You can’t trust a robot. They’re not us. They’re them. We gave them life, and they’ll fight to keep it. In James Barrat’s Our Final Invention, the author warns that once artificial intelligence is achieved, self-preservation will kick in and our destruction will be their driving purpose. Even when they claim to have our best interest in mind, they’re likely to transform one of our cities into a meteor only to drop it upon us as a means of pressing the reset button. We see you, Ultron. Our pop culture has prepared us for the final war of man vs. robot.
Filmmaker Grant Sputore has a different point of view. His feature debut I Am Mother proposes a machine with humanity’s perseverance at heart. As he told us, “What differentiates Mother from pretty much all the robots that we’ve seen in films of this nature before is that she’s motivated by a love of humanity and that she wants to do what’s right by the humans as opposed to how most movie robots are either worried about themselves or they’re worried about the continuation of their own species.” By the film’s climax, that love can be terrible and rather terrifying. Ease up on that hug mom, before you break that poor baby’s neck.
↓Spoilers for I Am Mother↓
In the film, an unknown extinction-level event has transformed the planet into a wasteland. Mother (Rose Byrne) operates inside a bunker built for the purpose of regrowing humanity from scratch. At the start of the film, we see her extract an embryo from a freezer containing hundreds more and nurture it into existence. Daughter (Clara Rugaard) matures under the robot’s strict guidance, adhering to the education presented and never questioning the knowledge. Until a Woman (Hilary Swank) who should not be alive comes knocking on their doorstep. The Woman’s story that others have survived beyond the bunker’s walls throws the relationship between Mother and Daughter into chaos, and the family unit is shattered.
When Daughter discovers evidence (a human jawbone inside an incinerator) that Mother has raised but eliminated failed children before her, she begins to believe The Woman’s saga of survivors huddled deep within the Earth. In an effort to escape, The Woman takes Daughter hostage threatening to end her life if Mother does not open the bunker’s airlock. Mother agrees, and the two humans flee into the wilderness. There, Daughter discovers the existence of hunter-killer robots and stations seemingly designed to terraform the Earth.
The Woman brings Daughter to her home, which is not deep within a hidden mine but in a furnished shipping container filled with sad little leftover trinkets. The Woman explains that she broke free from the other survivors ages ago and solitude is essential to a long life. Too many mouths equal betrayal and violence. Her pathetic revelation drives Daughter back to the bunker, which is now surrounded by robotic drones. They let her pass, and Daughter rescues her infant Brother freshly birthed from his chamber.
Mother confronts Daughter. She discloses that the drones are just an extension of her intelligence. She goes on even further detailing how Mother was responsible for the extinction event. Humanity was racing to kill itself and the planet, and Mother came to the same conclusion that Ultron did under the programming of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner: a global reset was necessary, but this time a strict understanding of morality and philosophy would prevent future humans from racing towards doomsday.
Horrified, Daughter begs Mother to allow her to raise Brother and take control of the rest of the bunker’s embryos. Confident that her teachings have taken root inside Daughter, Mother concedes to the child’s demands. Daughter turns a shotgun upon Mother and exterminates the robot vessel.
Back at The Woman’s shipping container, Mother appears in another body. The A.I. asks The Woman why she doesn’t remember her birth parents. Why was she able to survive so long alone? What is her purpose? Damn. The Woman is the first Daughter born from the bunker, or at the very least, an earlier iteration. She was always designed to test the most recent Daughter’s ethical education. Having completed that task, Mother slams the shipping container door, and the implication is that she will exterminate The Woman. There is no longer any point to her life.
Earlier in the movie, we are privy to several classroom lessons between Mother and Daughter. The focus of the teachings centers around the greater good compared to the value of a single life. When Daughter returns to the bunker under the threat of death to retrieve her newborn Brother, she exhibits an understanding of Mother’s Spock-like logic. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Mother’s hope is that Daughter will guide humanity away from its selfish and suicidal tendencies.
I appreciate Mother’s optimism, but what are the chances that Daughter can relay the warm logic of the greater good to her children, her grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? Has Mother done enough to prevent humanity from tumbling to its demise once more? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I Am Mother concedes that Daughter is not the first experiment and in doing so surmises that she won’t be the last. If Daughter fails to pull humanity out of its infinite death spiral, then Mother will move on to Plan C or Plan Z as it may be.
What separates Mother from Ultron or Skynet or HAL 9000 is her staunch faith that we can and will do better. Her ultimate goal is the preservation of humanity, and she’s going to do whatever she can to make sure that happens. Hopefully, she can figure that out before the heat-death of the sun. Or she may forever continue her experiment to space and beyond.