Sundance Film Review: ‘I Am Mother’ Births Questions For Sci-fi Movie Lovers

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Clara Rugaard appears in I Am Mother by Grant Sputore, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ian Routledge. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

2019 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: You would need the paper of a thousand trees to make a list of sci-fi movies where robots are responsible for the end of humanity. You could list the ones where robots are the reason for our survival on a single hand. On that small list you would find the Sundance film “I Am Mother.” This film has a single robot in charge of humanities future.

“Mother,” is the single machine left behind with 63,000 embryos and the duty to raise just one. The setting is an underground bunker and it’s extinction event day 1. The movie starts out with the rapid growth of a single baby – a girl who would only be known as “Daughter,” Clara Rugaard. We see “Mother” tending to a crying baby, feeding the baby, playing with the baby, and soothing the baby with a song so perfect that it shall remain a surprise for the audience. Soon the baby grows into a disciplined young woman practicing a ballet and being ever studious in class. “Mother” takes great care to teach “Daughter” critical thinking and more importantly, compassion. The two are alone and are the only things left on the planet. Daughter is to be forever sheltered from the toxic outside world and all interactions remain between the two of them. But, when a living human (Hilary Swank) shows up injured and frightened outside the walls of the bunker, well, it forces “Daughter” to question everything she has ever known.

Hilary Swank appears in I Am Mother. Photo by Ian Routledge.

“I Am Mother” draws on a formulaic story. However, there is some clever originality inside the film. First, the idea that a robot is in charge of teaching a human anything related to feelings is a refreshing change. Audiences will see an unexpected change of gender associated with the robot. We never did see the Terminator fed and care for an infant. The script dares to push the tried and true storyline a bit in a different direction. Not a lot, but it’s enough to make the story feel like it has a new life.

As for the characters, there is a lot there too. A young “Daughter” is placed in the middle of two mother figures and that is great fun to watch from the movie seats. Hilary Swank sits back and lets newcomer Clara Rugaard lead the movie. Swank would say at the film’s premiere “I had never done sci-fi before, I thought it would be fun.” Both she and Rugaard would be present for the packed crowd at the Eccles Theater in Park City. The two would spend a few minutes with the robot used as “Mother” in the movie posing for pictures and taking selfies.

Actor Hilary Swank and Clara Rugaard attend the World Premiere of I Am Mother. © 2019 Sundance Institute

And that brings us to the actual robot. Designed at Weta workshop – the same place is known for “The Lord of the Rings,” and “Avatar”, the suit is impressive. Made and worn by Luke Hawker its design is just to the left of what we have seen from typical robots. Hawker having to lose significant weight and effectively wear heels for shooting it was a job born out of necessity. Rose Byrne would come to be the voice for the robot that Hawker brought to life.

Luke Hawker attends the World Premiere of I Am Mother © 2019 Sundance Institute

Overall the movie forces some very intriguing questions and lively discussions. The first two acts are satisfying and engaging. The third act, not so much. There is a tone in the first hour and a half that is not matched by the ending. And while there are some great seeds that are planted for the audience, the revelations fall a little flat and could have been better explained. All of that aside, “I Am Mother” is a treat for the sci-fi fans and will without a doubt elicit some lively conversations after.

“I Am Mother” has been purchased by Netflix for distribution later in 2019

Grade: (★★½)

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