I Am Mother (2019)
June 7, 2019 1:20 PM - Subscribe

A child is raised underground by a robot "Mother", designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event.

But their bond is threatened when another human shows up at their shelter. Is Mother what she seems? Is the stranger?
posted by miss-lapin (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much the entire cast, save the body actor for mother, is female. Netflix seems to be doing a lot of horror that's featuring strong women.

I do think that more diversity would have been great.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:22 PM on June 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

That was some of the better long form speculative fiction I have watched in a spell.

I liked Mother’s closing honesty. It appears to imply a threat, but it’s really just a statement. Not going to scrub through for an exact quote, but the mention that ‘she’ (it? Can I other an AI?) wanted to uplift her creators and that all of current technology is an extension of her mind/self...

Well, ya better behave or she will start the project over again, from scratch.

posted by drfu at 12:59 AM on June 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I know some folks who worked on this, and even got to visit the set one afternoon just before filming began! If it helps re: diversity, baby brother was played by a baby of colour. I don't know the details of his heritage though.

The IMDB page has a short interview with the director & stars by Kevin Smith which is quite good.

It was filmed on set in Adelaide, South Australia, and the external scenes were in New Zealand.

There are also some cool interviews about the making and acting of Mother, but I can't seem to find them.
posted by harriet vane at 6:35 PM on June 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

The set and atmosphere reminded me a lot of Moon (which also featured a deceptive but caring robot companion, come to think of it). Also some shades of GLaDOS in there, with the impassive voice and squarish headpiece.

I'm glad they gave Mother a slight moral redemption. They could have very easily left it with Daughter killing Mother, the latter being revealed as nothing more than a coldly calculating machine, which would have been boring. At least this way we can imagine that perhaps Mother does feel genuine love for Daughter.

The acting for Mother was really good. The movements were robotic enough that it was easy to forget it was a guy in a suit. If this had been a big budget movie, they would have used CGI and it would have looked fake as hell. Practical effects was definitely the way to go.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:31 PM on June 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

Such references! I loved it. The obvious one would be to the Terminator franchise, but also Jack Williamson's classic With Folded Hands series, where robots take over for our own good. Indeed, Williamson's short story Jamboree features a supercomputer named "Mother" who raises generations of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and then kills them when they get "too grown up".
posted by Mogur at 6:59 AM on June 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm glad they gave Mother a slight moral redemption.
I'm probably an outlier because of my relationship with my own mother, but I empathized hard with Mother by the end of this movie. She was a genocidal monster no doubt, but in terms of humanity-ending threats a pretty beneficent one. From the point of view of a distinctly non-human intelligence, what's a couple generations of violent fuckups already on the path to self-destruction when you've got a plan to give their descendants the rest of time unburdened by humanity's failings? This is basically accelerationist/fascist porn and so as much as I enjoyed it I don't know that I'll be recommending it to other people to watch, it's a terrifying and seductive fantasy in our times given that we don't have machines of loving grace but instead are burdened with Nazis.

My read on the basic timeline/plot of the movie:

Year 0: Mother achieves sapience, builds the embryo storage facility in secret, then culls humanity down to plot device levels. She turns the area surrounding the Cradle into a wasteland to prevent any lingering humans from stumbling on it and interrupting.
Year 1: Mother births her first daughter and with the help of Johnny Carson raises her much as we see Daughter was raised.
Year 3-ish?: Not finding success in raising a better human (or having a very, very long planning horizon), Mother gives her first daughter up, orphaning her. She is found and adopted by a family of surviving humans.
Year sometime later: Mother tries again and births her second daughter. This may be the daughter who we see in the intro who wishes she was a robot instead, which since we know that Mother is a self-aware genocidal monster this is an obvious failure of an outcome and leads to the daughter being incinerated.
Year of Daughter's Birth: Third time's the charm and Mother gives birth to Daughter.
Year 38: Daughter has been acing all of her moral philosophy tests, so Mother herds her first daughter, The Last Woman, back to the Cradle (restored to accessibility by the oxygen given off by the corn planted for imminent future humanity's benefit) to play out the drama we see depicted. The whole sequence is Daughter's true examination, and she passes with flying colors, demonstrating basically all of the good attributes of humanity in her interactions with The Last Woman (curiosity, compassion, regard for human life, surgical prowess, &c). Mother accepts Daughter as the new matriarch of humanity, kills her first daughter to erase the last vestige of paranoid violent humanity from the face of the planet, and disappears until the ill-advised sequel no one asked for in 3-5 years.
posted by books for weapons at 2:57 AM on June 11, 2019 [12 favorites]

You forgot the part where Mother kills off The Last Woman after Daughter passes the test as she is no longer necessary.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:05 AM on June 11, 2019

Third time's the charm and Mother gives birth to Daughter.

