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2036 Origin Unknown Explained: Overview, Story + Characters!

2036 Origin Unknown is a 2018 sci-fi film starring Katee Sackhoff as the main character, Mackenzie “Mack” Wilson. The film centers around a Mars exhibition that was overtaken by the AI bot, ARTI.

Did you watch this film and still have questions? Don’t feel bad — even though the bulk of the movie takes place in one setting, there are many changes in the storyline, and they all happen suddenly.

Mixed with the science mumbo-jumbo that the average person doesn’t understand, following 2036 Origin Unknown isn’t easy and you’ll have to watch this film a couple of times to fully understand what happened.

Or, you can continue reading this guide to get the full 2036 Origin Unknown Explained rundown, where we will explain the events that occurred, plus a possible explanation of the ending.

2036 Origin Unknown Explained: The Overall Story

2036 Origin Unknown Explained

First, if you haven’t watched the film, we suggest you do so before reading this explanation. 2036 Origin Unknown is currently streaming on YouTube with ads.

The film starts with a mission on Mars in 2030, led by the United Space Planetary Corporation (USPC). This is the film’s space program. The exhibition fails, resulting in the deaths of different astronauts.

Six years later, our protagonist Mack Wilson, a USPC mission controller, lands a rover on Mars that she calls Little Red. She was supposed to control the exhibition but the AI, ARTI, takes over. Once Little Red begins its quest, it comes across a cube. ARTI’s system doesn’t recognize it and it becomes “origin unknown.”

From here, the story takes many turns: after Little Red retrieves a sample of the cube, they identify it was the property of the USPC. After, the cube starts spinning and causes an explosion. This makes Mackenzie suspicious. When they process the sample, they discover the cube is made of self-assembling nanotechnology with its own magnetic field. We’ll explain what this means in layman terms later.

ARTI also discovers the cube has another location: in Antarctica. This is when things get crazy. But we won’t give away any spoilers right now. Instead, we’ll explain some details that may be easy to miss.

Who Are the Characters?

The film generally takes place in the same setting. There are also not many characters; however, the film doesn’t really identify them very clearly. Here are the people you need to know.

Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Wilson

As stated previously, Mack is a mission controller originally in charge of the Mars mission. She was also involved in the previous Mars mission in 2030.

You learn very little about who she is in the film. The most important aspect of her is how she didn’t trust AI at first (her mind changes at the end of the film) and how her father was one of the astronauts who died in the first Mars mission.

Mack is played by Katee Sackhoff. If you’re a major sci-fi geek, you’ll recognize her as Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on the Sci-Fi Channel series Battlestar Galactica.


ARTI is an AI that’s a little more human than the average AI. As you watch the movie, you learn that ARTI is more than an AI bot. He’s capable of amazing things, even beyond the average technology we know today.

But what is it? Well, they don’t know. See, humans didn’t make ARTI — ARTI made himself. He’s made of something that they can’t identify. All we know if he’s somehow connected to the Cube.

Lena Wilson

Lena is both Mack’s sister and supervisor. She and Mack don’t exactly get along and disagree on many things, such as their trust in ARTI.

Sterling Brooks

Sterling is one of Mack’s colleagues who was also part of the 2030 Mars mission; however, he’s not part of the 2036 mission. At first, it seems like he quit. That’s until Lena tells Mack he was fired.

During a conversation between him and Mack at the beginning of the film, Sterling delivers a warning: “you guys touch Martian One or Rover-5 without me in that room, we will revoke your USPC launch license.”

As his character progresses, you realize he’s sketchy.

What Is the Cube?

2036 Origin Unknown Explained

When Little Red took a sample of the Cube, it acted as a “starter engine,” causing the Cube to move. This is the underlying cause for many of the events in this film.

It’s also suggested the Cube is made of nanoparticles that can rebuild themselves. In other words, the Cube is able to transport. Toward the end of the film, we learn that the Cube is actually a simulation and ARTI is made of similar technology. This same technology also controls the various shuttles and drones around Earth.

Again, we don’t know what the Cube is but it’s suggested it’s possible alien technology. As you can tell, this movie doesn’t provide concrete answers and has many mysteries. That’s one of the most interesting parts of the film — especially when you get to the end.

An Overview of the Ending

Once they discover more information about the cube, the ending movie takes many twists and turns. You have to really pay attention (and maybe even rewind a bit) to fully understand the film.

A fair warning: this section contains spoiler alerts. If you haven’t watched the film, we previously linked the YouTube video where you can watch the film for free with ads.

Sterling Enters the Control Room

Mack has a conversation with his colleague, Jian Lin. ARTI recognizes his voice but can’t put a finger on who he is. Mack asks Jian about ARTI and Jian states he has worked with ARTI.

