The wish for a movie to be a different movie: I Am Mother


Ach ja, good criticism is hard. And before I go into the nature of criticism and where “constructive” criticism fails, let me just ask you this: Have you ever wanted a movie to just be a different movie?

Just think about it. If one were to fix or solve a movies problems (from whoever’s perspective), would it still be the same movie, beyond the obvious fact, that it has changed from its original, but more in the same vein as how we differentiate movies from each other? If your criticism of a movie would be applied and a second version of the movie were to be released, what kind of criticism would be a able to create another, different, movie? I love me some good pseudo-rhetorical questions.

I’d like, for the sake of argument, to differentiate between two types of “criticism”: The first one concerning everything that is a part or connected to the film and the second one encapsulating everything that the movie is not.

The first one might be what is often described as constructive criticism: From pointing out errors and inconsistencies, elements or scenes being not effective in portraying the supposedly intended story beats, thematic breakdowns, political messages, etc. Everything, that affects the existing text falls under this umbrella.

The second one strikes deeper. It is criticism about the entire premise, the structure, the ending. It is about rejecting what is there, or at least not liking it, to not sound so dramatic. It concerns everything the text is not, where proposed criticism would change what the text is or should be instead.

*Spoilers for I Am Mother ahead*

To be a bit more concrete, let’s talk about I Am Mother. The movie is about an android being tasked with the repopulation of humanity, after an unknown event eradicated all humans and made earth seemingly uninhabitable. The first act is dedicated to Mother raising Daughter into adulthood, giving her love, teaching her to do origami, all the good stuff. The plot kicks into gear with the arrival of another woman, telling Daughter to not trust Mother and the unraveling of new facts. In the end, it is revealed that Mother has killed all humans to create a new and better mankind, but is killed in the end by Daughter herself, who takes over as the role of the mother for the yet unborn embryos in the bunker… just like Mother planned.

A good chunk of my criticism is the “constructive” criticism kind. I like how the movie gives hints as to Daughter not being the first child, but it obfuscates these hints to the detriment of its medium. You can’t just put “13.867 days later” on the screen and assume I will have a comprehensible idea for how long this is, when there are new information a few seconds later. It feels like a dick move when you see Daughter being around 18 years old and you are supposed to be like yeah, checks out, I guess, but it also being a massive hint as to Daughter not being the same girl, as the child in the beginning, as 13.867 days are around 38 years. Same can be said about the small displays showing different ID’s and so forth.

I hate how Woman tries to convince Daughter that Mother is evil, but tries to be about it as suspicious as possible, not even telling Daughter about how the outside world looks like, or anything to give her credibility. Also, for the love of every human being, do not give the artificial intelligence the ability to think that killing everyone is a good, viable solution, at least not for such a stupid reason. Hardcode not killing humanity, movies!

Then there is the whole thematic suicide about the ending taking away Daughters choice of choosing what kind of mother to be and how see wants to live her life. Woman is not portrayed as an alternative to mother, despite being literally the symbol of Mother Mary, so there is only Mother to go by. The movie also introduces both the concepts of utilitarianism and living for oneself, but does it essentially not comment on it, since Daughter was manipulated by Mother to choose utilitarianism. If it says anything, it is about emotional abuse and manipulation, but since Mother is a robot, this kind of falls flat, since we do not know how much we can judge Mother by human standards.

All this could be “fixed” and while I would probably enjoy the movie more, at least its ending, I doubt this would change my opinion that much, considering I Am Mother was not the movie I wanted to see. This is where the second kind of criticism comes into play.

I don’t like to use the “It had potential”-rhetoric, as I don’t think a strong premise is any indicator for how much one will like a story, but the same sentiment can apply here. I wouldn’t even touch a good amount of the movie, just change its directions to make it the movie I want. I think I Am Mother should be more about the actual mothering process. It should have asked questions like “Can a robot even be a mother?”, introducing Woman as a foil to Mother and not as something that could shake Daughters worldview. Hell, let Mother and Woman both raise the children in the end, to embrace different styles of being a mother and score some honest LGBT points while at it. Also give Daughter an actual choice of wether she wants to take over as the mother, or live her own life. This movie could have been genuinely feminist in its themes. I don’t even know if I were to enjoy my version of the movie but at the end, we got what we got.

The problem with this kind of criticism, this perceiving a flaw and making it about what the movie is not, is seldom helpful, obviously, as we are talking about different movies. It is perfectly fine to want a different movie, but it doesn’t exist, so criticizing the movie that does exist in this way does nothing for anyone. I do however have a feeling, that a good amount of criticism comes down to it. Maybe not as explicit as literally wanting to change the story, but criticizing what isn’t there or should be there instead. It is also never as clear cut as I described. I mean, my criticism about the lack of thematic clarity in I Am Mother could be seen as both a failure to do something with the elements the story does posses, but also as the want and need for a different movie that does answer my self-imposed questions.

I Am Mother is not by far the only movie like that. Just recently, I watched Passengers and thought how much more interesting it could have been, were it from the perspective of the woman. I just can’t bring myself to criticize a movie for being the movie it wants to be, instead of the movie I want it to be. It is absolutely valid to not like the movie, I mean you like what you like and dislike what you dislike, but the act of criticizing loses its meaning, when we describe everything we don’t like as an inherent flaw in a movie and not just our perception. In the same way, we can absolutely love something flawed, because it just is the movie you want to see.

Girls und Panzer may not be perfect, but at the same time, it is absolutely perfect and everything I want in my life. On the other hand, I Am Mother might be a good movie, but it is not the movie I want it to be.

Good criticism is hard.

I Am Mother is available on Netflix.

local_offer I Am Mother
folder Film & Series
calendar_today 2021