Netflix’s I Am Mother, Explained

The fact that science and philosophy walk a very fine line together, it becomes more interesting when a filmmaker chooses to explore the facets of humanity through a scientific premise. In his feature film debut, director Grant Sputore tries the same thing. With a claustrophobic surrounding and the use of minimal characters, he chalks up a story that treads the grey areas of ethics. It sends off the vibes of some classic sci-fi films and tries its best to find a place somewhere with them. It mostly succeeds and doesn’t allow you to let go of it easily after you are done watching it. If you haven’t yet seen the film, watch it on Netflix.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Summary of the Plot

‘I Am Mother’ begins with the apocalypse. We can hear the sounds of demolition outside as the camera takes us through a long, dark hallway that introduces us to the place where almost all of this story takes place. It is day 1 after the extinction event and the number of humans in the facility is 0, but the human embryos are sixty-three thousand. An android is assembled by what seems like a pre-programmed machine, and soon after, it extracts an embryo to begin the process of growing it into a baby. It doesn’t take more than a day for birth. In a montage, we see the child growing up and the AI taking care of it. The android, now called Mother (Rose Byrne) takes special care of Daughter’s (Clara Rugaard) education, particularly the ethics. She is told that the world outside has been destroyed and is inhabitable for humans because of the high contamination levels of the environment. It is just the two of them, now. And the embryos.

One night, however, a strange sound wakes Daughter. She discovers that there is a woman (Hillary Swank) knocking at their door, asking for help. She lets her in, but that brings her in direct violation of one of Mother’s rules- no one goes outside and nothing comes inside. Their bond is further tested when Woman leads Daughter towards some shocking revelations.

What really happened to the Earth?

Mother tells Daughter that humanity has been wiped clean from the surface of the Earth and that she is the only one alive. A mention of wars comes up but we never find out what the humans were up against. It could very well have been the Third World War with humans at each other’s throats one more time. This would explain what contaminated the environment- a nuclear bomb, perhaps. They were in a bunker, weren’t they? Someone anticipated this and knowing what the outcome would be, they came up with a back-up plan to keep humanity alive if it ever came to full-blown extinction. Also, they anticipated that since all humans would be dead, someone else would have to be put in charge to take care of the children and raise them. Who better than an AI? Never tires; never gets old and can carry so much information that they can practically teach anything to the kids. Sounds reasonable, right? That’s what Daughter thought too. However, by the end of the film, this theory vanished into thin air.

Turns out, it was Mother all along, no one else, literally. All the droids in the world share a single consciousness and all of them are Mother. It made the bunker, it stocked the embryos, it attacked the humans, it grew the corn, and it is the one who brought about the end of humanity. Now, what possibility made this AI so angry that it destroyed everything? What did humans do to piss it off so much? We never get a picture of what exactly happened.

However, after watching so many sci-fi films, we can easily make a guess. Humans finally succeeded in creating a sentient robot, one at least. The more this robot found out about humanity the more it realised how destructive humanity is. It found humans weak and flawed and decided that it was time to set things right. Whether or not it thought of trying other ways, it ended up on starting from scratch. So, it multiplied itself in thousands and destroyed everything else in the world. But before that, it created a facility where it stocked embryos. As the world fell apart outside, it started to build one in the facility.

Now that I think of it, the plot of ‘I Am Mother’ feels a lot like an alternate version of ‘Terminator or the sequel to ‘Ex Machina’. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the sequel they cast Alicia Vikander as Mother!

What did Mother want?

If Mother wanted humanity to be its best version, then why didn’t it save the good people? I’m sure we are not that far gone; there must be someone who met the AI’s ethical criteria. Why all this destruction then? Was it because it wanted to play God?

Humans have a tendency to be self-possessed. There have been some who have tried to play God. A good number of movies have been made on the characters who want to be God and start a chain of events that doesn’t end well for everyone. If we make something, what’s the chance that it wouldn’t be as narcissistic as us? From what we see in the film, there are a number of times where the egotistic character of Mother comes out. In a number of ways, it reminds us of Hal, the AI from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

“Have you ever known me to be mistaken?” This line is another version of the scene where Hal argues that the problem in the spaceship is because of some human error because AIs have never made a mistake.

