child raised in a loving, well-to-do, albeit more traditionally fleshy family. Limited though they may be she develops passions outside of her schooling, overseen by, who else, Mother. A cute little montage has a young Daughter covering her robo-mommy with stickers. Birthdays are celebrated. For a time, the world is perfect. As she grows she develops a curiosity about the world around her: “Why are there no other children?”

I Am Mother‘s man-machine conflict revolves around trust, something to which I’m sure those who are more qualified to speak on such matters might attest (i.e. actual parents), is a real mother of a challenge. Life’s a harrowing, endlessly twisting tunnel full of unexpected right and left turns. Raising a child is more complicated than the inner gizmos driving a machine. Often it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Unlike for AI making mistakes is part-and-parcel of the human experience. You can be great at nurturing but you won’t ever be perfect.

Which is why it’s so difficult for Mother when an uninvited human guest (an intense Hilary Swank) shows up, seeking shelter from the wasteland and bringing some alarming news with her. Daughter lets her in under certain conditions and in brazen defiance of house rules. “We’ve talked about this. No potentially hostile, gun-wielding guests after 9, got it?”

It’s a point of no return in which I Am Mother‘s fascinating moral conundrum goes from simmering to full blaze. It’s also where Swank essentially wrestles the film away from the erstwhile stars of the show, her wounded-outside-and-in Woman jolting the film with an urgent energy — an adrenaline rush we kind of needed right as the prolonged first act begins to drag a little. All the while the soothing in Byrne’s voice takes on more menace, the native Aussie never inflecting so much as a blip of emotion. It’s brilliant work from a performer you never see. Rugaard remains a sympathetic presence, selling her character’s ingenuity and intelligence, her compassion and her confusion. It’s a complex performance that she handles well, even if her rapport with Woman develops a little too quickly. (I’ll lay more of the blame there on the direction.)

Minor flaws aside, I Am Mother is a meticulous work of art. There are a lot of details that need to come together in just the right way to create that gutsy cliff-hanger-like ending — one that’s sure to keep viewers talking for awhile after. And let’s not overlook the production design, for it’s a character unto itself. The clinical setting of the domicile never makes one feel like they’re at home, while Peter Jackson’s own visual effects company Weta Workshop render the homemaker as a cross between Alicia Vikander’s Ava (from Ex Machina, a movie you could consider the more polished British cousin to I Am Mother), the T-800 (especially when she’s in full-on crisis control mode) and that single, unblinking eye just screams Hal-9000, arguably the mother of all cinematic AI.

Yes, my child, the future is indeed female.

Recommendation: I Am Mother is catnip for fans of intelligent sci fi, with a trio of strong female performances leading the charge and the dystopian aesthetic pulling from a number of big-time (and male-dominated) sci fi of years past. There’s also touches of more contemporary pieces like Ex Machina and 10 Cloverfield Lane as well. And it’s a movie whose ambiguous ending has and will continue to divide opinion. After nearly a month of sitting on this movie I am still unsure what to think of it. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Mothers need time to learn, too. Raising a good child is no small task.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

11 thoughts on “I Am Mother

  1. Pingback: Month in Review: September ’19 | Thomas J

  2. Love your opening sentence, opening paragraph really. Agreed with everything you said, I guess the small flaws weren’t as obvious to my biased eyes 😛

    I just love a good mindfuck story, and this fuckin deliverrrrs (though its got fuckin NOTHING on Midsommar!!!).

    I too didn’t like the ending first time over, but the second time over, it seemed to make things sure for me. I’ll msg you what I thought, see if we agree 😉

    I’m glad I’m managed to get someone to watch this! Ex Machina as a more polished cousin is a good way to describe it. Apart from stuff like The Nightingale, which got a ton of funding, this little beast is pretty much the best we can do down here these these. We get probably one little indie gem like this a year, though 2014 was good for us, especially sci-fi/dystopia – have you seen ‘These Final Days’, ‘The Rover’ or ‘Predestination’? All fantastic, especially the latter. There was even a super low budget sci-fi/rom-com from that year called The Infinite Man. I actually liked it, the sci-fi elements make it fun. I need to rewatch that one actually! They’d all be on my site too if you’re interested, though, they’d be like the first reviews I ever wrote so they won’t be good!

    Btw you must see The Nightingale!! You must I say!!

