On the verge of unprecedented success, workaholic plant breeder Alice (Emily Beecham) spirals into paranoia once her anti-depressant plant starts to provoke sinister side effects. Little Joe slowly builds Alice’s own twisted version of Sophie’s Choice once the plant begins to threaten her relationship with teenage son Joe (Kit Connor).
The film’s take on motherhood and procreation is its most interesting facet. By making her plant sterile, Alice appears to go against nature’s primal rule. “The ability to reproduce is what gives every living being meaning”, says one of her co-workers when questioning the reasoning behind the odd choice. Here, amidst talks of genetic engineering and state of the art science techniques, the discussion between two women veers into a sheer primitive topic, one that seems to incite instant controversy when debated by females, creatures socially designed for motherhood.
Alice is open about her struggles as a working mother and constantly blames herself for the lack of time spent with her son in lieu of long work hours, but can’t – and won’t – neglect her vocation. “You’ll love your plant like your own child”, she says about Little Joe, and it is clear that the statement is true when it comes to the breeder.
Whilst some of the latest sci-fi features, such as High Life and Ad Astra, craft allegories to explore fatherhood, Little Joe attempts to dissect the role of the mother, bringing to light the myriad of dualities that is a woman who opts in favour of motherhood. The protagonist is neither villain nor heroine; she is the sole product of a bias that heavily permeates the environments she navigates. If she leans towards her son, work will swallow her accomplishments and regurgitate them through the point of view of a male colleague; if the opposite is true, the bond she struggled to build with her son will slowly fade away as his memories grow weaker without her constant presence.
Written and directed by women, with a female-heavy team behind the cameras, it is clear that the film benefits from a female perspective. Here, we have a clear example of what happens when women are allowed to control narratives pertinent to women. It is not hard to imagine the work versus family dilemma resonates with the people crafting the story, and this is why Little Joe succeeds as a tale about motherhood in a way it fails to do so solely as a piece of science fiction filmmaking.
As society evolves, women undergo several metamorphoses, shifting as we navigate the present and the future, but the painful process of motherhood will eternally remain a question with no correct answer. Jessica Hausner seems to build tension on the unpredictability of biological engineering, but the true horror of Little Joe is that it reminds us of the fact that, in reality, motherhood has no answer at all.