Note: This story was written before the movie was released. The actual twist and ending is explained at the bottom.
The next big Netflix movie that everyone will (maybe) be talking about is I Am Mother, a sci-fi yarn that drops on Netflix this Friday (June 7). It's got robots! It's got a post-apocalyptic Earth! It's got Hilary Swank! What's not to like?!?!?!
But what it has more than all those things — we think — is twists. No self-respecting sci-fi movie these days would dare be made without including some surprises, hoodwinks, and wool perfectly sized for your eyes. You want a straightforward narrative? Go read a book! You want a rollercoaster of twists and turns that threaten the integrity of the storytelling? Netflix original movies, baby!
We've seen the trailer (above), and here's what we think the movie is about. Far in the future after we've turned the planet into an uninhabitable trash pile, whatever's left of mankind tries to repopulate the Earth in underground bunkers by raising embryos into full-formed adults. But the caretaker, in this case, is a friendly robot (voiced by Rose Byrne)! One young child (Clara Rugaard) — who goes simply by Daughter — gets raised in the lab by the robot, and I Am Mother explores themes of artificial intelligence, parentage and parenting, and how to breastfeed out of a tin can.
But when Daughter grows up to become a young woman, Hilary Swank — a fully grown woman — shows up at the bunker and turns everything Daughter thought she knew upside down and inside out. Who is this woman? How did she survive? Are there more of her? Can humans live on the surface after all? If the movie uses the setup correctly, you'll be asking yourself these questions while bashing your head into a wall until you bleed. Now that's what I call a cinematic experience.
Or we can attempt to spoil that experience the way too many people these days do: by overanalyzing what we know to death until we figure out the twist beforehand, therefore ruining the experience for all. (Also called "Pulling a Westworld.")
So here I go, my three biggest guesses as to the big twist in I Am Mother, based solely on what I've seen in the trailer!
1. Hilary Swank is Daughter... from the future!!!
Time travel in movies? So hot, you guys. This is set in the future, so the technology can be there. (Also, any time is a good time for time travel, since the very nature of time travel means that the technology comes from the far future, unless you time-travel into the future, of course.) The big giveaway here is right there in their faces; Rugaard could easily pass for a younger Swank, so Swank must have somehow returned from the future in order to protect Daughter (herself!) from whatever nefarious plan the robot has for her, right? And listen to that line the robot says: "This woman doesn't care about any future but her own." DUH DOI, because Daughter's future is her future! Lock it up! This is definitely the twist.
2. Hilary Swank and Daughter are... clones!
Clones were all the rage for a hot minute in the late 2000s/early 2010s; Never Let Me Go, Orphan Black, and, most importantly, Moon, which appears to be potentially the most similar to I Am Mother. Moon was set in an isolated station, so is I Am Mother. Moon had a chatty robot, so does I Am Mother. So it stands to reason — if reason means "totally unsubstantiated guessing" — that because Moon had clones, so does I Am Mother. (Stand by for a cameo by Sam Rockwell, too.)
In the trailer, you can see trays of embryos just waiting to sprout, and you know what? They all look alike! That can't be a coincidence! But seriously, folks, something fishy is going on in this underground lab, and because they look so much alike, if Rugaard isn't a young Swank, then she IS Swank, right? We know Swank had a poor encounter with the robot's robo-friends before, so there's probably some bad blood there. And there's no way I'm trusting microchips-for-brains over Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank, so I don't believe a thing the robot says. These robots are EVIL. They're growing mini-Swanks to find Swank's weakness, like the bad guys did in Counterpart Season 2 with one universe's doppelgängers in the alternate universe! This makes too much sense. Cloning is 100% the twist.
3. Hilary Swank is Daughter's... wait for it... mother!
KABLAMMO! There goes your mind. Sometimes our minds wander and want a bigger twist than the most practical one. Time travel? C'mon, you watch too many movies! Clones? BOOOORING. Dark family secrets? Oooh yeah, that's the stuff. Making Swank the mother of Rugaard — I'm betting Swank doesn't find out about this until the end — thrusts I Am Mother into every sci-fi writer's dream thematic playground: nature versus nurture. Robot raised Daughter; does that make it her mother? Or does biology trump upbringing?
Also, c'mon, it's right there in the title! Can't you just picture Swank entering the room and belting out, "I am mother!" It's like when those guys in that movie said, "We're saving Private Ryan," or that space captain said, "Get ready for war... a star war." I Am Mother isn't just the movie's title, it's the character motivation for two-thirds of the cast. Twist discovered. You don't even need to watch the movie anymore. Another piece of entertainment dismantled by the internet. Well done, everybody.
UPDATE - The actual twist (spoilers ahoy!): Well, I was sort of close. The clone guess was the closest (and I'm not convinced entirely wrong), with Daughter realizing that she wasn't the first child raised by Mother. Daughter found the dusty remains of at least one previous young female in an incinerator, and it is heavily implied but never absolutely confirmed that Woman (Swank's character) was the first embryo raised by Mother (twist!!!), but escaped. Again it's implied, but not confirmed, that Mother allowed Woman to live outside the facility and even be part of the development of Daughter by tempting Daughter to abandon the birthing facility and live outside.
Daughter ultimately refuses and opts to save newly born Brother and take up the role of repopulating the human race, which is exactly what Mother wanted her to do. DAUGHTER IS NOW MOTHER! Mother's whole role was to raise a new human who would carry out repopulation under the standards Mother wanted, essentially with a species-first mindset rather than woman's "do anything to save yourself" mentality.
I Am Mother leaves a LOT open to interpretation while still delivering a thought-provoking ending about survival and morality. It's a real showcase for director Grant Sputore, and one of the best Netflix original films released so far.
I Am Mother is now on Netflix.