I Am Mother is the latest Netflix Original film, and while it touches on a constant re-treaded idea of AI and human interaction, it does it in a unique way. The idea in question is one that has bothered humans since the creation of artificial intelligence, and the twist brought from I Am Mother, is still somewhat refreshing, even if slightly overused.
I Am Mother starts off pretty slow, and the pace doesn't change much for the next hour or so, which does well to explain the situation that you see on screen. It also does well to get you, the viewer and empathetic human being, to bond with our lead characters, Mother and Daughter - yes, those are actually the character's names.
The bond you form with these two, watching Mother - an AI controlled drone - raise a child born from embryonic cryogenesis - Daughter - becomes pretty strong. Mother is, by all accounts, affectionate, kind, sweet, and empathetic. She tends to her daughter's needs, feeds her, educates her, and keeps her safe. The voice acting for Mother - performed by Rose Byrne - was great, as Rose was able to turn the AI-controlled character into a decent anthropomorphisation of a mom. Mother was a robot in flesh - er, parts? - but her character was well developed to the caring and nurturing aspects one would associate with a matriarchal figure.
We see glimpses of a young Daughter, growing up in a secluded bunker, isolated from humanity, with no one but Mother as company. Daughter grows up happy, and we see her as an adolescent. Daughter doesn't appear to long for human contact, as she has never actually come into contact with another living being, but yearns to have a family, as Mother has promised her she would have, when she was ready. Quickly, you realise that Daughter is the heart and dignity that humanity once was, and she serves to stand for purity and hope.
All of this character building was great to see, but this is my first issue with I Am Mother - it was too long. It went from being a character building, and somewhat lore building, experience, to a narrative on them to living their daily lives. I Am Mother could have cut this segment in half, as 30 minutes would have been the perfect set-up for their relationship, without turning into a video diary journal.
The pacing for the film felt jarring after this, because it quickly ramps up, leaving the slower, narrative journey that just past, and makes it feel sluggish. If the pacing had increased gradually, it wouldn't have made the first hour of the film feel so lengthy. Regardless, things now start to escalate on screen, and the bond between Mother and Daughter is tested. The narrative evolved here, where Daughter starts to become a more independent person, where she starts to think and make her own decisions. The narrative seperation, and focus on Daughter, shifts the focal point of the film from Mother to Daughter, which was a great evolution and I thoroughly enjoyed that.
It is at this point that the cinematography starts to shine. The direction also played a part in this, as we start to see fewer day-to-day movements of Mother, and we focus on Daughter - played by Clara Ruggard-Larsen - and the actions she undertakes. Elements of mystery are introduced at this point as well, where the plot starts to get thoroughly intriguing. Yes, the take on AI is overused, but each time you expect the inevitable "Terminator" SkyNet moments, they just don't come, keeping the story interesting for those familiar with how bad AI is supposed to get for humans.
The film takes us into Act III and we see Daughter go through a few emotional and loyalty shifts, but she remains relatable throughout the film. Clara was able to keep Daughter from becoming bratty and irritating, while ensuring that she wouldn't automatically turn into this super-mega-emotionally stable individual, able to tackle absolutely anything. Daughter acts reasonably, probably the same as anyone else would if they experienced what Daughter does. Emotional betrayal is often not met with calm and cool, but lashing out would have made her look petulant - Clara's performance was balanced and natural.
The final moments of the film start to wrap things up quite nicely, but there was some final issues I had in retrospect. First, the irritating side character - played by Hillary Swank - became an unnecessary element in the film, and while she started out as being, again, reasonable and relatable, she starts to become irritating and a hinderance on the narrative, due to her character's incessant need on being an a**hole. Distrustful is good, but when you push that too far, it starts to become petulant - I really like that word. So descriptive. Moving on, I must commend on Swank's performance, however, because she was able to convey her character brilliantly - evident by the annoyance you feel by her.
Also, as I spoke about earlier, the first hour did something to build world lore, but was never really satisfied, and ended up leaving me with more questions than answers. In a self-contained narrative such as this, the world and how it came to be is not really important, so there is no need to even discuss it, no matter how briefly - unless you plan to expand further. It's not really a massive movie killer, but it's still a gnawing thought in your head.
Overall, I Am Mother is a great, self-contained narrative, and some plot holes aside - no spoilers - it does well to tell the story of Daughter, and explore the bond between AI and human. The theme, being a mother, transitions from Mother as the focal point to Daughter, and does so in a way that feels natural and fluid. The pacing could've been better, and the side character - simply a catalyst - could've been reduced but the cinematography and character development made up for that. I Am Mother touches on the age-old idea of AI and humans, but does so in a refreshing twist that will leave you thinking "hmm, okay, interesting take", and for that, I must commend it.
I Am Mother is out now on Netflix.
Loves games with deep character development and a rich storyline. Also, shooty-shooties. Loathes microtransactions. Likes to use sarcasm and metaphors.
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7 June 2019
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