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I Am Mother

Released 2019. Director: Grant Sputore

MOTHER-DAUGHTER PAIRINGS ARE A STAPLE AT THE MOVIES. Countless times we’ve seen it in comedies and dramas, not so much in sci-fi, and the latest one takes place in a post-apocalyptic environment where, according to what we’re told at the start, there is only one human left, the daughter.

The mother, for sure, is not human. ‘She’ is a robot in charge of this cavernous, end-of-world facility, the sole control over all that remains. On the day after an extinction event, we see Mother make her selection from a bank of human embryos, insert it into an artificial womb and when the baby is born, Mother nurtures and raises the baby girl.

Before you say, hold on a minute, how could a robot replace a human mother, you should see how director Grant Sputore make the mechanical metal mummy a new face in childcare. In appearance, Mother is a love child between HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and an exoskeleton cousin of The Terminator. Yet when Mother gently cradles the baby in the crook of her arms, looking down at the gurgling infant and speaking in the voice of Rose Byrne, you could almost imagine a human face.

Mother is evidently very capable at what she does. Daughter, who is never given a name, is now a teenager and from what we see, a smart, curious, empathetic young woman. All things considered, Daughter appears remarkably well adjusted for one who has never had any encounter with another human being all her life, and has never stepped outside the facility. For education, Daughter is home-schooled by Mother under a strict regime of exams. Her curriculum leans heavily on personality quizzes and solving moral conundrums than knowledge based, which we will learn later has an enormous bearing on their future.

Then one day, daughter lets in Woman, an injured stranger with a weapon and extreme hostility towards Mother. Woman describes a world outside contrary to Mother’s version. Who is she, and is anything she says truthful?

The script by Michael Lloyd Green takes its time to reveal details, making unpredictable little turns. There are no big dramatic twists, but small changes of direction that incrementally turn the plot. Meanwhile, the three characters work through their own suspicions and allegiance, raising interesting questions for the audience along the way.

For a child raised all her life by a mechanical robot, Daughter is surprisingly un-robot, for lack of a better description. Daughter has not taken after Mother in any way, even subconsciously, when there is no other human around for the child to interact with and mimic their behaviour. The shift in trust is alarmingly fast for the amount of credence Daughter gives to a stranger she’s only met literally minutes ago. Why does Daughter instinctively trust what Woman says but doubts all that Mother ever told her? Even before Daughter discovers a secret about children Mother had raised before her. Can humans and artificial intelligence co-exist without killing each other?

As it dawns on Daughter, Mother and her kind have long taken over the world, controlling the fate of humanity to create its own vision of utopia. Along the way, humans who do not measure up become history.

Is this a radical way of looking at mother-daughter relationships at its most extreme? It’s Ma’s way or no way. Is Daughter right in defying Mother? Would the movie be less effective if the robot had been a Father instead? Is it to do with common perception that a female is more credible in a nurturing role?

Be that as it may, in a genre dominated by testosterone, it is refreshing to see the convention subverted with only female on screen. Clara Rugaard and Hilary Swank give performances intense enough to make you do anything they ask, should you find yourself in a similar robocalypse

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