Sunday, September 22, 2019

Netflix's I Am Mother--A Review

America's collective societal angst is a subject that really should be looked at deeply by whatever compassionate and intelligent people are left. It doesn't matter what end of the political spectrum you sit, but most Americans seem to spend their lives engrossed in their real and imagined fears. Our movies, books, television shows, and even news programs are often overwhelmed with a steady supply of post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories that actively feed on our fears. A sad statement for a people who claim to live in the, “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”

Please understand, I'm not saying there aren't real dangers lurking out in the world. Some are literally world-ending with the worst being climate change and environmental destruction. Pushing aside the willfully ignorant and their irrational cries of denial, the burning of fossil fuels to power our civilization has just about become a form of suicide but also an attempted murder of all life on the planet. But on the other end of the spectrum, I'm not cowering in fear over the Muslim guy sitting two rows in front of me on the airplane. Nor the Hispanic family sneaking across the southern border because they don't want to be murdered in their sleep by the local gang.

There are more esoteric fears though that while potentially real, are far more nebulous and detached from our everyday lives allowing them to be examined in a thoughtful way. The Netflix movie, I am Mother fits that description even though it has several flaws in the story and premise.

I am Mother is essentially another killer-robot story dealing with the usual Artificial Intelligence system out to rid the world of those nasty humans. The nice twist in the story though is that the genocidal A.I. only wants to drive humans extinct as the first step in bringing them back. The movie opens with the camera strolling down deserted futuristic corridors of an underground facility with titles telling us that an extinction level event has occurred on the surface and that the human population is now zero. But the next title says that the corridors we're seeing are part of a Repopulation Facility housing 63,000 preserved human embryos.

"Daughter" with her siblings

We then see Mother, a clunky looking humanoid robot who can curiously move with the grace of a dancer and the speed of an athlete, place one of the embryos into an artificial womb, a spherical glass container, where it grows to a normal-sized baby and is later decanted, for the lack of a better term. While Mother looks overwhelmingly like a machine instead of a human female, it raises the baby with a tenderness that rivals the abilities of real flesh and blood caregivers.

Mother calls this female child “Daughter” and tells her that when the time is right she will have numerous brothers and sisters who will then go on to repopulate the devastated Earth. But first Daughter has to endure years of training in every conceivable subject from electronics to philosophy.

As Daughter grows into a young woman she naturally becomes restless with her bunker lifestyle and wants to see the surface. Mother avoids actual details but says such an excursion is impossible because everything above is both dangerous and toxic. But a line is crossed for Daughter when a simple mouse gets into the facility and gnaws into some wiring disabling Mother and other systems. Daughter is able to capture the mouse and restore power to Mother, who promptly flips out and throws the innocent rodent into an incinerator and then scrubs down a large section of the bunker.

Soon after that Daughter decided to put on a hazmat suit and go outside without asking permission. Here's where I have my first problem with the movie, because just as Daughter is about to open the massive metal doors to the outside world she hears someone pounding on them. The moment seemed to me to be highly contrived damaging the overall excellent story.

Whatever the case, Daughter opens the door to find a wounded woman begging for help. Daughter brings in the stranger and tried to hide her from Mother while not explaining to the injured woman the physical makeup of the “person” she shares the bunker with. It doesn't go well because the stranger has an infection from her injuries and is close to dying unless surgery is performed, something Daughter knows Mother can easily perform.

Once Mother and the stranger learn of each other things go heavily sideways. The stranger demands the weapon Daughter confiscated after she crawled into the bunker's airlock and passed out. She tells Daughter that robots like Mother hunt humans on the surface while refusing to let the robot near her. That robots like her have come close to sterilizing the surface of all life. Mother in turn throws up her mechanical hands playing it cool telling Daughter the stranger is nuts and if she dies it's her own fault.

Daughter forges a compromise by performing the surgery herself saving the stranger. What happens next is a bit of a Cold War between Mother and the stranger with Daughter as the prize. Mother moves to reinforce her influence with Daughter by allowing her to pick a “brother” from the frozen embryos and insert it into the artificial womb. The stranger ups the game by convincing Daughter to go behind Mother's back to find the truth and she does with the results extremely unsettling. Mainly that Daughter learns that Mother attempted to raise other children before her who were killed off when they didn't measure up to the robot's standards.

Daughter decides to leave with the stranger but is stopped by Mother and thrown into a locked room. As Mother tortures the stranger for information on other survivors, Daughter breaks out and sets off the fire alarm to distract Mother in hopes that the stranger and her will have enough time to get away. It doesn't work, Mother confronts them at the airlock door forcing the stranger to take Daughter hostage and threaten to kill her if the robot doesn't open the door.

Mother lets them go and while Daughter is pissed, she does follow the stranger outside. Once outside, Daughter and the stranger spend their time crossing a desolate surface avoiding robots who recently have begun terraforming operation. Daughter also learns there are no other human survivors, and that there hasn't been for many years. Stranger lives alone in a storage container that had long ago washed ashore.

