Continuum 15: Other Worlds (@continuum_con #con15): A glimpse of “Mothers in Space”


Due to unexpected problems with public transport, I only caught the last ten minutes of the session “Mothers! In! Space!” at Continuum 15: Other Worlds. However, what I captured in those ten short minutes was inspiring enough for me to start reflecting on some of the stories I have come into contact in recent years that challenge conventional notions of motherhood.

Some examples: Do mothers have to be “good”? Who are some of our favourite “bad” mothers? What about stepmothers and grandmothers? And what about mother figures, birth mothers vs. adopted mothers, and even surrogate mothers? Dare I mention forced motherhood? Or (in)voluntarily abandoned motherhood? How do we define and depict motherhood if a mother loves other aspects of her life much more than her children?

What’s clear is that bringing a life to this world does not necessarily make one a mother. Perhaps more importantly, motherhood is not the same as womanhood and should never be seen as the equivalence or essence of it.

With that said, I have always felt that the second half of Aliens (1986) is basically a battle between two mothers. While the Alien Queen witnessed her children being massacred and is now determined to seek revenge on their behalf, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) fights for a child that is not even hers. This is perhaps why the ghost of the Alien Queen gets to play an upper hand throughout the next movie, Alien 3 (1992), forcing Ripley to become a surrogate mother. Ripley is able to fight back by killing the Alien Queen’s “child” that Ripley “gives birth to”. Nonetheless, in Alien Resurrection (1997), the “reincarnation” of Ripley is still haunted by the ghost of the Alien Queen. Indeed, that Ripley 8 has to murder her own “child” can be seen as the ultimate revenge of the Alien Queen as a wronged mother.

I am yet to watch Prometheus (2012) but have found the idea of motherhood further disrupted in Alien: Covenant (2017). If motherhood is defined as “the state or experience of having or raising a child”, then can we assume that David the android (played by Michael Fassbender) has always wanted to be a “mother” since his creation? Compared to Elizabeth Shaw, who meets the aforementioned definition of motherhood after being pregnant with and then giving birth to an alien creature in Prometheus, David certainly has a stronger desire to create perfect “offsprings”. Unfortunately, as an artificial being, David has no idea how “proper” humans are made, and is therefore free to design and develop his “children” in any way that he considers to be proficient and productive. For a chance to start afresh, he even manages to annihilate all fauna on Origae-6. Interestingly, he tries to kiss Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston) in Alien: Covenant, perhaps out of the naïve notion that two human can co-produce a third by kissing.

Image courtesy: “David with the Babymorph” created by concept artist Hyoung Nam

So, at this stage, I am keen to watch I Am Mother (2019), particularly after learning (from Wikipedia) that Mother the AI “remade humanity, guiding it to be more ethical and value the greater good”. (Oh yeah, “Mothers need time to learn!”) As more science fiction novels get written and movies made, there is no doubt that conventional notions of motherhood will continue to be challenged. Perhaps it is now time for some of our sci-fi artists to start deconstructing fatherhood as well?


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