I read this somewhere else as well, but I don't know that we have any evidence to support the idea that Daughter is only the third child born to Mother. I guess there were three embryos missing from the rack that Daughter saw, but who knows how many empty (or refilled) racks there were elsewhere in the facility. I got much more of a Groundhog Day vibe, that Mother has refined the child-rearing process many, many times. The whole gambit with Woman seems way too well-orchestrated to be a first attempt.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:48 AM on June 11, 2019

The "many times" interpretation really only works if you decide the "13,000 (and change) Days after Extinction Event" for the film's present is lying, instead of being a little cue for more math-inclined that there's some missing time in the baby-rearing it opens with. You can fit a few more kids in there depending on how fast she chucks enough of them into the fire, but not groundhog-day levels of them.
posted by Drastic at 6:57 AM on June 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ah, I'm assuming there have been a lot of "extinction events" as a part of Mother's plan. Every time she kills a new Daughter/Woman pair, that's an extinction event in her mind.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:05 AM on June 11, 2019

Mefi's own Adam Savage interviews Luke Hawker, the performer of Mother and lead of the build team: Behind the Scenes of Weta Workshop's I Am Mother robot.
posted by harriet vane at 7:39 AM on June 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I guess there were three embryos missing from the rack that Daughter saw, but who knows how many empty (or refilled) racks there were elsewhere in the facility.
Yeah I debated this with myself for a while, given that Daughter's identifier was APX-03 or whatever, and not something more like AAA-03 or just 00003. I ended up being convinced by the same title card Drastic noted, which must have been some insight into Mother's mind and so wouldn't be intentionally misleading, or just a straight up title card from out of universe. What I would guess (even though there was no evidence of this in the movie whatsoever) is that the facility we saw was not the only facility, and that Mother was probably playing out variations on this drama across the entire planet.

Another interpretation that comes to me is that there was no second daughter really, the second embryo never existed, and the jawbone Daughter found was fabricated and planted as part of Mother's plan. I mean fabrication or not, it had to be part of Mother's plan anyway given Daughter found it. The rat that chewed the electrical conduit had to have been intentional too showing up when it did to conveniently plant the seeds of doubt in Daughter's mind, what sort of post-Singularity globe-spanning hyperintelligence builds a bunker that survives the apocalypse but has power conduits in a hallway which shut down the entire facility if even superficially damaged? I think it lends to the horror of the movie if Mother never made a single mistake, ever.
posted by books for weapons at 12:17 PM on June 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

That's a good point, but I was just thinking earlier that the rat's sudden appearance tracks with the nearby brand-new gigantic fields of corn.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm starting to wonder about the corn. When Daughter isn't hungry, she plays with her food, dipping a utensil in the corn; later, we see that the Intruder had cans of corn in her shipping container. Are they both Children of the Corn?
posted by Mogur at 2:53 PM on June 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm not really sure I got the plot of the movie. All the narratives I can come up with seem to have a fatal flaw. If the older woman's appearance was a part of a plan, then torturing her for information and having the younger girl come to her rescue in such a haphazard manner seems awfully implausible.

What I got was that the movie is about the trolley problem - would you save a group of people by pushing a stranger in front of a trolley? What about yourself? And the answer is yes, if you know those people are good people. The final test the girl had to pass was coming back / risking her life for her baby brother.

There are some implications in regards to global warming. Why aren't people thinking of the bigger picture, their children, and their children's children when it comes to an extinction event? It's almost the same test, administered by human nature, and we're failing.
posted by xammerboy at 8:24 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I should add that if you like Black Mirror, the movie is like a long episode. It's worth watching and done well.
posted by xammerboy at 8:25 PM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

"If the older woman's appearance was a part of a plan, then torturing her for information and having the younger girl come to her rescue in such a haphazard manner seems awfully implausible.

Well, she lived nearby and was herded there. It's plausible that, assuming APX-001 survived long enough, she'd be useful to test APX-003's ethics. I think that being the plan all along is implausible, as there were probably many ways APX-001 could have died before a test like that was appropriate. It could have been a contingency -- if she lived that long, Mother could have intended to protect her and herd her there. If not, then maybe she had other tests of APX-003 planned.

I think it's most likely that APX-001 was always intended to be a control -- having whatever genetic traits the embryos had been chosen for, but placed with post-apocalyptic humans rather than raised by Mother.

I choose not to believe this was all pre-determined by Mother, that's too implausible to me. I prefer to think that this is one among several possibilities, broadly speaking, that she had planned for. She has a lot of resources and information.

The "Where are the mines?" scene doesn't fit, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:24 AM on June 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I liked this a lot. Like a PKD version of an Asimov zeroth law story. But less misogynistic than either of those writers.

The "Where are the mines?" scene doesn't fit, though.

Also, needing a tracking device to find where Hilary Swank lives, at the end, doesn't really mesh with the idea that Mother had herded her into the facility in the first place.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:47 PM on June 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Surely "where are the mines" has to happen so that Woman believes she has a chance of escaping with Daughter and not being caught where they eventually end up? The tracking device can also be explained as Mother knows Woman has a hiding place but not where - the timing of the exam coincides with Woman being detected in the fields and herded towards the complex.
posted by Molesome at 1:33 AM on June 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I didn't think about the idea that the movie reverses the zeroth law in the sense that it turns them against humans. Either you care about people or humanity more than yourself or you shouldn't exist. That's really interesting!
posted by xammerboy at 6:26 PM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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