Netflix gives us an interesting look at one oft-overlooked method of surviving the apocalypse: Robo-mom.
The Apocalypse happened and everybody died, pretty much. A robot named Mother (Rose Byrne’s voice and Luke Hawker’s body) activates in a secure bunker and is set to start repopulating the surface, growing a human embryo into a baby girl. Years later, Mother is raising a young Daughter (Clara Rugaard), who she teaches complex moral and philosophical lessons with a number of different viewpoints. Daughter is the only child raised by Mother, because Mother wanted to practice before trying to raise everyone else. Daughter keeps wondering about the outside world, and eventually hears a Woman (Hilary Swank) crying for help outside of the bunker’s airlock. Daughter lets Woman inside, only for Woman to reveal that the world may not quite be as Mother described it.
So, this movie surprised me. It’s tough to make a film that works with only three characters and yet this one does. It does it mostly by having all of the characters take different roles throughout the film as their relationships change, saving us from needing more characters. Despite them being fairly archetypal characters, their interactions and the performances given manage to add an unexpected level of depth to the film. It’s honestly very impressive. Well, onward to the actual breakdown.
Here are the positives of the film:
First, the designer of the Mother robot suit needs to win some form of award. It’s genuinely an impressive practical effect, showing a great amount of detailed wear-and-tear as well as love and affection. The movements done by Luke Hawker alternate between very human and affectionate and extremely alien and threatening, which really add to Rose Byrne’s great vocal performance. She sounds so naturally non-threatening that it adds a level of disbelief and discomfort when the character is now supposed to be menacing.
Clara Rugaard, who often has to carry a scene on her own or against a robot, manages to be completely believable and yet charismatic enough to maintain our attention. Since there’s only one more person in the movie, I should say that Hilary Swank is great, but she’s Hilary Swank and she’s definitely not bringing her Oscar-level effort. I mean, it’s still a solid performance, better than most, but it’s not her A-Game.
The pacing of the film is great, because it unpacks the mystery of the world in a way that never feels rushed or slow. I do admit that the beats of the scenes are pretty standard, but they’re standard because they tend to work. The dialogue is solid, although it’s also pretty standard and sometimes a little expository. That said, a robot would likely have mostly expository ways of communicating, so… win? The third act is well done, managing to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner that adds to the rewatch.
Here are the negatives:
None of the scenes really grab you on a visceral level. It’s not that the movie isn’t good or engrossing, it is, but there’s still a level of distance between the audience and the characters that’s more than you want. I think a lot of it is the sound and the cinematography. They’re both very standard, nothing to pull you in through unfamiliarity or experimentation. This is pretty much the difference between a “good” movie and a “great” movie. The fact that it’s so damned close to great only makes this more frustrating.
Overall, I do recommend the film to anyone interested in the sci-fi genre. It’s definitely a good movie and deserves an audience.
ENDING EXPLAINED *SPOILER ALERT*
The “twist” at the end isn’t really a twist, though the movie does try to hide it by saying that 13,000+ days have passed instead of just saying 38 years. If they’d just said 38 years, then you’d immediately realize that Daughter isn’t the baby we see at the beginning. In fact, the baby we see at the beginning is almost certainly Woman, who Mother released to the survivors after first raising her, then likely raised another child who became the charred remains that Daughter finds. Since this discovery is also part of Mother’s final plan, much as everything in the movie is, it is entirely possible that the second child was intentionally only designed to be used as a guinea pig and then killed. The survivors who raised Woman were almost certainly intentionally spared from the destruction of mankind for that purpose, and have now presumably been killed. The biggest reveal is not that Mother caused the apocalypse, but that Mother did it for humanity’s own good, then teaches Daughter philosophies that both support and oppose that justification. Rather than just try to brainwash Daughter through only exposing her to one way of thinking, Mother shows her all of the various schools of thought, giving her a choice of what to follow. She then lets her experience the result of having a society based around selfishness and greed, i.e. the devastation of Earth to the point that humanity would apparently have gone extinct had Mother not done what she did. It’s a much more powerful way of convincing someone: To have them come to the conclusion by teaching them everything and letting them work it out themselves. Sadly, the world doesn’t tend to support this method so much as claim to support it then directly contradict it and convince us to directly contradict it.
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