Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain.- Alan Turing
Spoilers Alert: Please note that many key scenes in the movie would be discussed here. People who have not seen the movie would be advised to keep this in mind.
Artificial Intelligence has often been described as the science of making intelligent machines, or trying to make computers understand human intelligence. Ok, the rather Wiki-esh definition aside, trying to define A.I. or formulate it’s principles has still been a work in progress. The basic concept of A.I. is that computers can replicate human intelligence, and perform the tasks in an intelligent manner, as opposed to robots which basically perform a series of actions, dictated to them. But then that does beg the question, what form of human intelligence is purposed to be recreated? And if a machine can be programmed to think like a human being, can it feel the basic human emotions? And if a robot is capable of showing emotion or feeling towards a human being, does the same reciprocal emotion come from a human? No easy answers, here, because when we talk of intelligence or emotions or feelings, we are just getting into a subjective gray territory, where the answers are contextual, where nothing can be the right answer.
If a machine can think, can it also feel?
One of the age old ethical questions that has been a key issue in A.I. And raised centuries back by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, where the creation of the protagonist turns upon him. Ridley Scott explored this issue with fascinating results in the 1982 sci fi classic, Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford, plays the protagonist, who has to hunt down a group of rogue replicants, the android humans created for doing the dirty menial work, and in turn have become violent killers.
A.I.:Artificial Intelligence, was the collaboration of two men, who have been the Ying and the Yang, as far as directorial and narrative styles are concerned, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. The actual basis of the movie was a short story by Brian Adliss “Super-Toys last All Summer Long”, and Kubrick tried to bring it to screen, but languished due to a number of reasons, before he handed the story over to Spielberg. Close friends in real life, their directorial styles were as different as chalk and cheese, Kubrick’s dark, dystopian, nihilistic outlook, contrasted sharply with Spielberg’s more optimistic, feel good, humanist approach. A.I. was the most ambitious experiment ever in cinema history, as it attempted to fuse Yin and Yang on the screen. Typically doing a fusion attempt is a bit of Russian Roulette combined with some expert tight rope walking, you have to maintain the balance between the differing styles, ensuring that the worst practices of both don’t end up mixing with each other, and end of the day, you could end up delivering either a masterpiece or a super dud.
A.I. starts off with a narrator giving us a peek into a rather apocalyptic future, where global warming has melted the ice caps, submerging many coastal cities, triggering off a global crisis. The people in the poorer nations find themselves much worse off, while the nations in the developed world, insulate themselves further, creating robots to service their needs. And the narration cuts to Professor Hobby( William Hurt), demonstrating to a group of people, about mechas, an advanced humanoid robots which can register thought and emotions. This particular scene to me where Professor Hobby discusses with the people, about humanoids, and their reactions, was to me, one of the best introductory scenes ever. Hobby first shows the limitations of the existing robots, with an android Sheila, and her thought process. Hobby has a more ambitious goal, to build a robot who can love, and love here is not of the ” first widening my eyes a little bit, and quickening my breathing a little” variety as proposed by Sheila.
Love like the love of a child for it’s parents. I propose that we build a robot child who can love. A robot child who will genuinely love the parent or parents it imprints on, with a love that never ends.
Hobby here is actually attempting to go beyond the normal romantic, passionate love. For Hobby love is the key to achieve a sub conscious which was not present in the mechas before. Sheila was a mecha, simulated to show emotion, but her responses were programmed. What Hobby is hinting here is the love that could lead to intuition, to dreams, a sort of inner self within an android or the mecha, as it is called here. But that is when one of the participants throws up the vital question again. Just loved the exchange between the team member and the professor. As she asks him “If a robot could genuinely love that person, what responsibility does that person hold towards the mecha” or in more simpler terms, “if a robot can love a human, can it get the human to love them back”. And Hobby goes philosophical “But in the beginning didn’t God create Adam to love him”. In the first 10 minutes, Spielberg adeptly sets up the entire premise, and the question around which the movie revolves, at a philosophical and psychological level. The dialogues and the questions asked here are critical, because at various other points in the movie, the issues raised, keep cropping up, forcing the protagonists to evaluate their actions.
