Released 2002. Director: Steven Spielberg
THE FACE OF A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BELONGS TO A CHILD. His name is David and he has skin so luminous it doesn’t seem altogether real. He has eyes so sad as if the boy knows fate will be unkind to him. His heart is pure and he loves his mum more than anything in the world.
But David doesn’t really have a heart. He’s a synthetic body, a robot boy but as real as one borne of a human mother. A.I. the movie has two fathers. Originally a short story written in 1969 by Brian Aldiss called “Super Toys Last All Summer Long”, A.I. was the project of the late Stanley Kubrick. The director of 2001: A Space Odyssey died in 1999 before visual effects technology caught up with his vision for A.I. Good friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg took over the unfinished business, writing the script and directing it.
Like any human child that carries the characteristics of both his parents, A.I. bears the fingerprints of its two fathers. Kubrick’s dark, moody, cerebral perfectionism is juxtaposed with Spielberg’s soft, warm, emotional optimism.
By doing the gentlemanly thing to honour the memory of a cherished friend, Spielberg has created a movie that is being pulled in two different directions. Which is a pity because A.I. becomes a compromise, sacrificing a more intense, focused, singular precision of vision.
While Spielberg, with his assured mastery of craft, has successfully avoided a totally schizophrenic outcome, the overall trajectory of the movie is occasionally uneven. However, let me stress that this is not necessarily a negative comment. A.I. is a peculiar hybrid and the treatment and atmosphere is markedly dissimilar in parts, but the results are the signatures of major talents and skills nonetheless, evident in every frame.
This is a science fiction fable set in the future when the melting of polar ice caps has inundated coastal cities, human birth is state-controlled and lifelike robots are a common sight. Against this backdrop comes the story of David, the first robot child programmed to love. David is adopted by a pair of human parents whose dying young son Martin is being sustained cryogenically. Martin’s unexpected recovery leads to sibling rivalry and circumstances become difficult for David. Eventually he’s abandoned in the woods.
All the robot boy wants is to be reunited with his adopted mother. His love is so powerful it becomes his one driving obsession. But David falls into a harrowing experience in a fringe society of bad humans and broken mechas (short for mechanicals). This is a Jurassic Park where innocent mechas get chomped into nasty pieces by menacing humans.
A.I. takes us through a flashy, intimidating and dangerous future glossed with first-rate visual effects. Although you don’t see blood, there is disturbing violence in a nightmarish setting of a grim and sinister universe.
David’s quest to follow Pinocchio’s fate gives A.I. its fairy-tale aspect, yet it leads to an ending in a watery grave when Spielberg subverts the genre. Kubrick would most likely have ended the story right there. But Spielberg is not one who would close his movie on a despairing note. To bring a happy ending to the story, he takes the plot leaping two thousand years ahead to close on a warm, fuzzy fade-out.
Yes, he orchestrates a mother and son reunion of a most unusual kind. And by this time some audience could already be moved to tears. A conclusion in Spielberg fashion that feels strangely unfulfilling because you know David is getting the second best when he deserves much better.
You probably get it by now that A.I. asks some pretty serious questions, primarily centred on the parent-child relationship between a conflicted mother and a child with an unquestioning love. What is the nature of love? Can love be created by programming and understood by a walking circuit board? What are the responsibilities involved in love?
Haley Joel Osment plays David with a shimmering luminosity, challenging us to simultaneously be wary of his mechanical biology and embrace his human essence. A hauntingly beautiful performance from a young talent straight after his star-making turn in The Sixth Sense.
“I want to be a real boy. Mommy will love a real boy.” David makes his one wish, simple, innocent and earnest. The need to love and be loved is a constant, a part of human nature as voiced by a non-human.