Netflix’s dystopian sci-fi thriller, I Am Mother, presents us with unsettling depictions of motherhood, survival and humanity. Here’s our review.
After an extinction-level event decimates the human population, an android in an underground bunker begins its task of repopulating the planet. Selecting a single fertilised embryo from a cryo-bank holding over 63,000, a baby is grown within an artificial spherical womb.
The android referred to as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) raises the child as her own. When said child, inventively named Daughter (Clara Rugaard), reaches 18 she’s given an examination filled with philosophical and ethical dilemmas.
However, Mother has failed to understand humans’ natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. When a random, injured woman (Hilary Swank) shows up at the base’s entrance, Daughter is truly presented with a moral conundrum. What happens next is an unsettling push and pull between Daughter’s desire to explore and know other humans, and her loyalty to the android who raised her.
I Am Mother expertly creates tension and then releases it, making us feel comforted by Mother’s warm female voice in one scene and scared of her imposing figure in the next. These tensions climax when Daughter abandons Mother and the base to help the destitute colony that the injured woman has come from.
We see that she’s desperate to meet other humans and help them. It’s a testament to Daughter’s own humanity and her teachings from Mother on how to approach such a situation. Unfortunately, both the woman and Mother have betrayed her trust. The colony does not exist, so Daughter returns home to save her newly produced baby brother from Mother.
In a clever piece of editing at the beginning of the movie, we are shown Mother selecting an embryo and then raising the baby. We watch her grow from an infant to a toddler and then a young child. She asks Mother when she can have a brother and a sister. Mother simply responds with the claim that Mothers need time to learn.
Then, an estimated 13,800 days later we are first introduced to a teenage Daughter. At first, audiences may assume that these previous scenes were flashbacks showing us a younger version of Daughter. The younger girl could certainly pass for her. However, 13,800 years equates to roughly 37 years and Daughter has just turned 18.
Here we learn the frightening and sickening truth — that Daughter is not the first child that Mother has “hatched.” Daughter has been routinely examined throughout her life and passed with flying colours. Her “older siblings” were not so successful and promptly disposed of.
This sequence expertly conveys the horror of Mother and her capabilities. We may want to believe that she genuinely cares for the young girl she’s raised to adulthood. But how can that be so if she’s willingly killed her other children for minor inadequacies?
In a true sci-fi twist some may have seen coming, Mother reveals her true intent in a showdown with Daughter. She is in fact the artificial intelligence which caused the devastating conflict that destroyed humanity. Unfortunately or not to some, the events of what we can only presume as a man versus machine conflict are mainly left in the dark. Though this leads to a far more claustrophobic and grounded story, purely character-driven.
In one of the final scenes after Mother’s robot shell has been destroyed by Daughter herself, another uncomfortable twist is revealed. Mother’s consciousness still exists and, taking the form of another android, she confronts the injured woman. She taunts the woman, suggesting she has only survived so long because Mother needed her to.
This is the biggest clue that the events of the film were all orchestrated by Mother herself. She leaves Daughter with the sole responsibility of raising her baby brother and the other unborns. The title card follows Daughter looking directly at the shelves of cyro-banks holding future generations as the film ends.
I Am Mother presents us with both chilling and incredibly rare depictions of parenthood. What does it mean to be a parent? And more importantly, what does it mean to be a “good” parent? Mother’s methods can be seen as abhorrent. But ultimately she achieved her personal goal of creating a fairer, more compassionate and smarter human with Daughter.
She was driven to start over after seeing the callousness and selfish nature of human beings. Can Daughter herself go on to instill and maintain those values into hundreds, if not thousands, of others? Or is humanity always doomed to have careless and individualistic tendencies?
Outside of the story, the cinematography and visuals are simply stunning. The base is a clean-cut and hollow labyrinth, assisting in creating an unnerving atmosphere when Daughter is attempting to hide. The Earth’s surface is also something visually stimulating to look at, with scorched trees and black sand. It differs from the war-torn cityscapes we’ve come to expect with the genre.
Lastly, young Clara Rugaard delivers a standout performance as Daughter. You believe her youthfulness and naivete whilst simultaneously experiencing her desperation and fear. She’s a shining light in this refreshingly female-driven story.