I AM MOTHER [2019]

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a typical Netflix produced film. It is an Australian film that required a lot of effort to be made possible, and luckily it was seen by the right people at a film festival and is now a ‘Netflix’ production, now essentially a synonym for pumping out any idea pitched to them. This movie though is very different – it is an Australian film that spent a long time in production, and while not the biggest name, it features Hilary Swank that hopefully people will can recognise. She is more than a relativily big name though – she is excellent in this film. With her name attached and sitting in the sci-fi section of Netflix, the creators and Australian film lovers in general hope that this deserving Australian movie is seen worldwide.

Back to the film: An unnamed contagion has decimated the human population, and an android known as ‘Mother’ is starts its work, programmed to repopulate Earth after such an event. Locked in a fail-safe bunker, the artificially intelligent droid is responsible for thousands of human embryos. From one of these embryos, Mother begun her mission and has raised a well-mannered young teenage girl. Simply known as ‘Daughter’, she is given exams on a regular basis so Mother can assess how she is growing and evolving as a human being. After being raised inside the bunker for her entire life with a robot her only company, she finds a mouse and qujickly believes that it could be safe to go outside. Mother shoots the idea down with her calculations of the atmosphere outside, but when a women bangs on the door from the outside and the daughter can’t help but let the wounded women inside. Her relationship with Mother slowly changes as the film takes a drastic turn.

I Am Mother is an interesting and challenging sci-fi flick, commenting on artificial intelligence while in contrast also examining the human condition, both in a unique and creative way. The daughter has been raised by artificial intelligence, and arguably, by proxy, humans, who of course originally created the droid. This slight connection to humanity is apparent as she is surprisingly grounded and self-aware despite growing up in such a different and untested environment. Could AI potentially parent children, leaving the real parents to sit on deck chairs by their pool? Perhaps; Mother has done well in raising a good person, which is unsurprising given that her programming is learning how to be a mother, just like any human mother learns as she goes.

The exams the daughter has been taking are mostly scenarios in which she is given two choices, often morally difficult with no clear correct answer. Via this process, Mother is able to covertly assess how the daughter’s morals and beliefs are developing. During these tests, Mother is also learning. Mother in fact states this to the daughter at one point after one of her exams, commenting that it is learning from the tests just as much as the daughter is. It is an important scene that reminds us that Mother isn’t just a robot. Programmed with AI, it is contantly learning. Contrary to this, at one point the daughter asks Mother if she has always been in the bunker. The best answer it can muster is far from comforting.

Then tone of the film instantly changes when the woman is let into the bunker, wounded by a gunshot. Scared and losing blood, she refuses any help from Mother as she looks identical to the droid that shot her. Mother suggests that because of this, if there are other people alive, the bunker would be the safest place for them. Unsurprisingly, the women doesn’t warm to the idea.

When Mother isn’t around, the woman tells the daughter what the outside world is like, and that her wound was caused by a droid while she was trying to scavenge supplies in what seems like a horrid world. Though the way she talks of the people that she is close to obviously captures the daughters interest. It is impossible to know if she is telling the truth or not, but unsurprisingly Mother quickly realises that the woman is ‘putting ideas into her daughter’s head’ and puts an end to the two being alone together, forcing the daughter out of the room and muting the intercom.

As their conversation unfolds, the film drastically changes direction as we learn of information that we, nor the daughter, knew about. Interestingly, viewers hear this entire conversation, but the the daughter doesn’t hear a word. Unsurprisingly then, she becomes increasingly conflicted and confused: does she listen to Mother, who reminds her that it has never caused her harm, and in fact raised her from an embryo? Or does she listen to a woman who she has just met, who has described an outside world that is dangerous, but one the daughter has never experienced? It soon becomes apparent that there could be consequences for either choice. 

The film cleverly tosses red herrings into the mix, keeping the viewer guessing and possibly frustrated as to what exactly is happening, and whether her decision was the right one. The final moments will take some reflection to appreciate, and those paying close attention will be amazed at the originality of the story: using AI and a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world to create a mind-bending story that is the definition of a thought provoking film.

The star of the show is certainly Mother, a perfectly designed robot that couldn’t look more realistic. It also has pitch perfect voice that never changes despite the situation. The calmness in her soft voice cuts through the darker scenes, this juxtaposition simply adding more to a tense final act in which we finally learn the truth. Or perhaps not?…

The entire film proves once more that a small budget and only three characters can result in quite an amazing film – the lack of firepower and CGI forces the writing and direction to utilise more creativity. There is no film quite like this one, its closest cousin would surely be Ex Machina, but the two are still very different. Mother also shares some similarities with HAL, and it is interesting to wonder just how much power she has over the facility. But the two could not be more different, they are just two films dealing with AI in a way that isn’t draped in the loudness of Hollywood – rather the subject is treated with the respect it deserves.

I Am Mother focuses less on action (there are two gun-shots in the entire film) and more on a scenario that, at first may seem silly, but it is something that can never be ultimately ruled out. Artificial intelligence is inherently difficult to predict and is the main reason why this is such an interesting film to watch and then think about after the extreme final scenes. A cadidate for one of the best films of the year, and certainly a film that needs to be seen more than once.