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    • Cheers Jordan! I was really glad you pushed me to get to watching this. I probably would have missed this had it not been for your really positive review. It’s one of those movies that has the perfect blend of elements for me: good acting, provocative story and tremendous visuals. The mood and atmosphere is constantly tense, although I’m STILL not sure if I like the way it ends. But in that way, it’s fascinating. I haven’t been this undecided on how a movie concludes in a long damn time.

      Re: those other Aussie productions, yes I have seen Predestination. That movie is f***king seriously underrated. I loved it! I would have probably reviewed it for DSB had it not fallen outside of my predetermined has-to-be-within-a-year-of-release guidelines for what makes the cut here. Actually, I think I made it a part of my Bite Sized Reviews feature when this WAS DSB but then all those got scrapped in a little house cleaning project. :/

      And no no, let’s not go crazy. I admire Jennifer Kent for presenting that story but there is no way in hell I’m seeing The Nightingale. I don’t need to see a poor woman get raped four times to understand how terrible the British were to Aborines. I just really don’t think that movie is going to do anything to me or for me that will be helpful. I know right from wrong. And that movie just seems to indulge in the darkness in a way that seems fetishistic and attention-seeking. That’s just me though. I really don’t believe rape needs to be a thing in movies. It’s just awful to watch. Punishment without a purpose IMO.

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      • Re – Nightingale, there is one rape scene, it is graphic, but hardly the crux of the film. Almost all the movie aint even about the British, rather about an Irish convict who is the one who gets raped cos this English captain helped her out of jail I think and kinda owns her freedom,. After that scene (which I agree, it is awful to watch) though her unblinking eyes during the whole is what I remember the most. A few minutes out of an epic-size film shouldn’t put ya off it totally mate! =) she finds an aboriginal tracker and fucks off away from the cunt. Almost all the movie is about the Irish girl and her friendship with the blackfella that develops, and also the fact she has to tough it out in the bush, using a gun while riding a horse etc where of course aboriginals are used to the bush. The scope of it alll, especially after The Babadook, is reeeeally impressive man, it takes place over a massive area of Australia – the story that is! That one scene is graphic, but there much much worse, and a lot of them. Here though it could kinda be argued that served the story. Some of those scenes are so bad I have to look away. But that’s the only part like that. there certainly isn’t four of those scenes! Christ, who wrote that? Or did you kinda hear a rumour? God I certainly would never have praised it as much as I did if that were the case. FUCK that. Download it when its out man if u don’t wanna pay for tickets, you won’t regret it, though the cinematography was so good I’m actually not looking forward to not hmissing the big screen experience. I’m glad to that it got such quick distribution overseas, that normally never happens to our stuff. Tho Badadook was also widely released wasn’t it? She must have some friends in the right places yknow

        But yeah man its so far from fetishistic/attention seeking. Not even close, I’d have hated it if it was close to that. What really is brutal is the violence in places cos its based roughly 60 years are they invaded here, so its 1830’s style medicine and warfare. The story was worked on so hard Kent said at the Q&A last year, the research she said she did was astronomical! Someone asked about that scene too, She seemed conflicted about whether to include it, but decided it was pretty important to the story since thje runs away from the penal colony for that specific reason. Obviously your call tho if you wanna watch it tho!
        I just didn’t want you to think that cos its nothing like those descriptions! 🙂

        I loved the ending to I Am Mother man. IMO, and maybe this is obvious (?), tell me if you picked this up easy

        *************POSSIBLE SPOILER************

        I usually miss stuff like this, but it seems clear to me that Swank was the first daughter who failed mother’s tests, hence mother’s last line to her, ‘I’m surprised you lasted this long’ or somethin like that. Its a real thinker for sure, haha SO MUCH MORE more so than Ad Astra, eeeeeaasily, though that was a decent movie, but more spacey than… thinkey 😛
        But I’m super happy you dug I am mother though man. The potential spoiler above I think is even hinted at at the VERY start. heh I remember when I first saw it, I despiiised that ending and totally didn’t get it. Now I just love it and it all makese sense to me now, I did tho see it a third time

        Yeah Predestination is killer, I’m pretty sure i did that for bite sized, cos I nearly always picked aussie flicks. Predestination is right up there with Chopper, Snowtowen, Animal Kingdom and Wake in Fright (old school 70s) as one of the best we have ever done


    • Thanks man, I really enjoyed this movie. It’s smart, stylish and sophisticated. I watched this again the other night and have come to appreciate the ending a little more since. It’s interesting for sure.

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