A.I. – Artificial Intelligence
And so we have it – the movie Stanley Kubrick never lived to make and which, shortly before his death, he passed to his friend Steven Spielberg on the basis that its storyline was more suited to his style of filmmaking than Kubrick’s.
Based on the Brian Aldiss novella Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, Artificial Intelligence (or A.I. to give it its shorter title) is exactly what Spielberg always promised it would be: A Stanley Kubrick Production of a Steven Spielberg Film.
In that respect it is Spielberg’s darkest picture yet – a grim, unsentimental vision of a Dystopian future that sees Kubrick’s influence in all its dark corners and throughout its finger-wagging portents of future shock.
The story, which Spielberg adapted to suit his own style while remaining faithful to Kubrick’s original vision, is essentially that of Pinocchio. In the Aldiss tale the artificial boy is David, an ultra hi-tech android prototype programmed to give and accept love from his surrogate parents.
In the Earth of the future, adults require licences to aim for pregnancy, making real children extremely rare. In a world dominated by robot maids, nannies and lovers, children are the next step up for inquisitive scientists. One successfully plays God by creating David (another sensational performance from child prodigy Haley Joel Osment), an experiment in artifice whose journey towards humanity provides the backbone of this remarkable film.
David loves unconditionally, but his love becomes cloying for Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards) because he appears to try too hard. Once programmed to love, David’s entire personality becomes geared around pleasing his parents, doing the right thing and being the perfect son.
When their real terminally-ill son, who has been cryogenically frozen until a cure is found, returns, David finds himself facing all-too-human jealousy. He experiences no such emotions, but an incident at a party in which his ‘brother’ is almost killed forces a change of feeling from Henry, and suddenly David is abandoned.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world,” whispers a tearful Monica as she and David part company. He is left in the woods instead of being returned to his makers for destruction.
The second part of David’s journey begins as he meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a ‘love mecha’, or love android, designed to please women like no human can. On the run after an abandoned husband killed the wife who preferred robot love to the real thing, Gigolo Joe becomes a father figure and guide to the innocent David.
A.I. is really three films in one – a trio of very separate vignettes charting the progress towards humanity (and, by association, compatibility with Mankind) of an artificial human. At its core is a plea for tolerance courtesy of a compelling scenario that sees a sinister and dangerous world being discovered through the eyes of an innocent.
The first chapter – cold, deliberate, clinical – is indisputably Kubrickian, with the birth of David and his insertion, like a cuckoo in the nest, into the Swintons’ home. The second chapter, with David abandoned to his fate, is Spielberg at his most powerful – the boy is rounded up with a group of low-grade robots by slaver types led, by Brendan Gleeson.
Taken to a flesh fair, all are subject to destruction by anti-mecha humans who cheer on as robots are melted, pulled apart and fired from cannons in vicious gladiatorial games.
The final chapter, with Gigolo Joe at David’s side, follows his on-going quest to become human and leads to the poignant image of a flooded New York – a triumph of the collaboration between the dead auteur and his adoring friend.
A.I. is possibly Spielberg’s most adult film yet. Certainly it is his most complex. It builds itself on the performance of a child, Osment, while the other characters weave in and out of the plot – passing characters in a tale that outlasts time itself.
Osment is astounding. Possibly the best child actor cinema has seen, he outshines all the other previous prodigies and effortlessly carries on his shoulders one of the most anticipated films in years. No easy task for many of today’s megastars, yet Osment is barely 13.
Jude Law also scores as an Artful Dodger type whose fate is intertwined with that of David, for whom he becomes a mentor and from whom he begins to understand the nature of humanity. More of a guest spot than a supporting role, Law nevertheless provides the film with a modicum of comedy which is much needed to balance the darkness of Aldiss’s original tale.
Perhaps the best element is the inclusion of Teddy, a super-toy that walks, talks and looks out for his owner, in this case a fellow robot. Spielberg avoids sentimentalising Teddy but the furry munchkin does almost steal the show.
In a journey which took in Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and, now, A.I. Spielberg has grown up. This is astounding, ground-breaking stuff. Kubrick would have been proud.