As I often say, I don’t like categorizing films according to genre. It’s an oversimplified way of describing a film and it tends to undermine any movie that doesn’t have a clear cut category into which it fits. There isn’t a lot of genre blending when Sci-Fi is involved, but Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) is an unusual blend of Sci-Fi and drama. I think that’s why some people were put off by it. Generally we go to a Sci-Fi movie to see explosions, action, aliens, and special effects. A.I. does have some amazing special effects, but it’s a character-driven drama first and foremost.
In the future, the human race reaches the point of creating realistic robots (called mechas). One of the mecha-producing companies builds David (Haley Joel Osment), the first child mecha and the first to have real feelings; particularly a never-ending love for his human “mother,” Monica (Frances O'Connor). David was meant to be a substitute son while her real son is in cryo-stasis with an incurable disease. David lives happily with Monica and her husband, until their real son returns home after a cure is discovered. Rivalry arises between the two boys and they compete for Monica’s affection. Eventually Monica decides to return David to his manufacturer to be decommissioned to prevent any further problems. But Monica has become so attached to David that she sends him out on his own to prevent his destruction. Child-like David decides that if he can find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio (a story Monica once told him) that he can become a real boy and win back Monica’s love. With the help of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a male prostitute mecha on the run after being framed for murder, David sets out on a journey to earn Monica’s love again.
A.I. was originally the concept of Stanley Kubrick who later turned it over to Steven Spielberg. After Kubrick passed away, Spielberg finished the project as a tribute to his deceased friend and colleague. Kubrick is known for making bleak movies while Spielberg is known for making happier movies; both writing styles are manifest in A.I., creating some interesting thematic contrasts. We see cold, creepy mechas who look and act similar to humans, but can’t replicate genuine human behavior; compared to genuine love between family members. There is innocent child-like nature and domestic bliss, which differs from the gritty harshness of the world outside where mechas are treated with hate and mistrust by some. These contrasting elements make for an interesting and diverse setting. I think the overall theme of A.I. is that humans are unique, diverse, special, and impossible to replace.
On the one hand, David is remarkably adorable and endearing, but on the other hand there’s something disquieting about him as well. This is a different sort of character that Osment plays from his famed role in The Sixth Sense (1999), and he plays the part brilliantly. One of the subtle things that makes this character so eerie is you never see him blink; this was an aesthetic suggestion that young Osment made to Spielberg. You want to empathize with the lovable David, but we are constantly reminded that he is not real. We (and David’s “mother”) are projecting emotions onto a machine that is only able to simulate emotion, but not perfectly. In the end, I’m still not sure if this artificial being is someone I should relate to or feel sympathy for, almost like an old computer I don’t need any more. I liked the computer, but the machine and I didn’t have an emotional bond. Nevertheless, I tear up at the end A.I. every time I see it.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence breaks away from our expectations of Sci-Fi and presents us with a drama, not an action movie. I think that divergence is off-putting to some viewers. There’s also several points in the movie where it could have ended, but kept on going. The actual ending is touching, I think. There are themes and directing styles that were influenced by both Kubrick and Spielberg, which make it fascinating to watch if you’re a film connoisseur like me. I’ve got a copy on my movie shelf next to some other favorites of mine. I think this movie would be alright for younger audiences (maybe 10+), though it may raise some awkward questions such as “What does ‘Gigolo’ mean?”
What is your favorite robot movie? It could have good robots or bad robots. Comment below and let me know!