Political Film Society - Newsletter #110 - August 20, 2001

August 20, 2001


Artificial IntelligenceDirector Stanley Kubrick wanted filmviewers to leave a cinema with profound questions, not answers. When he started Artificial Intelligence, he again had existential puzzles in mind, but he did not live to finish the project. Steven Spielberg, with whom he communicated about Artificial Intelligence, then took over as director, but Kubrick’s name strangely does not appear prominently in the screen credits, doubtless because the plot was Spielbergized, though based on the short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Kubrick’s biographer Brian Aldiss. The film begins and ends with voiceovers that sound much kinder that the actual text, which is quite disturbing. We first learn that due to global warming, the polar ice caps have melted, and the world has been inundated with floodwaters, submerging various cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Venice, and New York, and killing 100,000,000 persons. Since there is little arable land left for food, the human race increasingly relies on robots, who do not consume valuable resources. We then attend a lecture in which Professor Hobby (played by William Hurt) of Cybertronics, a New Jersey corporation, poses the question whether a robot could be developed to express love toward humans. A member of the audience, in turn, raises the question whether humans will then love robots; although that conundrum becomes the theme for most of the film, the subtext is to ask why humans love at all, how much sacrifice one must endure to achieve love, and what exactly "love" is. Next, we observe Monica and Henry Swinton (played by Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose ill birthson Martin (played by Jake Thomas) is frozen cryogenically until a cure can be found. Monica desperately wants her son to live, but Henry, an employee at Cybertronics, decides that perhaps a loving robot will do instead. One day Henry brings home David (played by Haley Joel Osment), a cute robot about the same age as Martin; he proves to be delightfully playful; although he can neither eat nor sleep, he tries to fit into the family life. Although David’s charming behavior is exemplary, Monica at first does not accept him, but in time she decides to adopt him, and she follows a protocol that will create in David a need to express love to her (but not Henry!). In a few days, she gives David a present, Teddy (voiced by Jack Angel), a "smart robot" who accompanies him for the rest of his existence and provides comic relief as the film gets more serious. Unexpectedly, Martin recovers from his illness and is outfitted with orthotics so that he can walk and otherwise lead a normal life. However, Martin and his friends bully David, who accidentally pulls Martin into the swimming pool, and he nearly drowns. Rather than blaming herself for allowing Martin to be near the pool in the first place, Monica decides to abandon David.

Despite protests that he loves her, she leaves him in the woods near Cybertronics, so he infers that he was unacceptable because he was not human. David next meets Gigolo Joe (played by Jude Law), a Casanova robot who makes passionate love to women. Soon, a recycle vehicle rounds up discarded robots for the Flesh Fair, where humans cheer as robots are melted down. When David and Joe are put in place for meltdown, the audience boos, so they are spared. Recalling the story of Pinocchio, which Monica once read to Martin and David, he then asks Joe to help him to locate the Blue Fairy, who could turn him into a human so that Monica could love him and accept him back. The quest for the Blue Fairy ultimately leads David to the high-rise office of Professor Hobby in Manhattan, where he becomes depressed on learning that Hobby will not turn him into a human, so he plunges into the waters below Hobby’s office. When he lands, the blue figure of Rockefeller Center is in front, so he prays to have that figure turn him into a human. Two thousand years later, while still praying, the waters recede, and blue robots confront David. All humans have died out, leaving robots in charge. One blue robot asks David what he wants. David reiterates his wish to become a human to please his mommy, a wish that the robot can grant for a day if David possesses a personal object that will facilitate tracing her DNA. Since Teddy saved a lock of her hair, David gets his wish, and for a day he and Monica enjoy each other’s company. Just as the day ends, Monica tells David that she truly loves him, and his most precious Oedipal dream has been fulfilled. She dies, and David for the first time goes to sleep, dreaming. Artificial Intelligence draws filmviewers to the concept of unrequited love, the principal theme of romance novels. The pursuit of love drives humans to extraordinary lengths, so why do humans put other values above simply loving others? In death, we might have a second chance to make up for our shortsightedness, but what about doing so while living? But the most important dimension in the film is the relationship between adoptive parents and their children. Monica, at first unwilling to adopt David, ultimately does so due to her selfish desire to be loved. But she calls Martin her "real son" (instead of "birthson"), protects him from a well-deserved scolding, places inappropriate blame on David for an accident, and cruelly ditches David, who should be enraged by her abuse instead of eager to get back in her good graces. Indeed, children who know that they are adopted are likely to have nightmares after seeing Artificial Intelligence, so parents should not take their adoptive children to Spielberg’s film. Although it is now some sixty years after learning about my own adoption, the film revived some terrifying albeit resolved childhood experiences and fears. But Spielberg has adopted several children, who would learn from the film that they are not his "real children," so he clearly does not understand the hornet’s nest that he is disturbing. That the film clearly advises a child to accept parental abuse stoically is perhaps the most obvious lunacy of the film. A more sensitive treatment of adoption is contained the recent film An American Rhapsody. MH