A long time after a terrible infection wiped out humanity, a robot takes on its role as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) to one child. Daughter (Clara Rugaard) grows up under Mother’s watchful eye, learning about the world in theory, getting tested to see whether Mother’s upbringing is actually fine before bringing more children into the world and repopulating Earth once more. But before the final exam, there is a banging on the door and a Woman (Hilary Swank) finds her way into the facility where Daughter and Mother have lived an unbothered existence so far. And with her arrival, Daughter’s life gets turned completely upside down.
I Am Mother works in a minimalist setting and it works pretty well, although I am uncertain about the image of motherhood that it conveys. I’m also not sure whether it’s a film with a lot of staying power, at least for me. But it was fine while it lasted.
I thought the film was interesting for the most part. Daughter grows up with Mother and sees her only as a good figure. When the Woman comes and tells horror stories of robots killing people, Daughter can hardly believe it. That’s how it often works with abusers – they show their victims their abusive side, and everybody else gets to see the good side, making it that much harder to believe victims when they do manage to talk about their abuse at all. It was a nicely worked parallel, I thought, showing the Woman as part of the oppressed group, Mother the oppressor and Daughter the privileged party who is so sheltered, she doesn’t evensee that there is oppression in the first place.
But that parallel falls apart in the end: it turns out that Daughter meeting the Woman was engineered by Mother, who wanted to make sure that Daughter realizes that outside – outside of Mother’s protection – isn’t great either. And so, after seeing how the Woman lives, Daughter returns to Mother to take care of the next generation of children – and thus to become a mother herself. And it’s here where I started to struggle with the film. I mean, if I’m being generous I’m reading this as a take on how women are pressured into becoming mothers, of barely having any other choice. But the way it plays out, it could be just as, if not more likely read as “women just need to take care of things” – just like the Woman tried to take care of Daughter, Daughter can’t help but take care of Brother. And that’s really not it.
There is also a plot twist where it turns out that Daughter isn’t actually the first child – there have been Daughters before her (in fact, clones of herself) that weren’t up to snuff. When they didn’t pass the many tests administered by Mother, Mother killed them. When Daughter finds out, she is horrified, despite being constantly trained in strictly utalitarian logic by Mother. I wonder why Mother kept this a secret from Daughter in the first place. I imagine, if you grow up from the very start believing that this approach is the most normal thing in the world (and who could tell Daughter different, when all she has is Mother?), you wouldn’t think twice about it. That’s just life. That Mother tried to hide it, doesn’t seem in tune with her programming. But at least, that concept asks some interesting questions.
While I may not agree with some of the conclusions the film draws, and while some things are a little much, overall, I found it to be a sleek SciFi thriller with an interesting, albeit not entirely innovative concept. I enjoyed watching it, even if I doubt that I will be thinking about the film for a long time to come.
Summarizing: it’s fine.