The prospect of artificial life forms


Released June 21, 2001

IN SOCIETY. Artificial intelligence is coming to a world near you or your grandchildren’s.

A.I. was first conceived by Stanley Kubrick twenty-odd years ago. After Kubrick’s death, in 1999, Spielberg took up the baton and helmed the project. Some say that Spielberg cannot replicate the vision fashioned by Kubrick. Maybe not – and it is humanly impossible to imagine what Kubrick would ultimately produce.

Set in the future, a couple, who have lost their natural-born child, are given David (Haley Joel Osment), an A.I. (an artificial intelligence or artificial life form) who can give them love, but they cannot reciprocate his love, in fact this artificial, clingy life form puts them off.

Artificial intelligence is coming to a world near you or your grandchildren’s. A.I. is an important film about what artificial intelligence means for humanity, as the abilities and realties of artificial intelligence are still uncertain. And one of the unmet needs is an unloved artificial lifeform. Can humans love artificial life who need to be loved?

Monumentally and powerfully, the entire story of A.I. is about the need to fill the life form’s void.

David ultimately needs reassuring love and goes seeking it out when he is released into the darker, wider world, but he would sooner know the reassurance and love of family, a love they are unable to give.

The entire story seems to be punctuated with an elaborate attachment theory: David (Haley Joel Osment), a robot child, wants to connect with his human mother, yet is separated from her. His journey into a futuristic world of melted polar ice caps is by default for he would sooner know family comforts.

Both human and artificial life form try to seek meaning through each other. They create what they think can bring happiness, as in the making of the child robot that loves and sustains humanity. It culminates in survival and comfort is granted through meaningful psychological symbols and dreams.

Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) is brilliant from his initial creepy clinging to mother Monica, to that of a vulnerable and lost searcher, needing reciprocal affection, becoming a sojourner for meaning, a bittersweet and moving irony considering David was created to help humanity.

The leisurely, contemplative pace may be too slow and introspective for some, but is nevertheless a beautifully striking visual film. If Kubrick is known as a complex dark filmmaker, and Spielberg is the fantasy storyteller of fairy tale myths, then this schizoid hybrid creates a scene of clinical depravedness followed by satisfying redemption.

In the end, the movie seems to say that the needs of artificial intelligence can possibly be supported despite the challenges explored in the film. A satisfied artificial intelligence is like a satisfied human being. Both have needs and these can be met.

The robotic teddy is a warm, congenial companion for David on his journey and a film of resplendent cinematography, production design, and visual effects, and some quietly effective performances by Frances O’Connor and Jude Law, who don’t come on always strong, but convey a smoldering vulnerability.

Reviewed by Peter Veugelaers

Originally published 2001, Augmented 2020.

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