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Film / I Am Mother

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I Am Mother is a Netflix original film directed by Grant Sputore and written by Michael Lloyd Green in their feature film debuts. Released in 2019, it stars Clara Rugaard and Luke Hawker with Rose Byrne and Hilary Swank.

After an extinction-level event, a lone robot raises a human girl from an embryo in an underground bunker. With only her robot Mother for guidance and social interaction, the Daughter excels at her studies in preparation to rebuild the human race from the bunker's stock of embryos. On the Daughter's 16th birthday, however, the arrival of another human refugee into the bunker challenges the Daughter's conception of what's really going on.

Please note that not all spoilers may be hidden.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's not clear how far in the future the story takes place, but Woman mentions having watched The Tonight Show a long time ago and having lived in a survivor camp for most of her life.
  • After the End: An unspecified worldwide catastrophe has wiped out all of humanity, except for about sixty thousand frozen embryos in a special storage and learning facility, which is maintained by a robot, "Mother". At least, so it seems. There are in fact human survivors, being hunted by Mother.
  • Allegorical Character: Mother is one for abusive or overbearing mothers, since she has ridiculously high standards and strives to push her children to meet them no matter how many bones she has to break.
  • The Aloner: Daughter is being raised with only Mother for company, though she copes better than usual for this trope given that Mother has been programmed for the task. Woman admits she's not seen another human being since she fled the mines. Mother even has this as her motivation for her Evil Plan; realising humanity would destroy itself and leave her entirely alone.
  • Always with You: Before allowing Daughter to kill her, Mother tells her that she'll know where to look if she needs her. Given that Mother exists in all droids, and the droid army is unlikely to be wiped out any time soon...
  • And Starring: Rose Byrne and Hilary Swank, the two actors with household name recognition, are billed as "with" and "and", respectively.
  • Apocalypse How: Likely Class 3a, Planetary-scale extinction via unnatural causes, as the movie implies some sort of global conflict consumed the Earth. It is revealed that the Mother A.I. did this.
  • Batman Gambit: Basically the entire movie is this on the part of Mother, who wants to make Daughter into a proper mother for the new humanity without her realizing it. This includes manipulating Woman into finding the bunker and believing that she truly can free Daughter from Mother and raise her as her own.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Mother AI appears docile and a kind caretaker, though is anything but, as Daughter uncovers the truth she not only murdered her older siblings for displaying the slightest disobedience as children naturally do, but extinguished virtually all life-forms from the face of the planet.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering on Downer Ending. The Daughter survives and is set to bring humanity out of near-extinction. Mother is revealed to be the architect of humanity's downfall and will rule over this new world, perfectly capable of wiping it out again if things don't go to her liking.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Daughter uses one of Mother's damaged hands to bypass various security locks in the compound.
  • Break the Cutie: Daughter suffers one several times throughout the film. The first one comes when she learns that Mother killed her older siblings when they failed Mother, another when she learns Woman lied about being with other survivors, and a final one after she kills Mother.
  • Chekhov's Gun
    • The literal version when Mother locks away Woman's gun instead of destroying it. Inevitably it gets fired in the final act.
    • Mother says one of the bullets barely missed her CPU. Daughter knows to aim for this spot, but it's a subversion as it was never her Achilles' Heel, just a means of shutting down the nanny-bot drone of Mother.
    • Mother is shown operating on the recorder. She's not only fixing it to work as a bug so she can overhear what Daughter and Woman are saying, she's also planting the Tracking Device she later uses to find the Woman's hideout.
  • Cold Equation: Discussed. One of the questions on the practice exam is whether a doctor should let one of their patients die so that their organs can be donated to five other patients who need organ donors; if the doctor should save the patient but let the other five die; or if the doctor should let themselves die and give up their own organs for the patients. Daughter points out that sacrificing someone to save the others depends on the type of people they are, because it would be a Senseless Sacrifice if these people are murderers/bad people. Mother finds her answer interesting.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Woman starts off hostile and apprehensive towards Daughter and Mother, but warms up to Daughter after she saves her life with surgery and makes more effort to explain why she can't trust Mother. In the climax, she tries to convince Daughter to stay with her instead of returning to the bunker and explains that she lied about being with a group of survivors so that Daughter could get away from Mother.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: In the ending, Mother asks Woman if she seriously thought that Daughter was going to stay with her before presumably proceeding to kill her.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": No one who physically appears in the film has an actual name. The protagonist is called "Daughter" throughout by the Mother droid, and the Woman (as named in the film's credits) is called things like "our guest" or simply by pronoun.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "I Am Mother" refers to the A.I. that raises a human girl as a mother figure, and at the end, Daughter takes over the control of the bunker, essentially becoming the new mother of humanity.
  • Do You Trust Me?: Both Mother and the Woman call on Daughter to trust them at various points, and the Driving Question for her is whether or not she can do so.
  • Evil Gloating: Mother, in the guise of a combat droid, comes to murder Woman, but not before taunting her with a Did You Actually Believe...? speech. It serves as an ultimate Kick the Dog moment as Woman was, unlike the maniacal machine, at least truthful that she had no intention of ever harming Daughter, whereas Mother certainly would have terminated the girl had her actions not met her approval.
  • Exact Words: Mother was created to value and protect humanity. However, according to her utilitarian programming/philosophy, this requires wiping out and restarting the human race in order to protect the species from their perceived self-destructive tendencies.
  • Fantastic Racism: Woman hates and fears droids and derogatorily calls then "dozers". Daughter insists that whatever issue Woman has with them, Mother is different. It turns out Woman's paranoia isn't unfounded, since Mother is the A.I that controls all of the droids.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Days Since Extinction Event: 001. As the screen announces this, the viewer can hear distant explosions and reverberations from those explosions shake the facility. This indicates that the extinction is still happening, and it is definitely not some kind of natural disaster.
    • The present day of the film is indicated to take place 13,867 days after Mother first activated and grew the first embryo. In other words, 38 years have passed, yet Daughter is still a teenager, so Daughter cannot be the same person grown from that embryo.
    • The labels on Daughter's test tablets end in "03", even though she's the only human in the compound. This is because she isn't Mother's first attempt.
    • Mother asks Daughter in class whether it is moral to kill for the greater good. Later, it's revealed that this is exactly what Mother did: wiped out humanity to rebuild it better than before.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Daughter was named by Mother and Mother calls herself Mother, as she is the "mother" of the last remnants of humanity.
  • Humans Are Bastards:
    • When Woman thanks Daughter for saving her life, she says it's what anyone would do. Woman disagrees.
    • Mother wiped out the human race so she could recreate it in a more moral and intellectual image.
  • Human Shield: When Mother catches them trying to leave the bunker, Woman puts her knife to Daughter's throat to force Mother to open the door. Daughter doesn’t take this well, understandably.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Mother gets Daughter to destroy her nannybot chassis rather than simply shut it down or destroy it herself.
  • I Have Your Wife: Conveniently, as Woman and Daughter discuss the outside world, Mother allows Daughter to incubate an embryo once she passes her test. Once Woman and Daughter agree to leave, Daughter is still bound to return for her Brother.
  • I Lied: Woman lied to Daughter about being with a group of human survivors hiding in the mines. Due to a food shortage, Woman struck out on her own after the others jumped off the slippery slope. Woman tries to explain to Daughter she lied because she wanted to help Daughter get away from Mother, but Daughter is so hurt by her lie and that she currently lives alone and miserable that she returns to the bunker to rescue her Brother.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: When Woman refuses treatment from Mother, not trusting Mother to actually help her, Mother points out that all she has to do to kill Woman is nothing, letting her bleed out on her own.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: A global conflict has killed the vast majority of humanity. The Mother AI is tasked with raising the surviving embryos and using them to repopulate the Earth. It's implied the Mother AI was behind all of this, killing every human on the planet so she could start with a clean slate and raise new humans, ones that are "smarter, more ethical, superior in every way".
  • Killed Offscreen: Woman implicitly dies after Mother visits her, with her last scene being reaching for a weapon and Mother shutting the door of her shelter after entering.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: Daughter is the only human still alive, and her "siblings" are frozen, waiting for incubation. And then Woman comes along...
  • Laser Sight: Daughter returns to the bunker and sees a droid that she assumes is Mother until a red dot appears on her chest, rapidly followed by a whole bunch of red dots from the army of Killer Robots Mother has brought in to defend the bunker in case the Woman really did return with other humans.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Mother attempts to detach her own leg when she's caught by a jammed door, but before she can finish unscrewing it, Daughter has a gun trained on her.
  • Light Is Not Good: Mother is strongly associated with white light and emits a golden hue with her heaters, but is pretty evil.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: When Daughter conducts surgery on Woman to remove the lodged bullet before the infection kills her, Woman refuses anaesthesia out of paranoia that Mother may do something bad to her while she's asleep. Daughter has to use a drill, which causes Woman to scream in pain until she passes out. Daughter almost vomits after.
