Monday, January 28, 2019

Sundance with Abe: I Am Mother

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

I Am Mother
Directed by Grant Sputore

Growing up without any human interaction is something that most people can’t imagine. Jokes are often made about what aliens would think if they came across the remnants of our civilization, and what misconceptions they might have about certain practices and customs that can only be understood by experiencing them. Studying archive records of everything that has been accomplished in human history can only provide so much context, since interacting with others and seeing how situations elicit responses is integral to true education. Being introduced to someone else after years of living alone is certain to have transformative effects on a person and their worldview.

Following the extinction of humanity, a robot (Rose Byrne) begins the repopulation effort in an underground bunker. A saved embryo grows up to become her daughter (Clara Rugaard), referring to her creator as Mother. The two spend their days together as Daughter learns all about her people, always aware that she cannot go outside for fear of contamination. When she finds an animal and her curiosity gets the best of her, Daughter opens the door and lets in a wounded woman (Hilary Swank), who quickly prompts her to question everything she knows due to the mere fact that she is alive and her insistence that her robot mother cannot be trusted.

This film features just three characters, all female, interacting together on screen (with only Byrne’s voice). That intimate dynamic presents an incredible opportunity for truly getting to know them, as Mother’s monotone voice indicates perseverance and affection, while Daughter exhibits intelligence and loneliness. The Woman’s arrival changes all of that, since her sentences are short, coarse, and impolite, and, like the threat Mother always warned her daughter about, once she’s entered, their sensitive and peaceful ecosystem has become irreversibly infected.

This film is the latest in a series of subtler science fiction that deals with the implications of technology, reminiscent most of “Ex Machina.” All three performers are terrific, with Byrne turning in a particularly effective effort as the voice of Mother. Swank doesn’t usually play this type of part but does so well, and twenty-one-year-old Rugaard demonstrates extraordinary potential in a very focused and sympathetic breakout. The plot may not cover an entirely new concept, but it does show that it’s well worth exploring the idea of what restarting with the human race looks like and the dangers that come along with it.


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