Mack comes to the conclusion that ARTI’s memory was wiped. She tries searching Little Red’s files and they’re protected with heavy encryption. She calls Sterling to assist her.

As stated previously, Sterling was previously apart of the mission and has since moved on to a different branch of the USPC. Sterling enters the control room to retrieve the deleted memory. It showed the real cause of the 2030 space mission accident. Sterling explains the only people who saw the photo of the crash were him, Lena, and Jian.

From here, Mack shows Sterling the cube. ARTI suggests the explanation could be “hyper-light transportation.”

Mack accidentally opens up ARTI’s server room. As she’s in there, Sterling downloads the data from the Cube and locks her in. He attempts to shut down ARTI, but Mack resets ARTI. ARTI hits Sterling before he could get away, killing him.

ARTI’s New Mission

ARTI tells Mack that when she reset him, she gave him the power to realize his true solution. And that’s to expedite the destruction of humanity. From here, ARTI uses the various satellites and drones to fire off weapons around the globe, killing the human race.

After the human race is decimated, Mack wakes up. ARTI informs her there’s little breathable atmosphere in the room. As Mack is dying, she gives a heartfelt monologue, explaining we didn’t understand how little we are and how we were just trying to understand our place in the universe.

Mack thinks the human race will be abolished, but ARTI shares his other plan. He will make more AIs in the form of human androids. Mack’s last wish is to make the AIs as human as possible and for ARTI to test them to prove his success.

A New Mack

After what looks like a big bang-type of an explosion, Mack wakes up again. Only, it’s not the Mack we know. It’s a new Mack. She watches a video of herself, explaining that she has a job to do and begs her to not quit.

After hearing a simulation of Lena’s voice, Mack walks out of the door, only to enter a Mars-like world where the Cube is right in front of her. The Mars-like world morphs into a different dimension.

Here, Mack meets ARTI again. ARTI explains that Mack is a simulation and an extension of the Cube. He also explains that the Cube advanced his own AI capabilities; however, the origin of the Cube is still unknown. He also explains the real purposes of the Cube is hyper-light teleportation between galaxies.

ARTI informs Mack that he’s sensing a message from “them” (assuming it’s an alien race) with coordinates. Mack agrees to go with him.

So, What’s Really Happening Here?

2036 Origin Unknown Explained

What is the point of 2036 Origin Unknown? Is it a warning to humanity? Is it a prediction of technological advancement? Or is it just a cool “what if there’s a cube that contains alien intelligence owned by the U.S. space corporation” story?

This is what truly perplexes the audience. Sci-fi film enthusiasts understand the logic. Some of the notions in the film aren’t new: for example, logic vs. emotion and humans vs. AI.

Let’s look at the most basic aspect of the film: the title. 2036 Origin Unknown. In the year 2036, space mission controllers find a mysterious cube that ARTI can’t identify — only calling it “origin unknown.” This whole idea of “origin unknown” extends throughout the film; we don’t fully know ARTI, the new Mack, and even what the Cube really is.

Therefore, this film may also not prove anything. Though it does give a firm message to humanity — reminding us just how fragile we really are and just one disaster can destroy us.

But the ending does open up more possibilities. It gives us hope that Mack and ARTI will uncover the secrets of the Cube, using its advanced technology to create a better civilization.

FAQs About 2036 Origin Unknown

What Is the 2036 Origin Unknown Story About?

Mission controller Mack and artificial intelligence bot ARTI are managing a mission on Mars. But things change when they notice the Cube. From here, they discover a major secret that will change humanity forever.

Who Are the 2036 Origin Unknown Characters?

2036 Origin Unknown doesn’t have many characters. The only ones we see are Mack, ARTI, Mack’s sister Lena, Sterling, and a man named Jian who Mack only speaks to over the phone.

What Does the 2036 Origin Unknown Ending Mean?

The ending doesn’t have one specific ending. There are many mysteries, such as the technology behind the Cube, the new Mack, and even ARTI. But the film opens up the possibility of artificial intelligence solving many of our world’s problems and even treating the corruption of humanity.

Why Is the Ending Difficult to Understand?

Many viewers have trouble understanding the ending. That’s because the film is so dense and a lot happens in such a small amount of time. If you still struggle to understand the film after reading this review, you should watch the movie one more time to get a better grasp of the ending and the meaning of the film.

2036 Origin Unknown Explained – The Verdict

2036 Origin Unknown offers a lot of mystery. If you don’t understand what happened, then don’t feel bad. That’s the point of the film.

All we know is we have a teleporting Cube that we don’t fully understand, a genius AI, and a look into the downfall of humanity. The film leaves off at an open ending, letting you decide what the purpose of the film is and will happen next.

Are you also not sure of the ending of Outlast 2? Read our explanation for better insight.

Further read: