A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Movie Review

“A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) is the Stanley Kubrick movie that never was. Rumor has it Kubrick had been developing the movie for years, hoping to wait for technology to finally catch up with his vision, and when it finally did, Kubrick died. With Kubrick’s death, the movie fell into the abyss, until revived by Steven Spielberg, who mind as well change his name to “God” since he has the power of one in Hollywood. As the saying goes, What Steven wants, Steven gets. And Spielberg wanted to finish what Kubrick began.

The movie opens with a voiceover by Ben Kingsley, who tells us that the ice caps have melted and most of the world’s nations have been sucked under the spreading ocean. In this futuristic world, the rich lives in secluded locations and are forbidden to have more than one child in order to conserve what little resources are left. Robots, or mechas, have become commonplace, since they take up little space and those precious resources. The first scene is a lecture by cybernetics expert William Hurt, who is giving a speech about the advancements of mechas and his intentions to build a robot child that can love its human owner without question. We later realize Hurt’s character has an ulterior motive — his own son has just died and he is seeking a replacement (or, in an eerie way, to “give birth” to his son again).

We quickly move to a young couple whose son is in the hospital, suffering from a disease that has kept him in a state of cryogenics sleep in order to preserve his life. The couple is now effectively childless, and the mother, Monica (Frances O’Connor), is heartbroken. Her husband, Henry (Sam Robards), decides to bring one of Hurt’s prototype mecha child home with intentions of easing his wife’s pain.

Monica immediately balks at the prospect of replacing her child, but soon grows attached to the mecha child, David, as played with an eerie calm and some measure of creepiness by Haley Joel Osment. In order to activate David’s “parental love program” and imprint Monica onto the mecha’s harddrive permanently, Monica must read 7 words in specific order. After this, David’s programs can’t be re-written, and will be destroyed if he’s returned to the company. Monica says the 7 words one night and David is immediately and hopelessly in love with her. In fact, Osment’s David is so creepy that his affections for Monica seem to go past feelings from a son to his mother.

The ambiguous nature of David’s feelings for Monica, and vice versa, is true Kubrick. It’s the kind of uneasy scenes that makes Kubrick’s movies so effective. Monica is so enamored with the new David that she even gives him her son’s “supertoy” — a teddy bear name, appropriately enough, Teddy, who is literally and figuratively a walking, talking, and thinking teddy bear (he’s a mecha toy, I suppose you could call it).

The Swinton household’s newfound happiness is very short-lived, as in a few short scenes later, Monica gets news that her son, Martin, has been cured and is returning home. Monica is thrilled, but David isn’t so sure. The boys seem to get along, and as written, Martin isn’t a total jerk, but treats David as a boy would his toy. After all, David is a toy, and Martin doesn’t go out of his way to take David apart. In fact, Martin is even protective of David during a birthday party, until a simple action by David threatens Martin’s life. But was it a simple accidental action or something more?

That’s the dilemma of trying to read David. He’s a robot, yet he looks so real, and as played by Osment, David is a total mystery. He’s creepy, he’s so innocent looking, but what exactly is going on behind those eyes? Is it nothing but programming instructions? Is it hate? Is it love? Is it jealously? A.I. is easy to interpret. Nothing is simple, no action easily explained, no look easily defined, and no motive easily categorized. It’s the kind of ambiguity that hasn’t existed in a Spielberg movie since — well, it’s never existed in a Spielberg movie! Amazingly enough, Spielberg is directing as if the spirit of Kubrick is within him.

As he did with Full Metal Jacket and every other “Kubrick movie,” Kubrick cleaved A.I. into two halves — essentially two movies linked only by characters, but different in every other way. A.I.’s two halves are separated by the calm, family drama at the Swinton home and the chaotic, frenzy, and Sodom and Gomorra of the “real” world. Cast off by his family, and abandoned by Monica in the woods (who acted out of compassion for David rather than take him back to his makers where he was sure to be destroyed), David encounters a world that despises mechas because they threaten to replace humanity.

Out here, he meets Gigolo Joe, a love mecha who is as gay (as in happy) as he is utterly artificial. Joe’s life is devoted to pleasing human women, and he pleases one so well that her husband kills her and frames him. Now on the run, Joe and David meets, escapes from a carnival that makes a game out of destroying mechas, and finds themselves in Rouge City, a futuristic Vegas where sin is in all the time.

David is on a quest to find the Blue Fairy, the character in the Pinocchio tale that turns the wooden Pinocchio into a real boy. After being read the story by Monica in the movie’s first half, David is now obsessed with finding the Blue Fairy, believing that she can turn him into a real boy, and thereby garner the love of Monica. It’s an odd little quest, the kind only a simple-minded child would believe in, and it only makes David more human. The movie’s Third Act is better left unsaid, since it deserves to be discovered by those who wishes to see the movie.

The acting is outstanding throughout. Except for Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, Haley Joel Osment as David, and William Hurt as the mecha maker who fashions David from his own deceased son, the rest of the cast consists of relative unknowns. Actress Frances O’Connor, as Monica, shows tremendous range, going from a distraught mother to a frightened woman with a machine that looks like a boy, to a mother finally accepting another son into her life. The scene where Monica chases David off into the woods is heartbreaking, and both she and Osment play their roles with perfect precision. The scene is truly terrifying, and the way David clings to Monica, unwilling to let go of her and his undying love for her, is truly a memorable image.

A.I. also has some of the most spectacular special effects I have seen in a long time. As Steven Spielberg is want to do, the man always seems to attach himself to movies that are groundbreaking. The make up effects of the mechas during the Flesh Fair scene are truly inspiring. Those brief scenes alone must have cost the movie quite a large chunk of its budget. Another breathtaking scene is the vision of a futuristic Manhattan Island submerged under water. Spielberg, always a brilliant technical filmmaker, has achieved something special with the images in A.I.

Steven Spielberg (director) / Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss (screenplay)
CAST: Haley Joel Osment …. David
Jude Law …. Gigolo Joe
Frances O’Connor …. Monica Swinton
Sam Robards …. Henry Swinton
Jake Thomas …. Martin Swinton
William Hurt …. Professor Allen Hobby

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