Daughter decides living with Mother in the bunker is better than playing post-apocalyptic beach bum with the stranger who ain't playing with a full deck herself. This is my second issue with the movie, Daughter discovery of previous children being murdered by Mother after they didn't measure up to her standards would preclude any reconciliation. But I let this one pass because Daughter felt duty bound to go home partly because her brother was even then cooking (growing) in the artificial womb.

Daughter heads back to the bunker and finds the entrance guarded by legions of heavily armed robots like Mother. The murder 'bots let Daughter inside without an issue where she finds Mother holding a freshly decanted baby brother in her arms. Mother explains that she is not just one robot but an A.I. system that controls them all. That she instigated the extinction event with the expressed purpose of saving humanity from their self-destructive ways. That Mother was going to guide her 63,000 kids to be more ethical and to understand the bigger picture. At that moment all I could think of was the American army officer from the Vietnam War infamously saying they had to, “destroy the village in order to save it.”

What's even more darkly funny is that I have heard several nutcase progressives-liberals say something similar explaining why they voted for the Orange Bastard or just stayed home on election day back in 2016. Seemingly proving the statement that humans are to inherently stupid and self-destructive to survive much longer. This goes back to the fact that global climate change will seriously frak up our civilization in the coming decades but we have millions of people in this country scared to death of the brown-skinned people praying differently and those fleeing dehumanizing poverty and drug gangs.

Getting back on subject, somehow Daughter is able to convince Mother to let her raise the new baby and all the other kids, That she has passed all the ethical and philosophical tests Mother had thrown at her. Surprisingly Mother agrees, and lets Daughter shoot her with the stranger's weapon in the one place on her body that will be “fatal.”

This is yet another problem I have with the movie. Just minutes before it was explained to Daughter that Mother is an A.I. system and that even then literally had thousands of identical robots hanging around outside the massive doors of the bunker. The destruction of that one robot simply didn't make any sense to me. Daughter was explained and shown in the movie to be highly educated and trained in robotic and computer repair. The scene ends with Daughter looking inside the storage room where all the other embryos await their chance at life.

Possibly to close those pesky plot holes, we have one final scene of the stranger back in her storage container home. Another robot version of Mother steps inside the container explaining to the stranger that her survival was something she planned to aid in her agenda. Mother further tells the stranger that with her role fulfilled, she had no further use of her. The final scene ends with it heavily implied Mother kills the stranger.

Okay, as an existential fear, a rogue A.I. going all murderous Skynet is something I'm not losing sleep over. Not that some famous and knowledgeable people like Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking haven't warned the public that there are reasons to be wary of creating sentient entities that can out think us. Whether we're near the technological level to create A.I. systems with human-level intelligence is something up for debate. But the given the warp speed advancement in computer systems,

But in the case of the fictional Mother, her genocidal approach to advancing human development has more to say about human behavior and even our past history. I feel genocidal worries are strictly something humans have created given our past behaviors. Many informed people worry about how easily groups can justify the organized murder of people different from themselves.

Conversely, some groups, stupid white folks here in America, have irrational fears of minorities ganging up on them and getting revenge on centuries of mistreatment. These delusions are one of the reasons have little to no respect for most right-wingers and have given up on “reaching them.” Fear that Muslims/Hispanics/Gays/Atheists/Liberals are on the verge of rounding up all God fearing Christians is the first step in justifying pulling a preemptive genocide strike on them. Yes, I have personally listened to such people express in actual words their fear that they are in grave danger of organized persecution.

Further fueling my own fears, I've lost count of the number of times someone on social media has said I should be “disposed of” or removed from society for expressing my view on gun control or any of a number of other “commie ideas.”

So, while I am Mother was an entertaining movie with enough interesting concepts to make it thought provoking, I don't believe a real A.I. would go all Skynet. If such a system was created with Mother's stated desire to improve humanity, I believe it would go about it covertly by taking over various computer systems. Such an A.I. could at the very least alter election polls, promote specific voices on social media, and yes, kill certain individuals who possess enough influence to hamper its desired goals.

Understand, the race to advance artificial intelligence technology is something the major nations are heavily pursuing for both commercial needs and to promote their individual national security agendas. The real near term threat that comes from A.I. is for one nation to have a major breakthrough that would allow it to easily penetrate sensitive communications or databases. The medium term threat would be an A.I. system that could be used to guess the responses of an enemy nation. This would make geopolitical strategic thinking even more of a chess game with move and countermoves.

I tend to side with the opinion that sentient A.I. systems won't be invented within the next hundred years. I've read enough to understand there is no real understanding of consciousness, so I just don't see a new version of Edison or Alan Turning building one on purpose. That's not to say we couldn't stumble into creating one or have an existing but limited A.I. evolve human-level awareness.

All things considered, I am Mother is something I moderately recommend. It's flawed but enjoyable and frankly, quite the improvement over some of the other science fiction movies Netflix has made.


sage said...

This sounds like an interesting movie, but a complex one.


Pixel Peeper said...

This movie does sound quite complex, as sage above said. I wish I had more time to watch TV...

I'm waiting for "Lost in Space" to come back on.

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