Steven Spielberg’s ode to his friend Stanley Kubrick not only is one of his most underappreciated films, but one of his finest achievements as a filmmaker thus far. It took me a long while to come to this conclusion after having a somewhat indifferent reaction to A.I. Artificial Intelligence upon my first viewing but a subsequent rewatch only left more inside my head, because aspects of its own concept quickly had found themselves sticking with me – together with its stylistic approach of two directors trying to reach at one another. The final result almost plays like a modern fairy tale in some sense, yet one that ultimately asks its viewers about humanity within a perspective that only calls oneself closer.
Based on the short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, we are shown a futuristic world from the perspective of David, who is played by Haley Joel Osment. In this future, humans have developed an advanced sort of android otherwise known as Mecha, and David is a Mecha child programmed to love its owner, just as a parent would their own child – a particularly unique programming for his own kind. But this programmed definition of “love” is a hollow one, and his quest is one that searches for its own meaning. David’s capacity is a limited one, yet it’s the yearning for love that retains as a memory, only to be quickly lost within years to come. It is all that he knows how to feel, but it only begs the question to the audience about whether that sort of love he is searching for is attainable.
The narrative is one that resembles a fairy tale (as addressed by the many allusions to Pinocchio) but it only becomes clear within David’s quest a sense of deceit. Perhaps humanity has deceived themselves so much to the point that artificial intelligence is all that we thrive on rather than the genuine. And the fact that we are being told a story about how humanity and robots live together from the eyes of a childlike perspective like David, only goes to show something far bleaker. The influence of Stanley Kubrick only becomes clear from this aspect of the film’s narrative, because of how he has addressed humanity’s relationship with the machine, with the notion that David feels love the way a human would search for it, and we know deep down that it is a lie. David is an artificial shell of “love,” yet still builds in front of our eyes as if he were genuine because he is built upon one important fundamental of what makes humanity as is.
Yet the bleak nature of the story is something that shines out from A.I., because Steven Spielberg is often recognized for a sentimental approach that invites viewers in rather than alienates. This coldness perfectly fits the atmosphere to which our protagonist David is witnessing the entire world around him as it is, whether he be at an anti-Mecha flesh fair all the way down to the polarizing ending – but the greatest tragedy seems to be the realization that true happiness is all something that we are deceived to believe exists. Spielberg shows the Mecha characters as humans yet the human characters as caricatures indifferent to what they are witnessing, and thus a greater commentary about societal growth in the modern world is laid out – because in the grander scale of things, our own capacities seem to find themselves within a limit much like that of David’s, and we know our memories will be lost in time, a concept that still terrifies me.
I feel that if anything had helped make A.I. work as much as it did, it is the performance of the young Haley Joel Osment as David. David’s curiosity builds itself up similarly to that of a human child, because of his own desire to turn into a human being so that he can acquire the love of his own mother. And mixed within the cold atmosphere as defined by the Kubrickian visuals and incredible world building, what comes out from Osment is a moving performance on all counts. It is moving because we often have our lives moving within what is set as a definite at a young age and David, only being a child – has just that sole purpose. It wasn’t something that he was born with, it was built into him, and it puts into question how do humans define what love truly means to us not only as a child but as we grow older.
If the title ever represented everything about how we seem to function in life, it only goes ahead to call out that maybe we have only been taught to move along a lie. And Spielberg isn’t subtle about how he’s handling what made his characters function in the way that they are in front of our eyes, but it also calls us to look within another perspective beyond what it is that we are seeing on the screen. And in a strange manner, the fact that Spielberg had indeed coloured over what would have been a Kubrickian sense of coldness with his own trademark sentimentality only feels most fitting when talking about the questions that A.I. is asking to its viewers. It asks us about how we are living our lives, and how we perceive what happens around ourselves – is it genuine, or is it indeed an artificial intelligence? All I know is that for certain, Stanley Kubrick would have been pleased with this.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via DreamWorks.
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Steven Spielberg, from the short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Bonnie Curtis
Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson
Release Year: 2001
Running Time: 146 minutes