AI - ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
US, 2001, 145 minutes, Colour.
Hayley Joel Osment, William Hurt, Jude Law, Frances O' Connor, Brendan Gleason.
Voices of Ben Kingsley, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg.
Artificial Intelligence has intrigued science-fiction writers for decades. It has also been a popular theme in films. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a Space Odyssey gave us one of the most memorable computers, HAL, whose smoothly sinister voice and all-seeing red-lit 'eye' controlled the mission travelling beyond Jupiter. (But, in the 1984 sequel, 2010, we discovered that he was not malevolent at all.) Last year, Robin Williams was the Bicentennial Man, a robot who wanted to be human. Now we have a film that Stanley Kubrick had been planning for almost twenty years about a robot who wants to be real, to be human.
The inheritor of Kubrick's vision is Steven Spielberg. Spielberg had been in regular communication with Kubrick over the years and, with this film, wanted to honour his memory. He wrote the screenplay himself. While there are echoes of Kubrick's themes, like the issue of true human freedom from A Clockwork Orange and the voyage into the future from 2001, the treatment is very much in the Spielberg vein. Children have always played important and significant roles in Spielberg films, Close Encounters and ET especially. In bringing this vision together in AI, Spielberg traces the journey of a lifelike robot child from machine to humanity. AI is the story of David, a 'mecha' (mechanical creation), who has been programmed to 'feel' many human emotional characteristics, who is placed with a foster family, and learns to love.
This is where a reviewer needs to offer a word of alert about the impact of the film. Viewers who prefer their science-fiction to have the emphasis on the science will like the prologue with its demonstrations of sophisticated robots in a future world threatened by global warming where families are restricted in numbers of children, where plans are made to build David. The ideas of the film are interesting. But, Spielberg's way of telling his story is to develop the emotional aspects which 'thinkers' will be tempted to dismiss as sentimentality rather than sentiment which undermines, even eliminates, the tougher, more philosophical questions about what it is to be human and whether this is possible for machines. Those who prefer storytelling to lectures will respond much more positively to AI, identifying with the plight of David as he awakens to the reality of having a mother (played by Frances O' Connor).
That is only the first part of the film. The second part has David out on his own, encountering a community of robots past their use by date who are being hunted down and destroyed for human bloodlust in a futuristic Coliseum. His companion here is a robot designed as a sex-machine, Gigolo (by Jude Law). This journey becomes a quest for David, to discover who has the power to make him human. The third part of AI is set in a very distant future where highly sophisticated robots (who would look at home in Close Encounters and ET) are the only survivors but who, through stored memories and DNA remnants, can reconstruct aspects of the past (echoes of Jurassic Park). Can David ever become truly human?
Because I like questions to be asked in story form, AI appealed to me very much.
1. The short story by Brian Aldiss: Supertoys Last All Summer? A science fiction of the '60s? Computer awareness and artificial intelligence in the '60s and '70s? The interest of Stanley Kubrick, developing the themes, the screenplay, contact with Steven Spielberg? Spielberg adapting the treatment, writing his own screenplay? The sensibilities of Spielberg along with the subtext of Kubrick?
2. The beginning of the 21st century and technological development, artificial intelligence, robots? Audience interest in robotics? Biological technology? A perspective on the future?
3. The background of freedom issues in A Clockwork Orange, space and time journeys in 2001? Spielberg and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? The use of fairy stories, myths, Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy being able to change Pinocchio into a real boy? The use of the Blue Fairy fairy tale?
4. The structure of the film: the three parts - the present and the domestic focus, the second part with the road journey, the hounding of the robots, the quest for David, the third part with the future a kind of "heavenly" hope? The visuals for each section, the visual and decor style, costumes, atmosphere?
5. The musical score and its mood, orchestration, choral work, the range of songs (especially for Gigolo Joe)?
6. Issues of the meaning of life: humanity and what it is to be human and humane, functional service for the human race, the issue of love (rather than sensuality and sex)? Creation and creativity (the reference to God creating Adam)? Themes of growth, loving and being loved (humans, pets, robots)? The human need to love?
7. The future and robotics, the lifestyle that used robots as servants, the limitations to the number of children in family, yet ordinary family life, neighbours? The changing of the universe, the greenhouse gas emissions, the melting of the icecaps, the flooding of so many cities, New York seen as a waterlogged and drowned city? The Flesh Fair and its brutality, organic people versus mechanic robots? Human fears of the number of robots and their control, destroying them? With cruelty? The irony of humans dying out but robots still living?
