Netflix just dropped its newest scifi release, I Am Mother, and it has been a pleasant surprise. Netflix can nail a good scifi story, but there wasn’t a huge amount on fanfare for the film and the concept felt somewhat tired: a robot posing as good but possibly evil. It’s something we’ve all seen before.
The film’s content is even more predictable than its trailer. It is discovered that the robot is essentially responsible for wiping out humanity for the ‘greater good’. The robot, ‘Mother’, wanted a chance for the world and humanity to start over. This is becoming an increasingly common theme, although it has never truly been rare in scifi. Think of Thanos wiping everyone out to save resources, for example. The problem is that after a while this reinforces the idea that people with environmental and ethical concerns about capitalism are villains. It’s sloppy and we need a more nuanced exploration of combating the very real issues we face in society as we hurtle toward a climate that will not be sustainable.
However, while the premise of the film is ultimately frustrating, I Am Mother is an entertaining film. It manages to avoid falling into the trap of wondering endlessly whether an AI can be human. There are questions about Mother’s sincerity, but it doesn’t become another debate about the nature of AI versus humanity. ‘Does this unit have a soul?’ isn’t the question or an answer sought. It is about how we live with people who do horrible things for the greater good, and whether the greater good is justification enough (hint: it isn’t).
The core family is engaging and moving. This is a family, even if it isn’t made up fully of humans and you can see the love that Mother and Daughter share for one another. Mother could almost be replaced with a human; the family is that believable. But how could a human commit such a crime? The answer is that we do it all the time. Perhaps we needed a robot because humanity’s grotesque actions are associated often with personal gain and concentrating power. The robot wasn’t a necessary device, but it was needed and helped stopped the film from becoming too dark.
It is not the richest narrative but it is enjoyable. There is suspense but it is not the live-or-die thriller that one might expect, precisely because it feels impossible to believe that Mother would ever hurt Daughter. Because of that, I Am Mother becomes compelling (if not stunning) viewing. Will it leave the audience asking questions and provoke wider debates? Maybe, but probably not. It is a story that might just stick with you though – and perhaps that is enough.