Review: On Mother/Android (2021)

Stephen Lee Naish

May 31, 2022

Robot revolutions, android uprisings, and the betrayal of artificial intelligent technology against humankind have been a staple of science-fiction literature and film ever since the concept of robotics was first mooted. Frankenstein’s Monster, the Maschinenmensch from Metropolis (1927), the positronic robots that populate Isacc Asimov’s novels, the all-seeing and hearing HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the ever-striving Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the cold and calculating killer cyborgs of the Terminator franchise, and the domineering AI network seen in The Matrix. In these narratives, the artificial intelligences we build for our own convenience soon outpace us, placing us into a kind of bondage, outsmarting us and becoming physically stronger, or seeing us as a threat to their existence, completely eradicating us off the face of the Earth.

Mother/Android (2021) is the feature directorial debut film of screenwriter Mattson Tomlin and follows a similar trajectory to the narratives listed above. The film concerns Georgia, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, and Sam, played by Algee Smith, a college-age couple who discover they are unexpectedly pregnant on the same night that a race of human-like androids enacts a violent, and, one must assume, nationwide insurrection against their human masters. Months later, Sam and a now heavily pregnant Georgia traverse the forests and foothills of the upper United States in hope of finding sanctuary within the pockets of human resistance that exist in cities such as Boston, which, if rumor has it, has become a fortified stronghold against the AI uprising. There are also whispers that other countries worldwide are taking refugees who can make it to Boston Harbor where cargo ships will meet them. Sam and Georgia hatch a plan to cross the deadly ‘no man’s land’ that surrounds the city and start a new life with their baby in Korea.

The film is sparse in its locations and its casting. The action predominantly takes place in lush green forests and rundown abandoned buildings. Sam and Georgia are the only characters we are required to care about. Along the way, they meet a regiment of young troops held up in a compound and a kindly doctor who offers Georgia some care and advice. Strangely, during their travels, they never bump into any other civilians making a similar journey to the one they are on. Presumably, the population has been decimated to a few million stragglers and survivors. We learn that New York City fell relatively early on in the conflict. We can assume the other major cities followed suit.

The climate of the film can’t yet be described as post-apocalyptic. Sure enough, AI technology has turned against humanity, to the point where even cell phones are now weapons of mass destruction, and the internet and other forms of electronic communication are gone or have been apprehended by the androids. The military units that Sam and Georgia stumble across in their travels are still engaged in an active war against the androids but appear to be outflanked in actual combat. Thankfully, the androids are also mostly absent from the natural environment, meaning people can move freely if they stick to the woods and avoid the roads, towns, and cities. There are also hints dotted throughout the film that the grim situation has only affected North American society. That other countries have either brought the AI insurrection under control or, and this seems more likely, it simply never happened to them yet. The emphasis here is on the word “yet”, as it appears the androids' desire is to spread out globally.

The film sits better in the post-catastrophe setting as opposed to a disaster or post-apocalyptic environment. A tragic and spontaneous event has recently happened, and many millions have died and have been affected by the upheaval, but a world to win is still ongoing and a version of normality may be achieved. After all, the natural world is still thriving even under android control. The Earth’s atmosphere is still intact, and an extinction-level event hasn’t wiped away the cities and infrastructures. Within the Boston city compound that Sam and Georgia aim towards, life seems relatively calm and normal. Until that is the androids penetrate the boundary and begin their assault.

Like everything at the moment, it is hard not to observe Mother/Android through the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic and its troubling effects on our own society. This seems to be of interest to director Tomlin as his screenplay for Little Fish (2021) deals with a pandemic of memory loss through the prism of a young couple. The most obvious aspect of the pandemic’s influence is the small-scale production revolving around just two central characters and an assortment of supporting roles that come and go. The action takes place predominantly outside. These intimate productions are a result of scaling back the cast and crews and, in some respects, it creates a more focused film.