Original Content podcast: Director Grant Sputore explains how ‘I Am Mother’ draws from real-world robots

When I first watched the new Netflix Original film “I Am Mother,” I assumed that the robotic Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) was a CG creation. How else could you create a robot that looked so inhuman, and that that could also run around the film’s post-apocalyptic environments so gracefully?

But in a bonus interview for the Original Content podcast, director Grant Sputore estimated that 99 percent of the shots of Mother are completely practical, consisting of nothing more than a person wearing “a fancy bit of costume.”

“It’s both a budgetary thing, because we knew how we were planning to make the film — but also, we’re children of ‘80s and ‘90s cinema,” Sputore said. “So we worship at the altar of ‘Robocop’ and ‘Predator’ and the first ‘Terminator’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ and all of Stan Winston’s work, which is most of those movies … It’s for our own satisfaction, as much as anything.”

The film focuses on the relationship between Mother and her adopted human daughter (Clara Rugaard), who has been completely isolated from the outside world — until the arrival of a mysterious stranger played by Hilary Swank prompts Daughter to question everything she’s been told.

When I asked how Sputore wanted to distinguish “I Am Mother” from all the previous movies about robots, he said there are fewer than you think:

All the films that you think are about robots are largely about androids. So like ‘Blade Runner,’ for instance, is a seminal contribution to the sci-fi genre and many people would say that it’s about robots, but really it’s about androids. Which sounds like semantics, but it’s significant [from] two different points of view, One: Android movies tend to focus on the question of, do androids have feelings? ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Are they like us? Where do you draw the line between robots and humans? I feel like that question has been done … and our film is not about that at all.

Plus, of course, android movies are usually cheaper to make, because you can just use a human actor.

Sputore said he was less interested in the dividing line between humans and androids, and more in the relationship between humans and robots.

While he’s clearly spent a lot of time watching classic science fiction films, he said Mother was actually based on a real machine, namely the Atlas robot created by Boston Dynamics. And where an ’80s movie like “Terminator” might use killer robots as a way to address fears around the emergence of computers and automation, Sputore suggested that our relationship with robots has become a much more real, and much more pressing, issue.

“It’s a little more scary when people start losing their jobs to smart machines,” he said.

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