AI: Artificial Intelligence

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AI: Artificial Intelligence was originally a story that Stanley Kubrick wanted to film, but wasn’t sure it could be accomplished. The story, like many others, involves androids that are so advanced they seem just like humans. This is an obstacle difficult enough to overcome on its own, but because the protagonist of the story is a child android, it gets even more difficult. It’s hard for a child actor to pull off, and special effects in the days of Kubrick were not going to cut it (debatable whether they would cut it even now). After mulling it around for awhile, he decided that he wanted Spielberg to tackle the project. Spielberg and Kubrick traded it off for a number of years, until Kubrick’s death after Eyes Wide Shut made it almost an inevitability that Spielberg would take it on.

AI: Artificial Intelligence begins with Professor Hobby (William Hurt), issuing a challenge to the engineers of Cybertronics to make an android of a child, that can actually love its parents. His motives do not seem sinister; he simply has a clever business plan that is designed to help childless couples everywhere. The robot, or “mecha” (short for mechanical), they come up with is designed to love the person that activates it. The customer says a bunch of commands, and the mecha starts running a program that will convince any human that the droid loves him or her. The prototype is David (Haley Joel Osment), and he is tested in the Swinton household. Henry (Sam Robards) is an employee at Cybertronics, Monica (Frances O’Connor) is his wife, and their son Martin (Jake Thomas) is in a coma. They are the perfect couple to test David with, since they have an emotional gap where there son used to be.

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Henry brings David home, and Monica is shocked. How could a robot replace their son, who she has never given up hope on? She is so lonely, that she eventually does decide to activate him, and instantly David transforms. He was cute before, following Monica around and wondering what was going on, but once he is activated he is completely different. It’s almost as if you can see the love for his mother filling him up. He throws his arms around her, and will do anything to make her love him. This sometimes has disastrous results. Eventually though, Monica warms up to him. How could she not? He is an adorable boy, who trusts her just like she was his own mother. Maternal instinct has to kick in, and it does.

It’s really interesting to think about why people have children in context with this movie. Do they want someone to love, or do they want someone to love them? Because when David first shows up, Monica is horrified by him. She loves her own, real, son, and David is just a machine after all. She activates him all the same though. It’s like she decided to take in another child, just like that, but it’s also like she just decided to go out and buy a toaster. David is not as much work as a normal child, he doesn’t have to be fed or anything, and no matter what Monica does, he will always love him. He does still act up, but in theory he’s a lot less work. Once David starts running his program though, she loves him back. Whether it’s a strong as the love she feels for her real son, though, is another story.

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A really clever thing they did here was introduce two more androids over the course of the film. The first is Teddy, Martin’s old robotic stuffed bear. When you think about it, that bear and David aren’t really so different, even though David is programmed to love his mother. Teddy is still very loyal, nevertheless. When you think about children and stuffed animals, it doesn’t matter if the toy loves them back or not. The kids drag it around with them anyway, hug it and cry on it, have tea parties with; it doesn’t matter that it’s an inanimate object. Humans dump all of their emotions on it, personifying it to the extent that it doesn’t matter what it does or doesn’t do. But in Teddy’s case, the toy actually talks back, will hug the kid back, and chatter aimlessly through the tea party. It’s another degree of personification, with a computer program helping out. The other, more grown up, android is introduced later in the film: Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), and he does exactly what you think. He’s literally a sex machine, and though a human client has reservations at first, they do it anyway.

The problem for David comes, and it’s pretty clear that this is going to happen, when Martin gets better. Now he has competition, and while David might not mind as long as he loves Monica and Monica loves him, Martin has a big problem with it. Who can really blame him though; imagine waking up from a coma seeing a robot in your place? Not that Monica or Henry pretend that David replaces Martin in anyway, they don’t, but that’s how it has to look to Martin. They have some sibling rivalry, and Martin has learned right away the advantage he has. He’s a real boy. He has Monica read them Pinocchio to rub it in, and that story really serves a basis for the rest of the film. David acts his part a little too well, and in seeking protection from bullies, pulls Martin into a swimming pool by accident and won’t let go. The dads at the party jump in to save Martin, and David is left at the bottom. Good thing he’s waterproof.

