Apocalyptic spoilers await!
Although there’s nothing particularly original about Netflix’s I Am Mother, the sci-fi has still earned rave reviews thanks to its glossy sheen and the big questions it tackles about life: what is motherhood? Do we rely on technology to a dangerous degree? And what’s Hilary Swank up to these days?
Wrapped up in all of this intrigue are a number of twists that might confuse audiences who checked their phone one too many times while watching I Am Mother, especially towards the end. That’s where we come in. But first, some context.
Watch out for apocalyptic I Am Motherspoilers from here on out…
Grant Sputore’s directorial debut opens with a title card that reads, “Days Since Extinction Event: 001”. As this dystopian future unfolds in front of our eyes, we’re introduced to a robot simply known as “Mother” (voiced by Rose Byrne) who looks after a human child in some kind of underground bunker.
Time jumps forward and the girl has now grown into a teenager called “Daughter” (Clara Rugaard). People in the future aren’t big on traditional names, apparently. Anyway, it seems as though the pair live together in isolation to avoid contamination from some unnamed threat that still exists on the Earth’s surface.
Up to that point, the most exciting that happens to Daughter is when a mouse pops up and eats some wiring but everything soon changes forever when an injured woman (Hilary Swank) – called, you guessed it, “Woman” – arrives at their heavily fortified door, revealing some disturbing truths about Mother.
At first, it might seem obvious to anyone who’s ever watched a movie that the robot will turn out to be evil.
Fortunately, I Am Mother is far more unpredictable than that. Yes, Byrne’s robo-mummy is pretty unhinged when it comes to the sanctity of life, but everything she does is designed to keep the human race alive and make us stronger than ever.
Early on, it’s established that Mother keeps appraising Daughter in exam-like conditions to test her worth, but what you might not realise until the end is that Mother has actually been testing her this whole time in far more insidious ways, too. In fact, the entire movie is just one big exam for Daughter, who must prove that humanity deserves to survive.
While it’s never confirmed, the insinuation is that Mother was the one who ended society in the first place.
Her AI consciousness exists in every piece of tech seen in I Am Mother, including the countless sentry droids who patrol the Earth’s surface, so it wouldn’t have been too difficult for her to wipe out humanity. That’s why she’s so determined to raise the perfect human so that they can reboot society and start again with higher standards than before.
Upon Woman’s intrusion, Daughter starts to suspect that Mother isn’t the kind matriarch she first thought and eventually, she discovers that she wasn’t the first human raised under the robot’s watch.
Not only does Daughter find the dusty remains of another girl in the incinerator – one who failed Mother’s test in some way – but it’s also heavily implied that Woman was raised as an embryo in the bunker, too.
Whether that’s true or not, we eventually learn that Woman isn’t to be trusted either. After they briefly escape to the surface together, Daughter discovers that Woman doesn’t live with a community of human survivors like she said. Instead, she lives alone and simply told Daughter that to manipulate her into helping them escape.
In yet another even twistier twist, it turns out that Hilary Swank’s character isn’t the only one controlling people either. Not only did Mother probably engineer the end of the human race, but she’s also been manipulating Woman this entire time too.
Mother herself reveals this near the end of the movie when one of her droids visits Woman’s home and speaks to her using Mother’s voice: “Funny that you’ve survived so long. As if someone’s had a purpose for you. Until now.”
With an ominous slam of the door, it’s clear that Mother then goes on to murder Swank’s character.
But why would Mother risk losing Daughter by bringing Woman into the mix? As we mentioned before, everything that befalls Daughter is part of an ongoing test to see if she’s worthy of leading humanity into a new dawn.
Woman was allowed to live as long as she did in order to tempt Daughter into leaving, like the biblical serpent who encouraged Adam and Eve to misbehave and end up leaving the Garden of Eden. When that plan failed upon Daughter’s return to the bunker, Woman outlived her usefulness and no longer needed to be kept alive.
While Mother might seem evil on the surface, she still doesn’t kill Daughter when she returns at the end, because she came back to look after her new brother. By demonstrating her selfless desire to keep the human race alive, Daughter proved that she was worthy and therefore passed Mother’s ultimate test: “That’s what you’ve raised me to do, isn’t it? Take care of my family? So let me.”
At this point, Mother could easily remain in control of the bunker thanks to her superior strength and vast army, but instead she concedes control to Daughter, convinced that the embryos are now in safe hands. The robot declares, “I was raised to value human life above all else,” and now that Daughter has proven herself to be a worthy guardian to humanity, Mother is no longer needed either.
That doesn’t stop the murderous mecha from offering her help – “If you ever need to find me…” – but Daughter is quick to interrupt Mother by shooting her CPU before falling to the ground, crying.
More a symbolic act of defiance than a legitimate attempt to ‘defeat’ Mother once and for all, this marks the end of the experiment. Mother’s consciousness still exists in the other droids outside, but she’s now giving Daughter the freedom to raise the embryos how she sees fit, without any further guidance.
The very last scene echoes the beginning of the movie, but this time round, it’s Daughter who sings the song ‘Baby of Mine’ to her new charge, just like Mother once sang to her as a child.
Whether you predicted things would turn out this way or not, I Am Mother is still a worthy addition to Netflix’s growing library of genre offerings. Let’s just hope that Daughter turns out to be this worthy as well or humanity might face another apocalypse sooner rather than later.
I Am Mother is now available to watch on Netflix.
By Digital Spy