And that is the point where Spielberg introduces the protagonist, a mecha named David( Haley Joel Osment), an advanced prototype model created by Cybertronics which resembles and behaves like a human child. David enters the home of Henry( Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton( Frances O Connor), a couple whose only son Martin, has been living in a state of coma, suffering from a rate disease. The entry scene is brilliantly shot, the door opening, David’s silhouette bathed in a ghostly light, and then stepping into the Swinton’s home. Even the futuristic settings here are done at a minimalistic, level, plain colors, utilitarian spaces, dim light. Monica is reluctant to accept David as a child, she slowly agrees to it, as David finds himself in a new home. Spielberg quite often uses the visual medium brilliantly, and the scenes where David familarizes himself with Monica, and his new home, are top notch. Spielberg’s touch is pretty much evident, here in the part where David keeps observing every action of Monica, trying to understand it, which in turn scares her. Another great moment is the part when David laughs out aloud, at the dining table, watching Monica eat, and spontaneously both Monica and Henry, join in. The bonding scenes between David and his adopted parents are done well.
David meanwhile finds a new pal in a robotic toy bear, Teddy, as he slowly adapts to his surroundings. His happiness is however short lived, when Martin recovers and comes back home. This is where i feel the limitations of the A.I. were shown up, Hobby assumes that every child is loving towards his parents, but the fact is children human beings like any one else. They are not capable of just love, they can also be equally capable of jealousy and envy. Hobby was seeking to create a perfect child, devoid of any negative emotions, but in the real world, children have their negative emotions like Martin. At one level, it is a sibling rivalry, Martin feels he has the sole right to his parents affection and love, and David does not deserve it. At another level it is also an issue of contempt, something we witness later in the movie, of for the mechas, regarded as lesser human beings. Martin’s spiteful attitude towards David, stems from both a jealousy as well as contempt of the fact that some one like David could actually be loved.
If we take the relationship between David and his family, it splits into various levels, Monica loves David, she treats him like her own son, Martin’s jealousy towards David results in him becoming a sadistic bully, and Henry here remains a passive bystander, not really taking a firm stand. Martin shows that not all children, are sweet, loving, angels, they can be mean, sadistic bullies too. Henry to me was the main culprit, after the incident when David provoked by Martin, tries to cut Monica’s hair, he blames David, for the entire incident, absolving Martin of his role. Henry’s own affection for his son, blinds him to Martin’s misdeeds. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Martin and his friends tinker around with David’s self protection program near the swimming pool, which makes David cling to Martin out of fear, and drag him into the pool. One of the best shots of the entire movie, David lying alone in the pool, looking up, the blue waters around him, as he listens to the voices outside. Spielberg beautifully establishing David’s position, of a loner, an outcast, who has no place. No one really cares about him, and what is worse, he is made to be responsible for Martin’s misdeeds.
it becomes much more poignant later on, Monica reading the messages which David had written for her, but she is helpless having no choice but to return David back to Cybertronics for being destroyed. In a rather moving scene, Monica leaves David along with Teddy in the forest alone. David’s impassioned plea for his mother’s love, and Monica tearfully running away from the woods, asking him to escape from the people determined to destroy him, is quite unsettling. Again the question comes if a robot can love a human, can a human love a robot back. Monica shows that yes it is possible , but she is helpless in a world, filled with the likes of mean, nasty bullies like Martin and passive bystanders like her husband.
While the first act, has a Kubrickian feel, with the rather minimalistic settings, and the cynical tone of narration, David not really finding love, the second act, goes into an interesting mix of Kubrick and Spielberg. The references to Pinocchio, Wizard of Oz( Dr. Know at the Rogue City), the chase sequences are vintage Spielberg, the darker tone of the mechas being hunted down, the Flesh Fair scenes, the character of the android Gigolo Joe( Jude Law) all point to a more Kubrickian influence. In fact, what i saw here was a consistent switching between two styles, making the transition seamlessly. Just when the narrative gets into a dark morbid tone, it immediately switches back to a more optimistic tune, and just when it appears like a child fantasy, the narrative switches into a more darker tone. We see it here, when David referencing the Pinnochio story, dreams of being a real boy, and believes there really exists a Blue Fairy, who can make his wish come true, while trudging through the woods along with Teddy. Just when the narration seems to be going into typical Spielberg cuddly fantasy mode, it switches into a more darker tone, with the moon rising and the mechas being hunted.
In fact the scene that shows the Mechas being hunted and the subsequent Flesh Fair makes for rather dark viewing. The Mechas are chased all around the woods by a huge ballon, that records their ID’s and then captures them up, including David, who is caught up in the net. The flesh fair however is much more gruesome, as the Mechas are destroyed before a rabid, cheering crowd. The entire scene, where the captured Mechas are taken from the cages, and then burnt or doused with acid, to the cheers of the crowd, seem reminiscent of the Roman stadiums, where the slaves were fed to hungry lions, and people watched it as a spectacle. What is even more ironical, is the ring leader there claiming
We are alive, and this is a celebration of life! And this is a commitment to a truly human future.