  • Minimalist Cast: The cast consists only of Mother, Daughter, Woman and Brother, and if you count animals, the rat that Daughter found and Woman's dog. Woman says that there are other human survivors, but Woman is no longer with them and they're presumably dead.
  • Nameless Narrative: Mother, Daughter and Woman. Only a few people mentioned by the Woman actually receive names.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Woman talks of how the droids would let entire families starve to death. It's later revealed she fled the tunnels because the people there had run out of food and started to turn on each other, implying the droids just blockaded the tunnels and let nature take its course.
  • One Bad Mother: Mother is an android who raises a human infant in a remote facility, but Daughter starts to figure out that she may have ulterior motives. Mother is in fact an artificial intelligence Hive Mind which sees humans as flawed, having resolved to wipe them out and create better humans from scratch.
  • Properly Paranoid: Woman refuses to allow Mother to treat her wounds, unconvinced that Mother is different from the other droids. She's more right than she knows.
  • Raised by Robots: "Daughter", a human girl, was raised entirely by the lone droid in the compound, who is known only as "Mother."
  • Restart the World: Mother plans to do this by destroying humanity, then taking human embryos and raising them to be more peaceful and selfless.
  • The Reveal: Mother is just one body controlled by the A.I that wiped out humanity, so that she could make better humans that aren't prone to conflict and thus will avoid their own self-extinction. Everything that happens in the movie is part of her plan.
  • Robot War: The Woman claims that the droids outside the bunker have been killing everyone they find, gradually wiping out humanity. She might have been lying about the details, but she's right on the generalities.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Woman tells Daughter of a colony of human survivors hiding out in a mine. When they actually get to Woman's residence, she reveals that she fled the mine years ago and the people she used to know are all most likely dead.
  • Secret Test of Character: Mother surreptitiously guided Woman to the facility as a means to test Daughter's morality.
  • Shoot the Dog: Mother does this to a rat that Daughter finds in the bunker due to the risk of infection, in spite of Daughter begging her not to because it could be a sign that the outside world is habitable now. It's also implied that Mother killed Woman's dog in the ending, as well as that the A.I. killed off animals.
  • Silence is Golden: Happens when Daughter discovers the remains of her predecessors and she has a Heroic BSoD over it.
  • Slasher Smile: Mother has a pair of lights embedded in a U-shaped track on her "face" that represent the corners of her mouth, which helps her convey emotion and connect with Daughter. Before we see any other droids we'd just assume this was a customization for maternity droids like the heating pads on her chest. Later we see the combat droid with the armored chest plate that Mother wears when she confronts the Woman in her container ship shelter and we see that all droids have the mouth lights, and as this Droid closes in on the woman the mouth lights are all the way up in the widest smile she can make.
  • So Proud of You: Mother says as much of this to Daughter before letting Daughter "kill" her.
  • Uterine Replicator: The bunker's gestation lab has a set of them. An embryo is removed from cryo-stasis, placed in the replicator, and appears to undergo an accelerated gestation cycle that brings it to term in 24 hours.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Mother implies at the end that she manipulated Woman into finding the facility as a Secret Test of Character for Daughter, and since Daughter passed she has no further need to keep Woman alive.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Mother is a mechanical robot with the voice of Rose Byrne. Given that its role is to raise children, a more gentle, empathic voice would be needed.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mother genuinely does want humanity to prosper. However, she believes in order to achieve that, all of the humans that do not meet her standards of morality must be exterminated.
  • Wham Shot: The robot army outside the bunker, who all stand aside in unison when Daughter demands to see Mother.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Woman mentions that she's seen droids torch babies and intentionally cause families to starve. The Mother A.I. who controls them also killed several previous Daughters for not being good enough.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Mother reveals that she purposefully led Woman to the bunker to see how Daughter would react. Daughter successfully helping Woman shows that Mother has succeeded in making Daughter a morally good person, while Daughter failing shows that she still needs more to learn before this goal can be achieved.
  • You Have Failed Me: Previous children who failed to meet Mother's expectations were incinerated. It's also heavily implied Mother would have done this to Daughter if their final confrontation went awry, as her droid army was in the process of cutting through the airlock that Daughter sabotaged, stopping when Mother approves of Daughter's chosen path.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mother implicitly kills Woman after revealing that she was a pawn in her Xanatos Gambit, which is the only reason Mother had let her live this long.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Mother was made to care for humans. Seeing their self-destructive nature, she decided to wipe them out and then raise better humans from embryos kept in cold storage. Outside the facility, it's shown that she's also constructed massive infrastructure such as farming plants to supply the human population she intends to manage and restore the air to breathable levels.