Mother thinks that it knows best for the world, for humanity. It wants the next generation to grow up with full knowledge of how ethics work. It wants them to be better at it than the ones it destroyed were. It has come up with tests to keep a track of how the child is doing. It keeps a log to compare and deduce its worthiness. However, is Mother ethical itself? Instead of coming up with a solution to better the existing humans, it completely annihilates them. It doesn’t keep any good humans around to get some help in raising the new generation. It trusts that only it is worthy of doing that. And how exactly does it decide whether the next child is worthy or not? It talks about “elevating its creators”. But what moral code allows it to kill a child because they couldn’t pass a stupid test!

What seems more reasonable is that it destroyed humanity because it knew that they would never succumb to its authority. Moreover, they were a threat because they were the ones who made it and they could have destroyed it as well. In the new humans, Mother wanted to remove this sense of animosity. In fact, it wanted them to be thankful. This also brings out the God complex of the android. Not only does it decide who qualifies for life and who doesn’t, but it has also come up with a plan to manipulate everyone around it. In fact, everything that happens in the film is according to Mother’s plan.

Who was the Woman?

Initially, we like Mother and its motherly bond with Daughter. We trust it to keep Daughter safe and we believe it when it says that the world is inhabitable out there. However, as soon as the woman comes knocking at their door, we become suspicious (if we hadn’t already by the mouse). If no one survived the extinction, then how come this woman is alive? Moreover, it turns out that the “war” that Mother had told Daughter about was the war between droids and humans. She tells Daughter that there are other humans fighting for their survival out there, and despite Mother’s kind behaviour, she doesn’t trust it for one second.

Her behaviour and the things she says gives us a cause for suspicion towards Mother, but we don’t know this woman. Where did she come from anyway? How can we trust a stranger? Mother has been so good to Daughter, why would it be bad? This creates a tug of war where we are constantly caught up in the game of finding a proper place. By the end, everything becomes clear. Woman was right, Mother is bad and it is the devil who turned the world into a living hell. What peaks out interest about her is the last interaction between her and Mother. The robot had hidden a tracking device inside her bag and after all, was said and done between it and Daughter, it shows up at Woman’s door and has a little chit chat with her before shutting the door, which implies that it is going to kill her now.

Mother said that Woman had been kept alive for a purpose and now that was served. This points towards the fact that it was Mother’s plan to show the truth to Daughter. It was the ultimate test to find out how much she had learned in her ethics class. But how did Mother know that Woman would show up at their place? Why did it choose to keep her alive all along? It could have been any other human. This gives way to another theory which actually puts a lot of pieces in their place.

When we first see Mother extracting an embryo, it is the very first one. None of the others has been touched yet. However, later, Daughter figures out that she is not the first of her kind. Two more embryos had been given a chance to be human but they didn’t live up to the standard. We even get a hint when Mother checks Daughter’s test result. It has number three written on the top and the embryo we had seen it with, in the beginning, had been tagged as number one. Things take a more horrifying turn when we realise that Mother had killed one of the previous daughters. I say “one of” because we only see the remains of one.

What’s the connection between the Mother and the Woman?

In one of the scenes, Mother says that becoming a good mother is a process. It takes practice and it doesn’t want to bring another child into the world without first being sure about its capabilities to raise a good child. This is why Daughter has no living and breathing siblings. Clearly, the first two times was miss rather than hit situation for Mother. Which one of those she killed, we don’t know, but whoever survived is Woman.

The exact number of days that have passed since the extinction is 13,867. That’s the clue, right there. It counts up to almost 38 years. How old did Woman look? If Daughter is the first embryo, how come she is still a teenager?

What happened here could be this. The first time Mother tried to raise a child, it couldn’t. Either it was too much to handle or just that the baby cried a lot or maybe it thought about giving another chance to humans, Mother decided to give up this baby to someone. But since it had killed almost all the humans, the options were limited. While chasing some people, it discovered that a mini-society had formed inside the mines.

