“A.I. Artificial Intelligence” is every bit a Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg film, with all the tripped-out futuristic weirdness of the former and the childlike fantasy of the latter.
As has been widely publicized, Kubrick discussed “A.I.” with Spielberg for years. When Kubrick died in 1999, Spielberg accepted the charge to write the screenplay and direct the film.
The result is a sad, strangely fascinating story that holds a viewer’s interest but mostly leaves his emotions alone.
It is the future, after the polar icecaps have melted and natural resources are limited. Though robots called “mechas” (short for “mechanicals”) live and work among us, not until now has someone invented one that can actually feel emotions.
The creator is Professor Hobby (William Hurt); the creation is David (Haley Joel Osment), a cherubic young boy who, once programmed, will love his owner unconditionally forever.
Hobby gives David to a married couple whose own child is nearly dead, waiting in a cryogenics chamber for science to cure him. Monica (Frances O’Connor) and Henry (Sam Robards) have mixed emotions about David, finding him alternately endearing and creepy. Matters are not helped any when their real son, Martin (Jake Thomas), is revived.
Unable to deal with David’s devotion to her, Monica leaves him and his interactive teddy bear (voice of Jack Angel) in the woods. If she returns him to Cybertronics Manufacturing, whence he came, they will destroy him, as he is useless to other owners once he’s been programmed to love one “mommy.”
Thus begins David’s adventures in the world. He meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a suave sexbot — er, “love mecha” — who good-naturedly agrees to help David in his quest to find the Blue Fairy he read about in “Pinocchio.” In the story, she helped Pinocchio become a real live boy; perhaps she can do the same for him, too. David figures the reason Monica left him in the woods is that she didn’t love him enough, and that she didn’t love him enough because he’s not real. If he’s real, she’ll love him, and she’ll take him back.
This is a heartbreaking journey, to say the least. David is devoting all his circuits to becoming human (a futile task to begin with), and then only so he can return to a “mother” whose inherent differences from him make their relationship unlikely anyway.
The sadness of all this seeps in gradually, while the main thrust of the film is adventure and wonderment. A sequence in which anti-mecha demonstrators destroy robots in horrific, entertaining ways is a twisted piece of comedy; this may be Spielberg’s most mature “children’s” film yet.
The makeup is flawless and subtle, making Osment and Law look like real people … almost. The emotional paradox is delightful: We know they ARE real people in real life, yet they’re playing robots who are just supposed to LOOK real, which they do, but not quite. How attached should we get? They’re just robots — but they look real — but they ARE real — but not really.
The vision of the future in the film is matter-of-fact, which should appeal to sci-fi fans who are weary of one laugh-packed future after another. No time is wasted on frivolous gags like refrigerators that talk, or self-peeling bananas, or whatever. Things are advanced, but not beyond the point of recognition. Except for Manhattan being underwater, one gets the feeling this could all be happening in the next 30 years.
What is most brilliant about the film is the casting of Haley Joel Osment as David. “The Sixth Sense” was no fluke; he is a fantastic actor. He makes David lovable, tragic and strange, all at once, and better than most actors could. His unblinking eyes convey innocence and loneliness. This is his movie, and he occupies it perfectly. The fact that so much work is heaped upon the young actor makes his character seem more sympathetic, too.
Curiously, and despite an emotionally bittersweet finale, “A.I.” lacks feeling, in a way proving its own point. We sympathize with David, but can we ever really love someone who is not, after all, human? To the extent that we do love him is the extent to which we will love this gorgeous, beautifully flawed movie.
B (2 hrs., 25 min.; )