Sunday, December 7, 2014

Film Review: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

"A.I. Artificial Intelligence"  *** 1\2 (out of ****)

In order to discuss "A.I." (2001) I feel we should start at 1999. That was the year the legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick passed away. "A.I." had been a project Kubrick was developing for more than a decade. The project never came to be because Kubrick felt no human could play the lead role believably. Instead he wanted to use CGI (computer generated imagery). However, Kubrick did release a movie in 1999, "Eyes Wide Shut" starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (whom at the time were married). Kubrick died prior to the film's release.

Unfortunately "Eyes Wide Shut" opened to mixed reviews. Some failed to see any artistic merit in Kubrick's film and thought it was nothing more than a kinky, fetish film. I, on the other hand, declared the movie, the best film of the year. I even named it one of the best films of the 1990s. Still, others felt it was not a worthy film be to Kubrick's last on-screen vision.

Prior to his death, some sources say, going as far back as 1995, Kubrick passed along his "A.I." story to Steven Spielberg. Now, with Kubrick's death, there was a renewed interest in the work of Kubrick, retrospectives and such. Spielberg could now sell the movie as, the picture Kubrick never got to make. If the movie was done successfully it would give the public and the sheep (movie critics) one more opportunity to praise Stanley Kubrick.

The movie is based on a short story by Brian Aldiss entitled "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" but some differences do exist as the movie also uses aspects of Pinocchio for inspiration. The story takes place late in the 21st century. Due to global warming the world as we know it does not exist. Flooding has submerged parts of the world. New York, for example, is now a fabled underwater city. Also, there has been a drop in the human population because of the government being involved in population control.

The original source material dealt with human loneliness in a world of intelligent machines and how humans use these machines as a source of companionship. I'm not sure what was going on in 1969, when this story was published, but what a commentary it makes on today's world. Both the short story and the film were in my opinion ahead of their time. We now live in a world where human interaction has been side stepped by social media. Only last year we had the movie "Her" (2013) released about a man who falls in love with a operating system based on Apple's Siri. In that movie a human fell in love with a machine in "A.I." a machine "loves" a human.

That of course leads to another question, what kind of companion can a machine make? You may think you are having a conversation but the machine has been programmed to pick up on certain words you say. It lack emotional understanding. It may process your words on a technical level but not the all important human level. You aren't really having a conversation at all.

In this futuristic world we learn of a company called Cybertronics headed by Professor Hobby (William Hurt) here they have been able to make a machine, known in the film as a "Mecha" that has the ability to love. A child mecha is created called "David" (played by Haley Joel Osment) which will help fill a void in the lonely lives of parents, who are unable to have a child.

To test the mecha, Cybertronics would like one of their employees to keep David. A perfect candidate is found in Henry Swinton (Sam Robards). Henry and his wife Monica (Frances O' Connor), have a son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who due to a rare disease has been frozen until a cure is found. Henry agrees to bring David home to see how his wife reacts.

Within time David fills the void he was created to do so and forms an attachment with Monica, who by this time has programmed David, by speaking a code which will activate the "love" mechanism in the machine. Now, instead of calling her Monica, David refers to her as "mommy". However, Henry never spoke the code to David and at all times refers to David as a toy. Therefore David does not have an attachment to Henry and never calls him "daddy".

This of course proves what the mecha is experiencing is not love. Maybe the parents loves the mecha but what the mecha is expressing is merely a program design. David doesn't know what "love" is but he has been given a function to "express" love. Because if the mecha truly understood love, why does he not love Henry? Why does he not call Henry "daddy". David spends just as much time with Henry as he does Monica. The difference is Henry didn't program David to love him.

Due to a scientific miracle, Henry and Monica's son Martin returns home and is now cured. Martin is a bit puzzled by David and the two begin to exhibit signs of jealousy towards each other. David was the son while Martin wasn't around. Martin has now replaced David. David doesn't receive the attention from Monica he once did. Martin slowly provokes bad behavior in David, daring him to do certain task which in return would gain the affection of Monica.

After several misunderstanding, Henry wants Monica to take David back to Cybertronics, where he will be destroyed. Once a mecha has been programmed to love an individual it can never be re-programmed and is rendered useless. But, in a sequence resembling Snow White, Monica is unable to take David to be destroyed at Cybertronics. Instead she leaves him alone in a forest with a "super-toy" known as Teddy. A walking, talking bear (which made me think of the comedy "Ted" (2012). Seth MacFarlane must have seen this movie and on some level been inspired by it). Teddy, in keeping with the Pinocchio parallel, acts as a Jiminy Cricket character, a conscience. Teddy, on a few occasions tries to warn David against his actions.

