Warning: Major spoilers ahead for the ending of Netflix’s I Am Mother. Duh.
Haven’t we learned in all our years of movie-going that the robots are going to rise up and kill us all? Well, that fear comes to life (once again) in the smart, indie sci-fi Netflix movie I Am Mother (streaming now).
What begins as an interesting look into life post-apocalypse in which a robot called Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) is left to repopulate the earth, using embryos to create and then raise a human child simply called Daughter (Clara Rugaard) alone in a bunker turns into an all-out fight for the future of humanity when a mysterious Woman (Hilary Swank) shows up, raising the issue of what Mother has lied about and who really ended the world. It’s the confusing way that I Am Mother ends, however, that is sure to leave viewers with tons of questions. But once you start to really think about the meaning of the ending, it turns out that the story makes a lot more sense than you might think at first. Let’s unpack it!
First, the obvious: Mother ended the world. There's not just one robot overlord, but rather one A.I. consciousness streamed into every single droid on the surface that decided that humanity needed a reset button. Since the world-ending event, Mother has been trying to create and raise the perfect human who would reboot humanity in the most worthy way. Daughter believed that she was the first new human, but she was actually the third experiment. The human bones Daughter in the incinerator were evidence of the second experiment that Mother decided had failed.
As for the first human experiment, that’s where Woman comes in. Earlier in the movie, Woman had told Daughter that she had been adopted by a couple who had survived the apocalypse. She had lived with many other humans in the mines and tunnels, but they had all died by the time Woman met Daughter. We never hear Woman talk about her own birth parents though, and that’s because they never existed. Here’s the big twist: Woman is actually the first experiment created by Mother.
This twist is confirmed in the final scenes of the movie when Woman is back at her shipping container home and finds a tracker in her bag, placed there by Mother. One of Mother’s droids appears in the doorway having following Woman all the way home. The droid asks Woman, rhetorically, if she ever wondered why she never knew her birth parents or why she was able to survive for so long when everyone else around her had died or been killed by droids, or what her purpose was. Mother then closes the two of them in the shipping container, implying that Woman is about to be killed.
Why did Mother allow Woman to stay alive for so long only to kill her at the end? It’s because at this point, Mother determined Woman to be a failed experiment. Throughout the whole movie, Woman kept making choices that were selfish or for her own survival. She lied and did whatever it took to save her own life, at the expense of others. Woman even chose to live on her own in the wasteland instead of staying in the bunker with Daughter. She displayed none of the nurturing or selfless or “worthy” characteristics that Daughter did.
Unlike Woman, Daughter gave up her own freedom to stay behind to raise her newborn Brother that Mother had just created. That act signaled to Mother that Daughter actually was the perfect human, which is why Mother allowed Daughter to destroy the droid that raised her and stay in the bunker to raise Brother without a version of Mother to guide (er, control) her. The A.I.’s experiment finally succeeded, and thus, it no longer needed Woman alive.
It may not be the happiest of endings, and it's pretty messed up that the movie's ending comes at the expense of all humankind, but at least we know that humanity is the capable hands of a selfless, kind human: Daughter.
Glass half full, right?