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It’s clear that David is a danger to Martin. Not on purpose, but he just doesn’t understand some things. Cybertronics has a deal about David though, because he can’t be deactivated or reactivated to love someone else, he has to be destroyed if the Swinton’s want to get rid of him. I think this is proof that Monica does love David on some level: she releases him into the wild and tells him to stay away from Cybertronics or he will be destroyed. He won’t get cold or hungry, so this is not as harsh as it sounds. He will never be deactivated though; he physically can’t stop running the program that makes him love Monica. He focuses on the story of Pinocchio, and hopes to become a real boy like Martin so that Monica will love him. With Teddy along, he sets out on a quest to find the blue fairy.

For me, this second phase of the movie didn’t work quite as well. This is when Gigolo Joe comes into the picture, and the two of them encounter a lot of prejudice from humans. Because David looks so real, and he is the only child mecha that’s not locked away in the Cybertronics plant, most everyone believes he is human. He ends up finding Professor Hobby, who explains to him that he is an android and can never be real. It turns out David was modeled after Hobby’s real son that died. David encounters another David, that Hobby is probably raising as his own son, and destroys him out of confusion. Hobby doesn’t seem upset at all, he can just get a new one out from the back room, right? David does not give up looking for the blue fairy, but needless to say, he never becomes a real boy.

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I have to say that I thought Spielberg went a little overboard with the ending, but fortunately it didn’t kill the movie or anything. It was dragged out too long, and seemed a bit far fetched. I do agree with the decision to bring Monica back into the story, but I don’t think there should have been as much explaining about how they did it, and we didn’t really need to see David and her together. We know what’s going to happen, and I just think it would have been better to end on the moment when they first see each other. It would have been much more mysterious, and hopeful too I suppose.

Haley Joel Osment’s performance really stands out here. He is probably one of the most accomplished and recognized child actors ever (a look at him on imdb reveals that he is still working, but not in anything I’ve heard of since the early 2000s), and it really shows here. He can seem like an android that is very very very close to being human but not quite. It’s really creepy at times, and his performance has enough subtlety to essentially carry the entire movie. I would have nominated him for an oscar, I’m serious. He really was amazing here.

AI: Artificial Intelligence is a great film that provokes a lot of thinking about children, artificial intelligence, parenthood, and the nature of love.  It might go on a tad too long, and Spielberg might get a tad bit sentimental in the end, but the intellectual stimulation of the movie more than makes up for these problems. There are some really unsettling moments in this film; I actually had to watch it in two parts because of this. The performances were all fantastic, especially Osment’s, and this is one of the best films I’ve seen from Spielberg so far.

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“But in the beginning, didn’t God create Adam to love him?”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

9 responses to “AI: Artificial Intelligence

  1. You and I agree about the ending needing some tweaking, but we disagree about where to make the change. My preferred take on it is, I’ll admit, considerably darker than most peoples’, but it’s what seems like the proper fit to me. I would have ended the film with David staring at the Blue Fairy, repeatedly wishing to become a real boy. I know a downer ending of that magnitude probably wouldn’t have flown with the focus groups, but that just feels like that’s where the story was meant to end.

    • I do actually think that also would have worked. When I was watching the film, I was expecting it to end there actually. I was really hoping for David to see Monica again though, so I would rather have that. I agree that ending with him staring at the blue fairy for all eternity would have worked just as well, and also be more depressing.

  2. Nice review. Love this movie, one of, if not, Spielberg’s best. I’ve been feeling like seeing this again recently.

    • Thanks! I agree with you, it’s way up there on the list of Spielberg films. Hope you get to watch it again!

  3. haley joel osmet is an incredibly talented child actor. i havnt seen any of his new stuff, and i kinda hope he doesnt drop off the map, but i saw him in 6th sense and second hand lions and he was good. forrest gump too of course but he was so little and he only had a few lines. i will probably check this out though…

    • He is really great, and this movie is the best I’ve seen him. I haven’t seen The Sixth Sense yet though. He carried the entire movie here. Everyone else did well too, even if the ending was a little drawn out. It’s a great movie that’s really thought provoking.

  4. I like this movie and where shows human are beyond their imagination….Spielberg killed it though me too I wish David met Monica again….Osment is another issue to talk about coz at his age he showed being more talented than ever….

    • I know this movie has a lot of haters but I always go to bat for it. Sure, the ending might not work super well, but on the whole the movie is fantastic and very thought provoking. Osment was really great in the role, for sure. I’ve been meaning to revisit this one for a while.
      Thanks for commenting!

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