Classic Review: ‘A.I.: Artificial Intelligence’ 20 years later
I think we can all agree that A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is a divisive film. Some people love it, and some people love to hate it. In my years of hearing reactions to this, it appears to be split right down the middle. But could this just be another misunderstood gem? In order to celebrate A.I.’s 20th anniversary, I thought we should discuss this brainchild of Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.
Based on the short story, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” by Brian Aldiss, it’s basically a modern day retelling of Pinocchio. David, played by the young and talented Haley Joel Osment, coming off the heels of the incredibly successful The Sixth Sense (1999), is the first child android that has been placed with a family. The family’s son, Martin, sadly has a terminal disease. David’s a mecha, which is short for mechanical. He’s basically what we would call an android. The most important thing to know about him is that he can love, or at least is able once you program him to love. However, before one can program a mecha child you must be very sure, or he will be returned to Cybertronics for destruction if you change your mind. Monica (Frances O’Connor), the matriarch of the family, makes the decision to program David, connecting her to him forever as he exclaims “Mommy,” and embraces her. If this was a happy story, it would end here — the family living happily ever after. But since Kubrick felt a need to tell this story, let’s just say you should probably have a box of tissues nearby.
The happiness is short lived as Martin is cured from the once terminal illness. And because of that, and a series of many other mishaps — mostly out of Martin’s jealousy — Monica discards David, but not at Cybertronics as requested. David’s life is now the song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, as his coding will continue to tell him that he must love Monica, a.k.a. Mommy, no matter what. No mountain too high, no valley too low, to keep David from loving his Mommy. He embarks on an odyssey, his teddy in tow, searching for the Blue Fairy. David believes that if he finds her, she will turn him into a real boy, and he can go home and Monica will finally love him just as she loves Martin. Depressed yet? Yes? It only gets worse.
Kubrick had his sights set on adapting the story with Aldiss picked to pen the screenplay. But Aldiss’ lengthy writing process, along with Kubrick’s belief that a film like this couldn’t be made in the 1970s, put a stop to any plans. However, in 1995, Kubrick saw Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Spielberg and Kubrick had been friends, but after Jurassic Park, Kubrick wanted his friend to direct A.I. Unfortunately, Spielberg had no desire to take on the project. By the late 90s, Kubrick moved on with Eyes Wide Shut being his final project and his untimely passing in 1999. The rumor is that Kubrick’s wife spoke with Spielberg to convince him to finish the project, and with that, Spielberg began writing the script for A.I. — his first solo writing credit since Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
This was the merging of two very different filmmakers. Though Spielberg’s name is in the credits, it’s very much a Kubrick film. So much of the story, characters, and concept art that made the final cut were developed by Kubrick. This includes the, as Roger Ebert first called it, “problematic ending.” There’s a bleakness that lingers throughout the whole film, and if we begin to look at it through Kubrick’s lens, the film begins to make more sense, and doesn’t seem so disjointed when the screen fades to black. Maybe A.I.’s misinterpreted “syrupy-sweet” ending isn’t the stereotypical touch of Spielberg hopefulness to the film after all, but rather a darker look at technology being integrated into the lives of humans. A vicious circle of those looking to love and be loved by one another. That androids, or the mechas in this case, are the only ones truly being humane to one another.
A.I. isn’t without a few hiccups, but in my opinion, is severely underrated when it comes to Spielberg’s credits as a director. Cinephiles often glaze over it, mentioning the famed director’s others blockbusters as a “must see.” However, there’s something so unlike him woven within the fabric of the story. Spielberg would continue to travel further into the future in his next film Minority Report. Thus, continuing to examine the ethical and philosophical rights and wrongs in the advancements of technology. Depending on what you think of Spielberg’s career, or even his more modern work, it’s worth giving A.I. a second look.