I Am Mother is a Netflix original sci-fi thriller that takes place after an extinction event wipes out most of humanity. Mother, an advanced artificial intelligence robot, raises Daughter who is born one of 63,000 human embryos stored in an underground facility built to restart the human race.
I am not sure how the creators of the film intended to portray the Virgin Mary in this movie, but she appears several times in a portrait, in a statute of the Pietá and one of the characters, Woman, carries a Rosary. One of the creators said in an interview, nothing in the film is there by accident, so Mary was placed in the movie for a reason.
There is an interesting scene that takes place in the underground facility’s classroom where Mother and Daughter discuss the hypothetical conundrum of the organ donor. Basically, one patient, who is also a physician, is curable but has organs that may be harvested to save five other patients. The question Mother poses to Daughter is whether it would be right to harvest the organs from the physician patient, thereby killing her, so that the other five patients who need organ transplants can live. Three philosophers are mentioned in the scene: Auguste Comte, Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham.
When the question is posed to Daughter she notes that Comte believed we should be willing to suffer harm for others, but she asks Mother questions like “are the other patients good humans, are they lazy or hardworking, honest or dishonest?” Daughter understands that if the life-saving doctor gives up her life for “murderers and thieves,” then her “sacrifice” might end up harming more people in the end.
Mother then asks, “You don’t feel that every human has intrinsic value and an equal right to life and happiness?” Daughter replies, “I did last month when you were teaching Kant.” The movie never tells us what Daughter’s final answer to this question is, but this scene leaves us with a lot to think about.
Kant taught the “Categorical Imperative” which says to “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Essentially, this is the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This is compatible with Catholic morality, but Kant didn’t recognize divine revelation as a way of discovering truth.
Bentham taught the “Fundamental Axiom” which says “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” This is utilitarianism. The problem with utilitarianism is that it is okay to commit an immoral act to achieve a good because the consequences of the act, not the act itself, are what matter most. The end justifies the means. Under utilitarianism, what is considered “good” at one point in time may no longer be “good” at another point in time. Utilitarianism does not recognize universal truths and is not compatible with Catholicism.
One particular line of dialogue from the movie stood out to me. After being confronted by Daughter over her lies, which led Daughter to flee the underground facility and abandon her newborn brother, Woman says “it’s no sin looking out for yourself.” Woman’s statement seems to justify bad means, i.e., lying, selfishness and cowardice, for a good end, i.e., escaping from Mother. Woman’s thinking sounds like utilitarianism, but in the Catholic faith, the end can never justify the means. “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means.” (CCC 1753)
Woman is the only religious character in I Am Mother. Her lies and damning statement do not portray Christians well. However, I am not interested in Woman’s failures as much as I am interested in Mary’s role as a mother in this film.
We are all capable of despicable acts, especially if placed in a life and death scenario like Woman was. Regardless of Woman’s faults, though, Mary is portrayed positively in this film. The fact that Woman, broken and sinful as she is, is comforted by Mary shows us how loving Mary is to her children. Mary, the Mother of the Church, accepts us all, regardless of how poor and filthy we are. In contrast, this is not the way Mother the robot “loves” her children.
Mother the robot is a utilitarian. We know this when we learn that APX02, Daughter’s older sister, was “Aborted” and incinerated by Mother because she didn’t score high enough on the examinations administered by Mother. We can also reasonably conclude that Mother executes Woman in the shipping container after Woman is no longer useful to Mother. This happens after Mother expresses disgust for Woman’s squalid living conditions.
Based on Mother’s statements, it seems that Woman is APX01 and was brought into the world by Mother only as a pawn to test Daughter. Mother used Woman, put her through suffering her entire life (remember the AI that runs Mother runs all of the other machines), solely to achieve her goal of restarting humanity through Daughter. Mother is therefore cruel toward those she sees as obstacles or tools and her “love” is purely conditional and based on the end she seeks to achieve. Mother’s children must pass tests not only to win her affection, but just to stay alive!
Our Blessed Mother, on the other hand, has no conditions for us to receive her love. We need only to place ourselves in her care for her to love us and she loves all of us no matter how poor and dirty we are. Mary wants only to bring us to her Son, a man who knowingly sacrificed his life for murderers and thieves.
Immanuel Kant, Wikipedia
What is Deontology?, Immanuel Kant
What is Utilitarianism?, Jeremy Bentham
What is Virtue Ethics?, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Stoics (the preferred moral theory of the Catholic Church)
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