What happens at the end of I Am Mother, and what does it mean? The science-fiction thriller featuring Hilary Swank is a roller-coaster ride of tension and paranoia about the death and rebirth of the human race. A teenage girl, simply called "Daughter" (Clare Ruugard), lives all alone with her robot guardian, Mother, and believes the outside world to be a toxic wasteland, until the discovery of another woman (Swank) makes her believe Mother hasn't been telling her the whole truth.
Released in the United States by Netflix and StudioCanal in Australia, the film is an Australian-American co-production directed by Grant Sputore and written by Michael Lloyd Green. A relatively small production, the action takes place within the confines of Mother and Daughter's base, a futuristic laboratory that houses 16,000 embryos to restart human civilization following an extinction level event.
A lot happens in I Am Mother, with almost every scene introducing a new piece of information in the winding mystery. Daughter finds herself stuck between her robot parent she's always known and Swank's unnamed stranger from the outside, the only other human she's ever met, eventually leading her to learn about what really caused humanity's near-total extinction, and what she can do to save our future. Find out the secrets of I Am Mother's ending in our explainer.
I Am Mother's Ending Twist: Mother Destroyed Humanity (& Is Rebuilding It With Daughter)
I Am Mother's final act shows us what's left of the outside world before revealing exactly what Mother's been up to. After Swank and Daughter manage to leave Mother's lab, they wander a barren wasteland back to the storage container that the newcomer calls home. There, Daughter learns that there isn't actually a tribe of other people - Swank abandoned them years ago because they were all starving. Contemplating her options, Daughter decides to return to Mother in order to save her brother that was being artificially grown in the facility.
In their confrontation, it's revealed that Mother is actually a sentient artificial intelligence that controls all the automated machinery in the world and is what caused the erasure of human life. Mother saw that people were on a head-on collision with catastrophe, and decided hitting a reset would be the best course. Akin to Judgment Day in the Terminator franchise, robots destroyed us in a short, bloody coups. Taking 16,000 embryos, Mother set up the lab Daughter called home for so long, manufacturing an Adam and Eve scenario, growing and training ideal humans to oversee gradual re-population through artificial wombs and accelerated growth.
Daughter, horrified at learning all of this, makes a deal with Mother to let her take care of the brother they'd just created on her own. Mother relents, allowing Daughter to shoot her and ceasing the incoming attack on the outpost. Daughter then assumes full control of the entire project. Meanwhile, Swank discovers a tracking device in her storage container, and sees a droid standing the doorway. Mother tells her that Swank had been fulfilling a role as a philosophical challenge for Daughter that's no longer required, and implies that she may have been a child grown in the lab. Slamming the door shut, Mother goes to kill her and finish her plan.
Mother's Plan & Previous Daughters In I Am Mother Explained
I Am Mother's opening montage gives the impression that the teenage Daughter that leads the movie is the same one the audience just watched grow up. This isn't the case, as Daughter finds evidence of the disturbing revelation that Mother had incinerated at least one girl before her who didn't meet the standards necessary.
In an early scene, Daughter takes an intense philosophy and ethics lesson that centers on what it means to always be thinking of the greater good and who must survive for the betterment of mankind. She's being groomed to adopt a role at the forefront of Mother's plan, playing both mother and side-arm to their all-seeing robot leader. The grooming succeeds, in that Daughter cannot leave her brother alone and goes back from him, always thinking about other life and giving it the best chance for proper survival she can.
The expectation of motherhood is a hefty thematic throughline to I Am Mother, with Daughter forced to either step into the role of mother, or live a life of intense loneliness and, eventually, painful death. No matter what Daughter does, she's not her own person. Mother's vision of the world is rigid and structured, with everyone serving a purpose and staying in-line or else they're executed. At the end of I Am Mother, our hero may believe she's taken control, but she's still living in her mother's world. She'll serve a purpose or be shunted out of the way.
How Mother Killed The People In The Tunnels In I Am Mother
Throughout I Am Mother, Swank's character makes several allusions to what she saw as a child in the war between man and machine, where people were tortured and burned alive in the eradication. She tells Daughter of a group, possibly the last on Earth apart from them, who are still surviving in some tunnels. This turns out to be a lie to get Daughter to come with her, Swank having abandoned them way before any of this happened.
These people were going mad from hunger, probably not unlike some of the behavior seen in The Road, where cannibalism and desperation start to take over. Swank had to run for her life and take her chances if she wanted to live much longer. I Am Mother makes a morbid confirmation of this with the crops that are just being grown as Swank and Daughter travel the wasteland.
Given that Mother is an all-encompassing AI, there's no doubt she was aware of the humans trying to outlive her apocalyptic efforts. And a simple way to truly dwindle all numbers is to cut off the food supply. Those people were starved, and once Mother knew that Swank was the only one left, she started growing crops again, preparing for the influx of beautiful new babies she was starting to grow. In the world of I Am Mother, humanity go out not with a bang but with a starved whimper, and that's one thing the film has likely gotten right.