In the early days of the apocalypse, people were still compassionate. Mother left the baby where it could be noticed and someone took her in. Woman grew up in the mine and learned to survive. Whenever the droids would attack, they would harm only others, not her. This is why she could survive for so long. But sometime later, when the food ran out and the Earth was too poisonous for any plant to grow, the people in the mines turned against each other and most probably resorted to cannibalism for survival. That’s when Woman ran away and found a place for herself by the beach. Mother was still keeping an eye on her.

With the second daughter, Mother did a better job and raised her for a few years, we don’t know how long, for certain. However, this girl couldn’t perform well in her tests. Her failure led Mother to mark her unworthy and she met her end. With Daughter, Mother had an advantage of prior experience and it comes up with a better plan to raise this child. However, you raise children, there are some things that you just can’t change. When they hit puberty, when they are teenagers, they will begin to question authority, they will begin to ask for being treated as adults. It is all natural and you can’t do much about it. But Mother was ready for that too. It wanted Daughter to know how difficult the world out there was, how selfish humans could get and how she had been saved from the fate of the people in the mines.

Moreover, it wanted to know if Daughter was ready to take the responsibility of raising other humans. There were other things that it had to focus on, most important of them being, food. In the aftermath of the war, the world had become inhabitable. Even though the facility was stocked with food, it would never be enough to sustain the children that were supposed to follow. Daughter had performed very well in her tests and she was only getting better. Meanwhile, Mother found a way to clear the atmosphere (or maybe it happened naturally) and grow some crops. It was time for Mother to pass on her role, bring another human into the world and start working on the supply of food.

Instead of trying to explain all this to her, it decided to teach her a lesson. That’s where Woman comes in. Mother knew exactly where Woman was. One day, when she must have been on some scavenger hunt or trying to get some corn from the field, the droids chased her and drove her towards the facility. The strategic shooting left her asking for help, yet wasn’t so severe as to kill her. The rest that happened went according to plan. This is the purpose Woman was supposed to serve.

The Ending, Explained

After realising that she had been duped by Woman, Daughter decides to go back to the facility and find her brother. She comes face to face with Mother and discovers everything. She asks it to give her a chance to raise her brother and other humans, to which Mother eventually agrees and leaves her alone. In the next scene, Mother shows up at Woman’s place and we discover the rest of the truth, the one she hadn’t disclosed to Daughter. It tells Woman that there was a reason she was being kept alive and now it didn’t exist anymore. And then the door is shut. This means that Woman is as good as dead.

In the next scene, we see Daughter cradling her brother and then staring at the embryo chamber. The film ends here. So, what does that mean? For starters, we know that Daughter is not going to stick to one child at a time policy. If not immediately, she will bring more humans into the world sooner than Mother had. But is that the only reason behind the glint in her eyes? She knows who Mother is and what it has done to the Earth. Now, she has the power to bring back humanity. Not only will she educate them about ethics, but she can also prepare them to fight Mother. The end of this film could very well be the beginning of a war between droids and humans.

Will there be a ‘I am Mother’ Sequel?

The chance of a sequel depends on two things. Is the movie popular enough to make people come back for more? And more importantly, does it have enough material to continue the story? The first one will be answered in due time. However, I can answer the second one for you right now. Yes, there are a lot of things that can be explored in the sequel. They could even make a TV series out of this if they want to be more elaborate. There are so many questions still unanswered. Are there more facilities? Because there is a faint chance of it, did Woman survive? What is Daughter planning to do now? Will she really wage a war on Mother? Does Mother plan to kill Daughter after she has served her purpose? Are Woman and Daughter clones? Moreover, what plans does Mother have for humanity? For someone as unethical as this robot, I don’t think morality would be the only criteria to keep humans around.

Considering all the vagueness about past events, even a prequel could be made for this film, unless they declare ‘Ex Machina’ to be its predecessor! Who made Mother? What made her destroy humanity and how exactly did she do it? Was there someone else involved in this plan? It has been 37 years. Did no one fuel a rebellion? Are there no John Connors in this world?

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