As a post-apocalyptic story, this film explores themes that dig into what it means to be human, and how humanity affects the world around us; all this against a backdrop that isn’t the exact world we live in, but something similar.
This movie moved me. Generally I’m don’t figure out a plot ahead of times, so so I’m usefully surprised with endings. It’s been one of those gifts that makes many types of films enjoyable to watch. This movie was no exception, I had no idea where it was going to end up.
I Am Mother begins with a brief text description of an event that has ended humanity, and you soon learn that it’s not safe for anyone to exist outside. I took this at face value, but realized later that, while technically correct, the spirit of what it intended was deceitful. This is a theme that continues throughout the movie.
Mother, a droid, raises a little girl from an embryo to adulthood, and trains her in the ideals of humanity. We later see that this girl, called Daughter, is what Mother considers to be an exceptional human, testing at the top of the charts in all of her scores. The intent for Daughter is to be an example for others to follow as the world is repopulated. Daughter is raised in a secure indoor vault, with all of the resources needed to sustain life. With her are 65,000 embryos kept in cold storage. This vault is the backdrop for most of the movie, and its tight spaces and stark mechanical walls and locks provide tension to the scenes.
The beginning scenes of raising Daughter hit close to home for me. I have two small children, and movies with sensitive themes centered around children affect me more deeply than they used to.
As daughter grows, the droid cares for her in a manner which could be interpreted as sentient and loving, or programmed and and indifferent. In the beginning of the movie I leaned towards caring, but the backdrop of the film, in the vault, didn’t make it feel like a home. If you’re unsure about watching, I highly recommend the film. The ending left me with questions, but I felt it was still satisfying.
In the beginning of the film Mother starts the process of taking the frozen embryo out of storage and placing it in a large glass sphere filled with liquid, representing an artificial womb. As she does this you see a countdown clock for 24 hours. This rapid process helps the embryo to reach full gestation in a day. As this happens text on the screen appears and indicates how much time has passed since the apocalypse event.
Some quick math helped me quickly realize that something was off. When we finally see Daughter fully grown, she’s a young woman, but not anywhere close to the age needed for the 13,000+ days that have passed. I did a check on the actor’s age to make sure I was right, and realized over 35 years had passed since the apocalypse. This woman we seen grown up is much younger. This intention clue set up tension in the movie as I tried to figure out the 10+ missing years might have gone.
Daughter wasn’t the first child to be raised. Mother had two children before this, but aborted both in a furnace because their early scores weren’t satisfactory. This is not shown, but Daughter finds evidence much later of what happened.
As the film progresses, another woman appears at the entrance of the vault, and has a story of being wounded from other droids. Daughter lets her in secretly, and helps her recover from a gunshot wound when the secret is discovered. As the film progresses the viewer tries to figure out what part of this stranger’s story is true, and where Mother fits into the whole picture. Slowly we realize that bother Mother and this stranger use truth and deception to their own advantage.
At the end of the movie Daughter convinces Mother to let her raise her newly born brother, and allows herself to be killed. Because the Droid has a mind that exists in other machines, she uses another body to kill the stranger. The last few minutes left me thinking about its themes and how the movie would continue past the end credits. Daughter is alive and allowed to raise her siblings.
I wonder why Mother killed the stranger, and why she was allowed to live all this time. I also wonder about Daughter’s motivations, as the ending implies she will take the place of Mother in raising humanity, and may follow the ethical path set out for her from birth. However, as a human she still retains her humanity, so what type of world will she create? Will she be kind and caring to all, or will she also follow the themes impressed on her from childhood that some humans are better than others.
The videography throughout is stunning. Many scenes could be a still photo. Dialogue is efficient when used, and imagery conveys the story as much as talking. In one scene a woman holds an axe and walks through steel doors, reminiscent of the 1984 Apple ad. In another two people walk through deserted landscapes, reminding me of scenes from Interstellar, traveling through another world. As we contrast scenes inside and outside the vault, we see how life and machines have existed, and how one side won long ago. Humanity is supported by the machines it has created, but these machines decided to only elevate the parts of humanity they deem acceptable.
I absolutely recommend this movie. The story is well done, and all three actors (including the voice for Mother) deliver exceptional performances.