Good but not great. **SPOILERS**
There’s a very old sci-fi trope of the twisty story on who’s the bad guy. The Simpson’s had a super take on this with their Treehouse of Horrors bit on “How to Cook Humans”, taking it to the nth degree, which itself was a riff on the a Twilight Zone episode.
The beats are simple. An innocuous setup, a set of new data that changes your perspective, another twist, and then so on… until it’s over. You get this emotional swap of who is actually the bad person in the story, and as the elements are gradually uncovered you come to your own conclusions. Usually the final step of the story is some sort of ethical commentary. When these stories are well done, the characters move the plot forward.
I Am Mother hits all these notes and takes an insanely frustrating turn at the mid point because it’s the plot that moves the characters forward. There’s a much-too-thick amount of foreshadowing, where nearly every scene from 25% to 75% feels like it was written over a box of donuts, and filmed for a class in high school on exposition.
The concept that a sheltered (but not smothered) individual would swatch allegiances with the drop of a hat makes little sense. The backstory for the stranger makes little sense. The idea that no one thought that a robot would record audio is baffling. When they do decide to run away and fall into a massive cornfield, never pausing to wonder why this exists on a desolate planet…Why is there a dog a few hours away from this robot farming operation?
When it reaches the summit of tension, the explanation provided seems insanely obtuse. Like one of those elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, but spread over what appears to be centuries. Things have to happen perfectly as planned, or the thing just falls to pieces. And that the Mother robot somehow thinks that now is the time for the child to lead the next advent of humanity… after what appears to be 2 days of pure chaos. What?
This is one of those sci-fi short stories where it’s better to have many more questions than answers. Cut an hour from the film, put some scars or soot or something on Hillary Swank so that she doesn’t look like a CLONE of the protagonist, and there’s a solid idea here.
All of those details are things a lot of people will look over, but the purpose of sci-fi is to explore an idea. And the idea here is that meritocracy is a valid form of government. Many utopias are built on this concept (Star Trek TNG took this argument to the extreme).
The main problem with a meritocracy is that the people within the system must absolutely believe in it, and anyone who doesn’t has to be removed. In this story, Mother did just that by killing anyone who wasn’t in that mindset. When Mother leaves, the Daughter apparently has to maintain that mindset as it’s pretty friggin’ clear that if she doesn’t, Mother will just wipe everyone out again. This infers that the Daughter will need to either teach, convert, or kill every new human. Alone. Where a perfectly programmed robot could not achieve that over many, many years of effort.
Which I suppose could mean this is a never ending cycle. Which ARQ did excellently.
Decent film to watch if you don’t get invested in the concepts. Otherwise, the film simply reaches too far without the ability to deliver.