Netflix’s I Am Mother is a nifty sci-fi flick, even if it does borrow from about 150 other, better sci-fi movies (most recognizably 2001: A Space Odyssey. Almost entirely filmed inside of a post-apocalyptic, souped-up, technologically advanced bomb shelter, I Am Mother is set in the future where human civilization has been wiped away.
Inside the shelter, however, there is a Robot, the Mother in the title, who possesses around 60,000 human embryos. With one of those embryos, she creates Daughter (Clara Rugaard), a baby who eventually grows into an 18-year-old teenage girl under the care of the Robot Mother. The robot, voiced by Rose Byrne, is a very caring mother, putting Daughter on a schedule, providing her with school lessons, feeding her regularly, nurturing and caring for her, and generally giving her the best life one might imagine from inside a bomb shelter. It’s a surprisingly tender mother-daughter relationship, despite the fact that Mom is made of metal.
Naturally, on her 18th birthday, Daughter gets restless after a rat manages to get inside the shelter. She wants to go out and see what the world looks like, but Mother refuses to let her, fearing that Daughter will be contaminated by whatever it is that destroyed human civilization. Not even Robot Mother, however, can control a restless teenaged Daughter. One day she opens one of two doors that lead to the outside and hears Woman (Hilary Swank) on the other side of the wall begging for help. Daughter lets her in.
Woman and Mother are very wary and distrustful of one another, which puts Daughter in the middle of a physical and emotional battle between Woman, the first human that Daughter has ever seen, and Robot, with whom Daughter has a lot of affection and 18 years of history. I don’t want to say anymore here, because while I Am Mother is derivative as hell, I’m not going to say which sci-fi movies it derives from. I will say, however, that neither the Mother nor the Woman are what they seem and director Grant Sputore successfully uses our curiosity about their respective agendas to lure us deeper into the film.
It’s not a wildly imaginative film, but like a lot of Netflix fare, it’s a serviceable, well-acted, entertaining and at times intriguing film. It’s even more interesting as a thematic exercise about mothers and daughters, about who you trust — the robot that raised you or the human that you just met — and most of all about protecting our children from a harsh world outside their doors, in this case a dystopian wasteland. At a certain point, a parent — even a robot one — has to stand down and let their kid go and hope that all the parenting work they’ve done prepares them for dangers that come, even if the biggest danger is Mom herself.
Header Image Source: Netflix