I Am Mother review Clara Rugaard

Year: 2019
Director(s): Grant Sputore
Writer(s): Michael Lloyd Green, Grant Sputore
Region of Origin: Australia
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 115 mins

Like Moon or Ex Machina before it, Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother is a small, sci-fi microcosm that explores the big ideas behind our existence. Sputore’s debut is breathtaking to look at and a dense maze of existential conundrums. It’s also a film that’s able to balance quiet, ponderous rumination with thrilling, twists and turns. In essence, it’s the type of smaller film I wished was still playing in theaters and not quietly overlooked on Netflix. With its incredible performances, nuanced direction and optimism, Sputore’s film is one that can’t or shouldn’t be missed. Whereas big-budget sci-fi continues to loose sight of what makes the genre so great, Sputore’s debut hones in on the genre’s best with razor sharp accuracy. 

After an extinction level event, a robot only known as Mother (Rose Byrne) begins its mission. Tucked within a secure, state-of-the-art base, it births a single frozen embryo. The plan is to one day have enough humans to repopulate an uninhabitable world. The first human, known only as Daughter (Clara Rugaard) is cared for by Mother. From lullabies as an infant to social, vocational and scientific educations as a grown, young adult, Daughter is raised alone with Mother. Time and time again, she’s told that the outside world is uninhabitable, and that true safety lies within with Mother. Though she cares and loves Mother like a biological parent, the smart, curious Daughter wonders about a world she’s only learned about but never seen. When a wounded outsider shows up at her door, everything Daughter has learned is challenged and put to the test. 

The trick to Sputore’s film is how he takes a very simple concept and continually evolves it into something bigger than we could’ve ever imagined. At the core is a truly frightening idea – what if everything we’ve ever known was a lie? From here the film builds itself upon a series of escalating moral and philosophical contrasts. Nature vs nurture is viewed alongside human frailty, artificial perfection, self-sacrifice and self-preservation. Like the best sci-fi, there are no easy answers here, but something that explores both the strengths and weaknesses of human imperfection. As Sputore masterfully peels back layers of his dense mystery, the story’s perspective is built upon a foundation of 3 diverse forms of femininity. The film doesn’t call attention to this, but it’s unavoidable and amazing to see. 

I Am Mother review

With the film’s focus, the cast’s nuance takes center stage. As the film’s heart and soul, Clara Rugaard provides a deep dive into the story’s ideas and opposing truths. Rugaard is not only a great audience surrogate on surface, but someone who embodies the story’s wonder and grace without sugarcoating how bleak everything is. By design, Daughter’s strength goes beyond the physical. She’s someone whose greatest strengths are compassion and an unshakable hope. Hilary Swank is incredible as the unnamed interloper, an element of chaos who keeps us guessing and is infinitely complex. Giving Mother a voice, Rose Byrne’s soft, but charismatic vocal performance inhabits a duality that gives everything depth. Luke Hawker gives Mother an incredible physicality, performing beneath a suit with uncanny precision. There isn’t a single weak link here and the film thrives because of it. 

I Am Mother is a knockout. With its complex morality play and accessible nuance, it’s one of the smartest sci-fi thrillers we’ll see all year, and great subversion of cinematic A.I. Without spoiling too much, Sputore and co. have given their robot a more unique motivation. It has a fascinating outlook on mankind, blurring the lines between human and machine. Using confined spaces to seek out a bigger picture, the film is a sobering look at our relationship with technology, and the perpetual battle between logic and emotion.