Post-apocalyptic shows are all the rage right now, so when Bird Box and IO hit Netflix, viewers already had their popcorn at the ready. Although both are films are set in dystopian future, IO is different in that it’s light on the action and heavy on the symbolism. In the film, toxic air on Earth has caused the majority of humanity to flee the planet and live on a space station orbiting IO, one of Jupiter’s moons. Sam Walden, a young environmental scientist, stays behind in the hopes that the possibility of life on Earth still exists. Unlike most films within the genre, IO‘s storyline moves at a glacial pace and explores the themes of love, loss, and human connection. Love it or hate it, there are definitely inconsistencies and bits of symbolism that you probably overlooked. Here are 10 things you missed in Netflix’s IO.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
10. “Geothermal Energy From Other Planets” Doesn’t Exist
At the very beginning of the movie, Sam Weldon (Margaret Qualley) attempts to explain why Earth is now largely uninhabitable for humans. Within the first two minutes, she claims that after scientists predicted Earth’s demise, they started working on a power station that could be spent into space to “harvest geothermal energy from other planets.” That sounds pretty cool until you pick up a fifth-grade science book and see that the prefix “geo” actually means “Earth,” therefore “geothermal energy” is thermal energy that can only be harvested from…Earth.
9. Why Sam Says “We Have To”
It’s only natural that two lonely people would want to take physical comfort in each other’s arms, but many viewers were puzzled as to why Sam tells Micah “we have to” right before they sleep together. Some cynics assumed she was just using him as a sperm donor, but the real reason is actually quite poetic.
Earlier that evening, Micah (Anthony Mackie) told Sam about a speech in Plato’s Symposium in which man once had two faces, four arms, and four legs, but was then split in two. As a result, mankind is constantly searching for their other half in order to heal themselves. In other words, connecting with another person is the cure for humanity. Ironically, their shared “connection” actually does end up bringing hope for all mankind in the form of a child.
8. Sam IS The Bee
After a massive storm, Sam is devastated to discover that all of her father’s bee colonies have been destroyed. Later in the movie, Micah discovers a virgin queen bee that is trapped, yet still alive. Who does that sound like? Sam, of course! Just like the queen bee, Sam is alone and trapped on Earth, with no new mates to ensure its survival (until Micah arrives, that is). This definitely ties into the theme of human connection and how crucial it is to human survival.
7. Being Up High Doesn’t Make Sense
During the movie, it becomes clear that the only reason Sam is able to survive is because of a little pocket of uncontaminated air due to her high elevation. “Even the birds all died…you’d think they could live up high like us,” she tells Micah. According to the movie, living up high is the only way to survive the dangerous levels of concentrated ammonia, but the reality would actually be just the opposite. Ammonia is lighter than air, therefore its levels would be higher at an increased elevation, not lower. Whoops. Hey, they’re movie directors, not scientists.
6. The ‘Test Flame’ Burns The Wrong Color
Throughout the film, both Micah and Sam continually monitor the air quality by lighting a flame and observing its color. If the flame is purple, the air is unsafe, but when the flame is yellow or orange, they’re good to go. That sounds reasonable, except that when ammonia burns in the presence of oxygen, the flame is yellow, not purple. Ammonia also has a flammable range of 15 – 28%, but an ammonia concentration of 15% or higher would necessitate a fully-enclosed, airtight suit at all times. So… they should be dead by now.
5. Micah Was Planning To Kill Sam’s Father
Given how attached Micah gets to Sam in such a short amount of time, it’s easy to forget that his sole purpose for going there was to kill her father for revenge. Although his background is pretty vague, Micah does fill us in on some details about his life both before and after the Earth’s atmosphere turned on them. Like many others, Micah and his family were encouraged to stay on Earth by Dr. Harry Walden, Sam’s father, who gave people hope that things would get better. That “hope” proved to be a lie, however, and Micah was forced to watch his wife (and many others) starve to death. Yep, I can understand his rage.
4. The Symbolism Behind ‘Leda And The Swan’
Sam isn’t enamored by the painting and story of “Leda and the Swan” simply because it’s pretty; there’s a much deeper meaning behind it. According to mythology, Zeus came down to Earth in the form of a swan and impregnated Leda. As a result, Leda gave birth to Helen of Troy, who had the “face that launched a thousand ships” and began the Trojan War that changed the course of history. Like Zeus, Micah descended from the heavens in a hot air balloon and impregnated Sam, who ends up giving birth to a child who will change the fate of humanity. One world must die for a new one to be born.
3. The Symbolism Behind Micah’s Name
You might not have realized it, but the writers of IO selected the name Micah for a very specific reason. In the Old Testament, Micah is a prophet who laments the destruction of Jerusalem, and Samaria rebukes the people of Judah for their dishonesty. Similarly, Micah mourns the world he lost and berates Sam’s father for misleading hundreds of people. Micah of the Old Testament also prophesied about the birth of a savior in the town of Bethlehem. This idea of a child bringing restoration to humanity parallels the “savior” we see at the end of the movie.
2. The Water Should Have Killed Them
When Micah first arrives at Sam’s camp, he immediately asks for water. When Sam hands him a cup of murky water, she claims that it’s only cloudy due to the charcoal. “We filter our drinking water through sand and charcoal. It’s all it needs,” she tells him. There are several things wrong with this scenario. First, filtering water with charcoal is supposed to prevent water from being cloudy. Second, purifying water that’s contaminated with ammonia requires a LOT more than sand and charcoal. It’s actually a very complicated process that involves balancing PH, dissolving oxygen and nitrifying bacteria.
1. The Ending Is Ambiguous
There has been a lot of confusion about the ending of IO. Did Sam actually die in Micah’s arms when she abruptly pulled off her oxygen mask in the art museum? Many people believe she did, thanks to the final dream-like scene where Sam is finally standing in front of the ocean like she always dreamed about. On the other hand, many people believe she survived thanks to years of building up immunity in her lab. In the last scene, Sam is narrating a letter to Micah, who is now presumably in space.
“Tell them a new world awaits us,” she says, as she stands on the beach alongside her son. “Tell them we’re waiting for you to come back.”