The irony is that the celebration of life and the commitment to the human future is at the cost of the lives of the mechas. Some sort of parallel to the way the Romans viewed the slaves as sub human beings who deserved to be fed to the lions. Even the earlier scene showing the mechas being hunted down, is eerily reminiscent of the scene in Schindler’s List, where the Jews are used as target practice by Amon Goeth. As one of the mechas wryly tells David, “History repeats itself, it’s the rite of blood and electricity”. Or as another mecha puts it
So when the opportunities avail themselves, they can pick away at us, cutting away our numbers, so that they can maintain numerical superiority.
Something i felt in the first act, when it was said, that robots were used as a means to control consumption. Why was it the responsibility of the robots to do so? Why was it not possible for the humans themselves to control their own consumption of resources? Why did they need a tool to do so? One really poignant moment in the Flesh fair scene, is when a mecha pleads “I still work, don’t I? I can still work in the dark, but my lamp is broken” to no avail. It just sums up the pointlessness and the dehumanization of the entire circus. It is at this fair, that David meets Joe, the gigolo, on run from a framed up murder charge. Joe is an android Gigolo, who offers his services to women, and it is he who turns out to be the one who accompanies David on his journey, he is the one who turns out to be David’s friend, guide and mentor. David’s pleas not to destroy him, move the crowd, which now demands to release him. Again this made me raise the question, why did the crowd which was otherwise sadistically cheering the destruction of the mechas, wanted David to be spared. Was it because David was one of them, cute, cuddly, white kid, or as one of the women in the crowd puts it “Mecha don’t plead for their lives”. But was not the workman Mecha, pleading in a way, why did his pleas, fall on deaf ears?
From Pinocchio the movie goes into Wizard of Oz territory, as David along with Joe makes a trip to Rogue City, a futuristic version of Las Vegas, the settings are awesome here, as also the camera work, showing the neon lights, the rowdy atmosphere, the sort of place Joe loves. The conversation between Joe and David over the Blue Fairy, beautifully displays the divergence in their ideas. For David the Blue Fairy is the fairy, who can turn him into a real boy, for Joe Blue Fairy is a woman to be bedded, which is the only way he feels David can turn into a real boy. The Wizard of Oz reference here comes from Dr. Know, a holographic search engine, somewhat akin to Google, but i feel more based on Ask Me. The animation and the camera work again in the scene where Dr. Know answers about Blue Fairy is brilliant. One of the best moments again comes in the conversation between David and Joe after they come out from Dr. Know’s shop. Joe asking David, about how sure he is that his Mother really loves him, and what if the Blue Fairy was just a magical figment. “The supernatural is the hidden web that unites the universe” and then Joe telling David, why he believes that love is not real.
They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us,and that is why you must stay here, with me.
And that is the reason for me why the 3rd act or the last 20-30 minutes of the movie was the most frustrating. No, its not that i do not like happy endings, but in this case the feel good, fuzzy epilogue, just made no sense. For almost 3/4 of the movie, the movie has a cynical tone, about the human race, about the futility of modern civilization, and yet it seemed Spielberg having put across the point, that it is not possible for most humans to love the robot back, decided to do a sudden U-turn, which really did not fit in at all. It was like Spielberg saying to the audience,” ok till now, i have been cursing you, making you feel bad, lets make it up in the last 30 minutes, and make you feel good”, or at least that is how i felt. The issue with judging a movie like A.I is while the last 30 minutes makes it fall short of classic level, at the same time it is not a movie you want to dismiss off casually. Be it the exemplary camera work, John William’s haunting music score, the color schema or the smart dialog writing, or the exploration of the psychological, philosophical themes of man vs robots, the movie has a lot to recommend. But the seemingly endless epilogue, spoils the effect of what has been seen earlier. Still i would rate this as one of my favorites of the last decade.
The performances are excellent, the top of the charts being Haley Joel Osment, as David, wonderfully mixing up childlike wonderment, agony, pain, vulnerability, with a straight from the heart performance, that makes us root for him. Jude Law is brilliant as the android Gigolo Joe, to me one of the better actors, his expressions, the way he modulates his voice, his gait, everything is just about perfect. Frances O Connor does well too as Monica, making me wonder, why i really did not see much of her.