Movie Review : I am Mother (2019)
* this review contains spoilers *
In 2019, science fiction movies have become the preferred pop culture vessel to discuss philosophical questions. They’re what post-apocalypse movies were six years ago. Films like Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina and Annihilation made intelligent sci-fi sexy, giving birth to an aesthetic of what’s considered to be deep: few characters, interaction with robots or foreign species, a desire to be understood parallels the protagonist’s existential loneliness. If your movie has that, critics are going to call it “thought provoking.” In that sense, I am Mother is kind of deep.
It just… you know, it has weird ideas.
I am Mother tells the story of a lonely robot (Rose Byrne), who’s programmed to create a better world after an extinction event took place. She’s the titular mother of this new world. She’s in charge of countless human embryos, but inexplicably raises only one daughter (Clara Rugaard) with whom she has a complicated relationship. The human girl is growing curious of her origins and what lies outside the weird lab they live in. Before long, it’s the outside that comes barging in and the precarious relationship between Mother and her daughter is completely destroyed.
This is not a movie about “what it means to be human” or whatever traditional profound science fiction is about. It’s a movie about motherhood. The timing of I am Mother’s release is interesting, because we’re in the middle of a cultural revolution where we’re rethinking traditional gender roles and, among others, the necessity for women to bear children. But the movie’s statement here is the following one: motherhood is necessary for the survival on mankind. Women need to bear children and raise them properly, because bad, overbearing mothers are autocrats.
No, it’s not just you. This is a little fucked up.
Mother is a robot programmed to nurture human beings into achieving their full potential. She’s also programmed to destroy those who stray from the path she establishes. She’s the bad, overbearing mother who becomes toxic if she doesn’t get her way. But Daughter ‘s (let’s call her that) own nurturing instincts kick in when Mother offers her to pick a little brother among the embryos. Although she’s granted freedom and emancipation by a stranger (Hilary Swank), she comes back home to take care of the kid she left alone with Mother by running away.
Some of you will say I’m reading too much into I am Mother. That Mother is a fucking robot and there’s no way she’s the embodiment of maternal instincts. Well, it’s not just Mother. This movie is crawling with not-so-subtle symbolism: the laboratory acting as a protective womb and a “home” Daughter can’t escape because it’s-too-dangerous-outside, the color red following signs of danger, the color white symbolizing the mysteries of emancipation, etc. What I am Mother is trying to say is kind of clear. It just has a brutally simplistic outlook on its own theme.
Good mothers equals survival of the species. Bad mothers equals chaos and violence. It’s not that simple. It never is.
I am Mother was co-written and directed by Grant Sputore. The screenplay was penned by a guy named Michael Lloyd Green. Two men writing a movie about motherhood that features zero male characters is commendable on paper, but it’s a bit of a thematic mess. It’s undoubtedly stylish. The symbolism is clever and never hard to follow. But motherhood was somewhat of a difficult theme for two guys to tackle on their own and I am Mother eventually overreaches into making uncomfortable statements about motherhood that is has no business making.
I am Mother is not really subversive or “thought provoking”. It presents itself really well. It makes your mind work a little. But it ends up delivering the same message than a post-war PSA.