Mother/Android isn’t your garden variety dystopian sci-fi film in which robots rise up against their human masters. It’s also a tender romantic drama in which its two main protagonists, played by Chloe Grace Moretz and Algee Smith, are a young couple dealing with a surprise pregnancy and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to survive.
Moretz is a former child star whose breakthrough performance was in 2010’s Kick-Ass where she played a pre-pubescent vigilante called Hit-Girl. She also had the starring role in the reimagined 2013 horror movie Carrie. Smith co-stars with Zendaya on the hit HBO series Euphoria which returns for a second season next month.
As Georgia and Sam, the duo play young college students home for the holidays who are grappling with an unplanned pregnancy. Their biggest concern is whether they should plunge headlong into parenthood until an electronics disruption event (referred to as “the blitz”) caused by angry androids throws most of the world into chaos. Barely escaping with their lives, the couple wind up in the Massachusetts countryside headed for Boston, where they’ve heard rumors that some families are escaping the android takeover via ship to the safety of South Korea. Georgia and Sam face the danger of killer androids and drones in the No Man’s Land of the woods and the city. They temporarily find shelter at a fortified camp protected by an unpredictable paramilitary group, but are kicked out just days before Georgia is set to give birth.
Back in the woods, the couple make a desperate decision to flee on a found motorbike, but the noise of the engine captures the attention of drones and killer androids. The pair get separated during a treacherous high-speed chase through the woods and Georgia is rescued by a man who offers to help her find her boyfriend, who’s been captured and is being tortured in a nearby prison run by the androids. Can Georgia trust the stranger and even if she is successful in rescuing Sam, can she and Sam make it safely to Boston Harbor by the time their child is born? For two people who weren’t quite sure they even wanted to be parents just months earlier, they are determined to survive to find a better life for their soon-to-be-born child.
Mother/Android was written and directed by Mattson Tomlin (Project Power, Little Fish), whose own parents gave him up for adoption in a desperate attempt to save him from the violence in their country during the 1989 Romanian Revolution. The film is a love-letter to them. The Hulu Original film premieres Friday Dec. 17 on that streaming service.
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Moretz and Smith spoke via Zoom about playing the young parents-to-be and their own wariness about the emergence of artificial intelligence (A.I.).
Angela Dawson: Were you surprised at the plot’s twists and turns as you initially read the script?
Chloe Grace Moretz: Yeah, I think it’s the way that Mattson (Tomlin, the writer-director) threaded the needle. It was surprising even if you had an inkling of what was going to happen. The way it happens and the dialogue that follows within that is completely different from how I would have imagined the story to go. He has a way of touching on things that you inherently understand but then he completely flips the script and puts you into a position that you didn’t expect. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that he does.
Algee Smith: I’d piggyback on that and say I was very surprised when I read it, only because I didn’t expect it to go where it was going. That’s what kept me so engaged and, ultimately, what made me want to sign on. The surprises were so well woven in. It was a shock but it also was great at the same time.
Dawson: You shot this on location in Massachusetts. It certainly looked cold and the terrain was very rugged.
Smith: It was wintertime so it was freezing cold. We had to hike up into the hills and be in the actual woods so it definitely took a toll, but it definitely brought in the authenticity of it. If we’d shot it at a different time of year, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Dawson: Chloe, you had the additional challenge of having to wear a prosthetic belly. Did that help you in your performance?
Moretz: Definitely. There was a lot of talk about the belly—the shape of it, where it sits on the body. She’s nine months pregnant and about to have the baby, so it needed to be sitting on her body quite low. She’s about to have contractions, and the story takes place over a very short amount of time. Those were all things we definitely thought about anatomically. One of the biggest ones was the application.
Outside of the sequences where you see the naked belly, there was a lighter prosthetic that could be compressed with your hands. It took several hours to apply it to my body and several hours to take it off, which was difficult. Outside that, on a daily basis, we had a stiffer, harder belly that looked better under clothing. It was attached to a corset. The thought-process behind that was that we really wanted to be able to restrict my movements. I really wanted it to be restrictive, difficult and hard, so the corset really bound my rib cage.
Dawson: Mother/Android could be considered a Christmas movie. When the film starts, they’re at Georgia’s parents’ house where the decorations are up, and as they have to flee and she’s pregnant, it’s almost like they’re the Holy Family and there’s “no room at the inn” when they arrive at the compound.
Smith: Yes, it definitely can be interpreted that way. It definitely takes place in a Christmas setting. I actually like that perspective because it’s kind of unexpected. It’s not a warm and fuzzy Christmas around the tree, but a wild, roller-coaster ride.
Dawson: This is a very personal movie for your writer-director Mattson Tomlin. Did he share a lot about his experience as an adopted child when he spoke with you about your roles?
Moretz: I thought the script was absolutely amazing but it was the way he cared for this story. It’s a love letter to his biological parents who during the Romanian Revolution gave him up for adoption to give him a better life. He wanted an “in” on that story. So, instead of the Romanian Revolution, he decided to make it about a robot and artificial intelligence revolution. It’s from that perspective that added an entire facet to it that makes it something more than just a sci-fi film. It’s something that was handled with a tenderness and complexity which I hadn’t really seen before. He was so raw and vulnerable with us and so willing to allow us in on this experience with him. It was one of the most memorable experiences that I always will cherish.
Dawson: Can you imagine an android or A.I. revolution?
Smith: I’m not sure where we’ll be in the next 20 years in terms of A.I. technology, but I do think that robots and androids are getting vastly more interesting as the days go by, and simply better equipped for what programmers are trying to get them to do. But I’m not sure I want to have a robot or android butler, but I might.
Moretz: I don’t know. With certain things, like self-driving cars, I don’t like it. I’m not about to be eating a Chipotle bowl while the car is self-driving down the freeway. That’s a little too far for me. But I’m interested to see what advances are mad with robotics and A.I. in medical and scientific evolution, and how it might allow that to be more tangible and, hopefully, in America, lower the cost of our healthcare, and alleviate some of the demands on our healthcare system. So, I’ll be interested to see how that works out in that space.
As Mattson points out in the movie, the origin of the word “robot” is from Karel Capek (from his 1921 play Rossum’s Universal Robots, which introduced the Czech word “robota” or “robotnik.” It was used for machines which were modeled after humans but with greater capabilities and no human failings. Eventually, the machines were used for war and turned against their human masters.) When you think about it like that, there’s no possible way it can end well especially as consciousness grows within a machine. There’s a stop-loss to that that’s going to blow up in our faces, and rightfully so.