Looking Back At I AM MOTHER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At I AM MOTHER

Alexander Wallace opens the bunker.
We have been afraid for decades that machines will replace vital aspects of the human condition; one of those things that is perhaps the most terrifying to contemplate being replaced by a robot is a parent. We take it as axiomatic that a small human being needs the constant companionship of larger human beings, preferably but not always the child’s biological forebears, to survive and thrive.

Not so in Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother. This film gets around our natural hesitance in letting computers raise our children (Lord knows that I had enough of that sort of hand-wringing, growing up in the 2000s) by setting the story after an apocalypse wipes out all of humanity, with the exception of embryos in vials. On a literal level, ‘Mother’ is the name of the robot that raises the first human born from these embryos. That child is only ever known as ‘Daughter.’
I Am Mother is a sparse film. The majority is set in an underground bunker made and run with the explicit intention of letting absolutely nothing get in or out. To intensify this feeling of isolation, the bunker is poorly lit and the rooms are large but disconcertingly empty as there are plans to bring up more of these test tube babies. As if that were not enough, for much of the film there are only two characters, Mother and Daughter, who intensify the effect by not actually having names. The end result is a feeling of not merely isolation, but loneliness. This is not just not being around people; this is being completely spiritually cut off from the human species on a disconcertingly deep level. In normal times, it would be compelling; watching the film during a pandemic, when we are ripped away from so many loved ones, it is positively haunting.

To our great pleasure, those two main characters are played perfectly. As Daughter, Clara Rugaard brings a certain precociousness befitting the first human on Earth in generations. She is kind and empathetic and endlessly curious, but also displays completely reasonable frustration at the institution of the bunker and of her status as a laboratory for her successors. She is foiled brilliantly by Mother, for whom two performers can take credit. Luke Hawker plays the robot physically, and in a practical costume - rare in this day and age! He does so bringing a real hulking presence with his acting, with enough vulnerability to give off the impression of a being that at least professes to care about the child in its custody. Rose Byrne provides the voice of Mother, providing both the pathos and the menace that this sort of abusive parent needs to be convincing.
This is a film about, in a certain sense, about parenthood and the power the parent has over the child. More specifically, it is about who gets to decide what is good for the child, fully aware that there is an inherent and stark imbalance between the two at any point before the child is self-sustaining. Particularly, this concerns information, and what Daughter has the right to know about what is planned for her. Compounding this with a science-fictional bent is a ruthless interrogation of one of Asimov’s laws of robotics; I will not reveal which, but it adds a certain pedigree to the project that uplifts it, at least in my science fiction reader eyes.

This is how you do a low-budget science fiction film. You focus on character and atmosphere and not on the special effects that Hollywood could do better anyway (but only sometimes does). It takes the best about the genre that we love and weaves it into a story that is both intensely technological and deeply human. I look forward to what the team behind I Am Mother does next, because this film makes it seem mighty promising.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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