Movie review: Mother / Android | Culture & Leisure







Last August, humanity marked its 24th year of reprieve. According to the script for “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, Skynet – a revolutionary artificial intelligence system built by Cyberdyne Systems – becomes aware of itself on August 29, 1997. When its human architects attempt to deactivate the conscious artificial neural network . group spirit, he launches a nuclear attack triggering an apocalyptic scenario.

The day passed without incident, as days generally do in the broadest historical sense.

In the real world, the latest tech trends in 1997 included the debut of Netscape Communicator, Tamagotchi virtual pets, MP3s, WebTV, and DVD players. Of course, some might view Deep Blue’s victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 as a slightly frightening coincidence – but that’s overkill. And in September 1997, Honda introduced the P3, the most recent of its humanoid robot prototypes. P3 was the first fully independent two-pedal humanoid walking robot. Barely threatening, the only way a P3 could cause damage is to fall on someone from a great height.

As 2022 approaches, it looks like civilization is unlikely to be threatened by AI agents for the immediate future. Meanwhile, other disasters are much more urgent, with calamities of varying magnitudes unfolding across the world in real time, with a constant barrage of images shot on cell phones by citizen journalists. Although the images reach an audience, the existential threat remains distant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the disconnect leaves a significant segment of the population disengaged and disinterested. They ignore the real tragedies. They cannot be disturbed by valid and verifiable threats to public health and safety. Ironically, it is the same combination of neglect and selfishness that is likely to lead to the development and proliferation of domestic robots as well as conscious and militarized superintelligence.

In “Mother / Android,” director Mattson Tomlin offers a dark morality piece built around the premise of an android uprising. Its focus on drama rather than action is a refreshing change in a subgenre that has traditionally duplicated the themes of the Terminator franchise. “Mother / Android” was released on December 17th by Hulu.

The film is set in the not-so-distant future in which androids – indistinguishable from humans – have been mass produced as the newest and smartest home comforts. They’re marketed as servants, presumably doing all of those boring household chores that would otherwise be the burden of – well, probably some real domestic workers. It’s pretty obvious that these robots are only made for the wealthiest families. In the middle of this movie, no big box thrift store sells economy models as door-to-door deals on Black Friday.

The film opens in a clean, comfortable bathroom in a large, expensive house, in a gated community that is restricted to action. Some of these details might just be implied, but it’s pretty obvious that Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) comes from a wealthy family.

When the public meets Georgia, she is in the bathroom awaiting the results of her third pregnancy test to confirm positive results from the first two efforts. Her boyfriend Sam (Algee Smith) is sitting on the floor, doing his best to comfort her. Her efforts only seem to make Georgia worse, who gives the distinct impression from the start that she’s not happy with the pregnancy – and that her relationship with Sam may be tenuous at best.

Before they can discuss the matter further, Georgia’s parents arrive and the couple leave for a Christmas party at a friend’s house. There, a piercing noise interrupts the festivities, signaling the start of an AI uprising. Immediately, the household android of the house begins to kill guests.

Georgia and Sam manage to escape and go into hiding.

The story picks up again several months later, with Georgia and Sam making their way through uninhabited areas of New England in an attempt to reach Boston. They heard that they could embark on a ship to Asia as refugees, with the promise of starting a new life in an area un-besieged by rebel androids. To reach the city, however, they must face off against No Man’s Land, a stronghold of the Android uprising. Their goal is to reach Boston before Georgia gives birth, but time is running out.

“Mother / Android” asks viewers to fill in a lot of blanks and guess a lot. The characters hardly receive any meaningful background sketches. There is no reliable information about Georgia beyond the fact that her parents are wealthy and that she is probably well off. Sam is even more mysterious. He displays a level of maturity that makes his girlfriend look like a selfish child, which makes you wonder why the relationship has survived so long. When the two seek temporary refuge in a military outpost, he reluctantly agrees to fight a soldier twice his size – and apparently deals so much damage that the base commander banishes him and the heavily pregnant Georgia.

Interestingly, Tomlin cuts himself off from this bloody brawl before the first punch is thrown. Instead of shining the spotlight on violence, he emphasizes its repercussions. It’s an approach he repeats throughout the film.

A little more context would go a long way in making these two characters believable and interesting. It takes a long time to find a reason to sympathize with Georgia, even if its plight should evoke immediate compassion. Knowing where these refugees got all their survival skills would certainly make their story less unlikely.

For example: where exactly did Georgia learn to shoot down drones with a handgun while riding in the back of a motorcycle? It’s not a skill I’ve ever tried to master, but I suspect it might take more than a few days of practice.

There are also issues with the premises which involve the scale of the Android uprising, their use of torture, and the apparent inability of the world’s combined military forces to contain a limited number of fighters. Tomlin again expects the viewer to rationalize the story’s omissions and oversights.

Despite its flaws, “Mother / Android” has some surprisingly poignant scenes. Its denouement revolves around a heartbreaking soliloquy that speaks to the world in which we find ourselves in a relentless and continuing pandemic that has temporarily reshaped civilization. Tomlin uses his film to present parallels between a faltering fictional America beset by provocative androids and the very real vulnerabilities exposed by COVID-19 and other looming social issues in the United States and around the world. If nothing else, “Mother / Android” reminds us of the things we have already lost.

Lee Clark Zumpe is the entertainment editor at Tampa Bay Newspapers and author of short fiction films appearing in selected anthologies and magazines. Follow Lee on www.patreon.com/Haunter_of_the_Bijou.


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