Remembering the story Pinocchio, which Monica read to both David and Martin, David decides to journey to find the "Blue Fairy", who will be able to turn him into a real boy, so Monica will love him.

And so David and Teddy head out on a journey to find the Blue Fairy. Events do not turn out as they had hoped when they meet Lord Johnson (Brendan Gleeson) who runs a Flesh Fair, an anti-mecha, carnival like attraction where humans watch broken down mechas be destroyed. The humans at the fair give speeches on the danger of mechas and how what man has done, by creating these machines, is evil. And here we have a commentary on man's desire to play God, which goes back to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" to Professor Hobby in this movie and even Henry and Monica who have kept their son alive. They desire to create and preserve life, which in religious terms, goes against God's plan. There are some today that feel computers are taking over the world. Machines are replacing man. For that see Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece "Modern Times" (1936).

It is at the Flesh Fair David meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) another mecha created to express sensual love not emotional like David. Gigolo Joe agrees to help David find the Blue Fairy and serves as a father figure to David. Joe even suggest to David they give up on their search for the Blue Fairy and David come along with Joe. Joe warns David humans hate mechas because when the human race dies off, it will only be mechas that have survived. For that, humans resent mechas. While man may delude himself into believing he has created life, he has not been able to prolong his own.

In order for Spielberg's film to work on the viewer at an emotional level, the audience must accept the fact that David has human tendencies and is able to experience love as we humans know it. And at face value Spielberg presents his story as such. This was a cause of alarm for some in the public and the critical community because as they pointed out, each filmmaker; Kubrick and Spielberg, have different sensibilities. Spielberg has more of a "cutesy" approach to storytelling. His films can be described as "feel good". Kubrick was a more "cold" filmmaker by comparison. It is that "cold" message that never fully comes out unless the audience gives the movie the proper time to reflect upon what they saw and its meaning. But, most people will be content to accept the movie at face value if for no other reason than because it 'feels' better to do so.

Is David human? For what it is worth my answer is no. Who does David show compassion towards? Only the mother he was programmed to. David never once mentions "his father". He never once shows compassion towards Teddy, whom he treats as a toy, a machine, which is after all, what David is. David doesn't accept Joe as a father figure. David never acknowledges anyone's help.

David does show moments of anger, hopelessness, jealousy and selfishness. So, in that sense, he fits right in with the rest of the world. But, he is not human. He does not love or understand love.

What is the ultimate message of "A.I."? I'll be honest, I'm not 100% sure myself. But it is a dark disturbing tale if we think about it, at least in terms of how David sees the world. There is no love. Only hate. His "parents" don't love him. They reject him. Leaving him on his own, as Monica does, was far crueler than having him destroyed. Now he faces rejection. Not just rejection from Monica, but a society that views mechas as evil.

Even if we accept the premise that David has human emotions, I thought of the child that yells at his parents, I never asked to be born. A child doesn't get to chose its parents. And like David, he didn't ask to be made. He didn't ask to be programmed by a particular person. In fact it was selfishness, we find out, that lead to the creation of David.

I must for a moment though talk about the performance given by Haley Joel Osment. I must, once again, go back to 1999 when he starred in "The Sixth Sense". At the time there was talk Osment should have been nominated and won an Academy Award (he did receive the nomination but did not win). Others felt he was far too young. Since he was so young he would have time, later in his career, to win an Academy Award. But after watching "A.I." this is the movie the young man should have won an Academy Award for. It is a shame he didn't even receive a nomination. Though the movie did win two nominations for its effects and music.

But Osment dominates the movie and has to go through such complex emotions. There was a reason Kubrick felt no child actor could play this role. It is a very demanding role for a child. The fact that Osment does such a wonderful job only speaks to his talent.

When "A.I." was first released I said it was the third best film Spielberg had made behind "Schindler's List" (1993) and "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). I no longer feel that way as I appreciate titles like "Munich" (2005) and "Minority Report" (2002), which were released after this movie, but "A.I." is a strong film. It holds up on a second viewing. It raises a lot of philosophical and psychological questions. Questions, I admit, I don't have the answers to. But, this is a dark tale. This is a fairy tale gone wrong. And while the tone of the movie may at times, hide that fact, the bleakness comes out. This was a movie ahead of its time. I wonder what the reaction would be if it was release now, 13 years later?