A.I. review

:. Director: Steven Spielberg
:. Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law
:. Running Time: 2:26
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA


In spite of the scientific coldness of its title, A.I., far from being a fortifying technological demonstration, is rather a fairy tale for adults with a child at its center.

In a not far off future, Haley Joel Osment plays David, a unique robot of his kind since he was programmed to love. Placed with a family to replace their sick son, David tries to gain the love of his adoptive mother. But when their son returns home cured, cohabitation becomes difficult and the mother grudgingly finds herself abandoning David in the forest. David thus has only one goal, to find the blue fairy which, following the example Pinocchio, will transform him into a real child in order to gain the reciprocal maternal love which he lacks.

The film is made up of three quite distinct parts. In the first, David tries to assimilate in a human family, while in the second part we follow his adventures during his search, until finally in the third part, he confronts his dream.

The first segment is without any doubt the most psychological since it shows the cat and mouse game between David and his mother Monica (Frances O' Connor) where maternal love is at stake. David then develops an obsessive and intrusive behavior at the limits of sordid harassment. However the child gradually succeeds in gaining affection, stronger than what one might have for a pet or toy. If it were not for the return of "the prodigal son", the robot could almost manage to become a member of the family. In those moments reality dangerously flirts with the virtual, and Spielberg clearly shows the threat that artificial intelligence represents for the human race.

David is then abandoned, thus moving into the second part of the film: the adventures of a young robot discovering the world ("David In Wonderland") and the director's light satire of American society. Starting with the abandonment of the pets, it seems to be the rage if one only looks at the number of former pet crocodiles and snakes that swarm in the muddy water of L.A's river. David's abandonment demonstrates the saturation of American consumer society where everything becomes disposable and interchangeable, once the trend is past. One also discovers a circus where the robots are publicly sacrificed, somewhere halfway between the topic of the Holocaust (Schindler's List) and that of gladiators (Gladiator produced by Dreamworks, his production company). If the references are openly obvious, this circus reflects a modern day spectacle popular in America where an ecstatic crowd contemplates gigantic robotic trucks clashing and being destroyed. And if you look closely at these spectators, you see that they are very well the same as those onscreen.

David then meets robot Gigolo Joe (the excellent Jude Law), a superman whose only goal, obviously, is to satisfy women. He seems to be a direct reference to the increasingly significant phenomenon of unmarried and independent women who do not need men to survive (i.e. the success of Sex In The City). Gigolo Joe then brings the child to the red city, a town of a thousand lights where vice reigns, an obvious transposition of Las Vegas. Both then go to Doctor Know, a sort of fast-food of knowledge where you can ask any question of a computer found in a type of peep show. Spielberg denounces a certain toppling of American cultural levels where chains like Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster have the monopoly on pre-chewed culture for the masses. The problem it is that with films like Jurassic Park, the filmmaker already has one foot inside the beast. He benefits from it nevertheless to make a sly wink at Stanley Kubrick's 2001 with his computer. Another problem of this second segment is the facility with which our protagonists get out of each perilous situation, which demonstrates a sometimes idling, botched script.

Finally, David and Gigolo Joe arrive at their destination, there where the blue fairy is found. Much was said about the fact that A.I. was originally Stanley Kubrick's project and he later entrusted it to Spielberg in order to work on Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick's presence is felt only during a few minutes in this last act and principally in an alarming scene of rage. It is at this moment that one understands that this is very well a Spielberg film and not Kubrick's work. There where the latter would have probably opted for a logically cruel and somber end, Spielberg, by the improbable wave of a magic wand, turns toward the fairy tale in order to save the situation. The director reminds us that he is the author of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and returns to known territory. The presence of a cute bear throughout the film only confirms this sentiment. If this conclusion proves to be charming, the denouement or moral of the story calls into question the purpose of such a film. Spielberg proclaims that it is love that makes a human, which was known from the very start, since it was the object of David's search.

As for the production, it's careful and alive without, however, stunning us with useless special effects. Especially striking is the acting. Haley Joel Osment easily shifts between a cold machine, a child in love, and a dangerously obsessed creature while Jude Law shines onscreen as an extroverted gigolo. Frances O'Connor also aptly shows the ambivalence of her feelings.

With Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg signs an ambitious and engrossing film but paradoxically with a somewhat vain focus. A film to be seen nevertheless, quite superior to Saving Private Ryan and dinosaurs.

  Fred Thom

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