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A.I- Do Androids dream of Love?

May 25, 2010

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.
  1. Good one. When I first watched the movie, I felt bored. On second watch, there were some good takeaways like David's understanding of his environment. It didnt have the nail biting touch of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie belongs to Osment. He was brilliant just like he was in Sixth Sense.However, CGI was topnotch. Like you said, John Williams really takes it away in this movie. The sound track is absolutely amazing, as is with his other greats.Entry of aliens into the story for an explanation towards the ending was a big let down IMO. It was unnecessary I thought. In fact, it sounded like it was forced!

  2. AI has never been one of my favourite films although I concede that the experience did improve with a second and third viewing. My personal favourite of that genre is probably 'Bicentennial Man' which I accept is flowery but none the less charming for it.As for A.I it addresses issues thoughtfully and from a perspective that we rarely are required to consider.I never have been a great Jude Law fan but found his poor acting skills quite acceptable in this role. Haley Joel Osment was, as we now have grown to expect, very believable and his acting ability continues to bely his years.This was a thoughtful piece which we have grown to expect from the author, a talented individual who never fails to deliver.James

  3. seems like it wd be a good one after reading yr blog. I saw it when it was released in those small theatres we used to hve in Manipal where they used to play via projector in 50-60 seater mini theatres. First when the movie used to be released they played Pirated stuf with bad print and later on oiginal an also LDs. This one and the beutiful mind. I saw in real bad prints Beutiful mind i saw it again later on on L.D but this one i skipped. Got mixed reviews, loks like will have to check it out. Thanks a lot Ratna.Prashant

  4. Somehow never understood why this movie got criticized a lot, sure the ending cud have been better, but on the whole, i felt it was an excellent movie.

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