8. The prologue and Professor Hobby (and the significance of his name)? His lecture, those attending, the robotic example and her performance, intellectual processes, associations with pain, undressing, her definition of love being sensuality? The response of the team, the company and its plans to build a more human robot child? The discussions about neurological responses and their being connected to emotions as well as to intellect? The mechanicals being able to simulate so many human processes? The human look, the human language and intonations, the expressions of emotion yet the inability to do ordinary human functions like sleep and eat?
9. Henry and Monica, Martin and the cryogenic state, Monica reading Robin Hood to him, the proposal to Henry to take David? Their fears, the nature of the contract? Henry and his wanting to do this for Monica, Monica and her grief for her son? Her confusion, taking David home, the discussions at home, the development of David's place in the family as a substitute son, the fulfilment of Monica's needs as a mother?
10. The introduction to David, the silhouette with the echoes of Close Encounters? His age, appearance, white clothes, manners? The blend of the robotic and the human? Going home, discussions with Monica, his seeming artificial, present in every room, playing games, Monica exasperated and putting him in the closet? Monica's fears, her adjusting, watching him, his watching her? The gradual acceptance, fulfilling the contract program and saying the key words? His response with "Mummy"? At the table but unable to eat, mimicking Henry and Monica? Sharing in their lives?
11. David's place in the family, becoming the substitute son? The news of Martin's recovery, his return? Jealousy and envy? Issues of love and hate - could David develop hatred as well as love? The rivalry between the two little boys, each summoning Teddy and Teddy's decisions to go to Monica? Martin taunting David to get the lock of hair, David going against the principles with which he was programmed, going into the room, the scissors, Henry's fear and reaction? The party, the neighbouring children and their wanting to touch David? His fears, hiding behind Martin, their falling into the water, Henry's reaction and rescue? Monica's grief?
12. The teddy as a supertoy, being switched on, coming alive, the comic touches, walking around the house, humour, wisdom? Protecting David, accompanying him?
13. Monica and the decision to abandon David, talking reasonably with him, taking him in the car, putting him and Teddy in the countryside, her grief, David's reaction - human and emotional reaction to being alone and abandoned?
14. The switch to Gigolo Joe and his performance with the timid young woman in the hotel room? His design, sexual function? His manner, artificial and slick, being able to switch on music, his talk, dancing? The hotel attendant and the warning? The dead girl, her killer and his jealousy? Joe having to escape?
15. David and Teddy in the forest, the garbage dump and the robots searching for thrown-out limbs and reconnecting? The huge vehicle - again resemblances to Close Encounters? Lord Johnson Johnson and his regime, his technique of chasing and catching the robots, the net, caging them? David and Teddy caught? With Joe? The decor and atmosphere of the Flesh Fair? Intended to celebrate life? The huge arena, the crowds like the Coliseum? The robots in the cages, their not wanting to be destroyed, the range of robots, especially the nanny? David and his fear, holding on to Joe?
16. The robots, their anguish, the way they were tortured and killed? The girl seeing David in the cage, telling her father, the reaction of Johnson Johnson, his cruelty and control of the mobs? Collecting worn-out robots as garbage? Joe and David being put on the torture rack, to be killed? The audience reaction, not wanting to destroy David, pelting Johnson Johnson and making him flee?
17. Joe and David escaping, the helicopter, going to Rouge City, its appearance, decadence, men and women, robots, going to Dr Know? Like a fun fair, feeding him the information and his giving the verdict? His directing David towards the Blue Fairy? The Pinocchio Grotto, the story? The quest with Joe, the travels through the water, New York City, submerged, Coney Island? The Blue Fairy? Going to the office, encountering Professor Hobby, encountering the new David and the original David's being emotionally upset and destroying the imitation? The discussion with Professor Hobby, their giving information to Dr Know to get him back to New York? Joe being taken away, the farewell? The rack of robots, the Darlenes and the Davids? David's horror, his leaving, going through the city, finding the grotto of the Blue Fairy in Coney Island? His sitting there, gazing at her, his prayer to be changed into a real boy?
18. The future, the transition of 2000 years? The robots and their ethereal, alien experience? Their surviving while the humans did not survive? Their capacity for recreating memories? David's memories, their reconstructing the house? Teddy still with him? Having the lock of Monica's hair, providing the DNA for the robots to reconstruct Monica? Their warning that any reconstructed person would die within the day? David's decision, the happiness of the day with Monica, her treating him as a real child, his emotions as she died, his tears, the fulfilment of his hopes of becoming a true human, of becoming real?
19. The voice-over commentator and his perspective on the characters, the issues and guiding the audience in its perceptions about the issues and the themes?