A.I., Artificial Intelligence (USA, 2001) [spoiler alert]
Sci-fi drama. A childlike android on a quest to become a real boy to gain the love of his adopted human mother.
This movie was an unfinished Kubrick project until he decided to hand it over to Spielberg. Kubrick did so because he doubted he could not make a convincing visual representation of the script. Indeed, the script is very varied (you have three almost separate films more than a single movie), takes a lot awkward and leaves lots of questions unanswered.
The first part, which IMO is the best, is about the android, David, being introduced to his parents. His mother is a broken person, devastated that her human young son is in a coma, presumably never to recover from it. Her partner, who works for an android manufacturing company, decides to make her a gift: the first childlike android designed to love. You see, the movie is set in a post-apocalypse world, where humans need a special license to procreate. If you lose your first-born, you'll never be a parent again. David arrives home and after some initial doubts, the mother decides to keep him. She obviously develops strong feels him and cannot resist the unconditional, perfect love the android child offers her. But soon (this is a first big turn in the script - many more will follow), the original son is resurrected from his coma. He takes advantage of the android's innocence to get him into trouble because he wants to be the only loved by his mother. David keeps his innocence and loveability despite the bad treatment he receives from his human half brother and his peers. But the tension between the sibling is such that the parents decide David is too dangerous to keep. And has to be returned to the company to be deactivated. His mother however decides at the last minute to abandon him instead in a forest (like an unwanted pet) and leaves him there despite David's continuous pleas that he loves her and he will go on looking for her forever.
So far so good. This part is an intelligent comment on child-parent mutual dependence, the responsibilities that come together with love, as well as a sci-fi movie about androids. The tone is bleak, and although this is clearly a Spielberg movie, Kubrick's darkness and gravitas is omnipresent. Haley Joel Osment ("6th Sense") is amazing, and chillingly convincing as an android with human emotions.
The second part is about David's wanderings (in the company of other androids) in a quest to become a real boy and return home. If it sounds like a Disney fairy tale, it is because it is indeed based on Pinocchio. His adopted mother had read Pinocchio to David before abandoning him, and he (because of his innocence) cannot separate fact from fiction. He believes with absolute conviction that he will find the Blue Fairy and will then become a true boy.
This part has location shootings and visual effects (lots of them). The film was actually nominated for Best Visual Effects (lost it to "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"), but IMO this part does not stand well the test of time (unlike say Spielberg's work in Jurassic Park). This part is definitely more Spielberg than Kubrick as it has lots of extravagance but little substantial sentiment in it. All sorts of unwanted androids are hunted down and destroyed by humans. Humans actually go to such lengths as to make a circus where they destroy the androids in extravagant ways, while the crowd cheers: they put fire on them, throw toxic to make them melt and in general the androids are treated like Christians in the Colosseum. David remains untouched by all that darkness, and is unwavering in both his love for his mother and his quest to find the Blue Fairy.
The final part is about David reaching his final destination. What we have here is a series of false endings. Just when you think the film is over, a deus ex machina appears and the action continues.
David arrives in a dystopic, completely liveless New York (over-flooded due to global warming). He has been told this is where he can meet a genius that will reveal him at last the location of the Blue Fairy. Alas, it was all a machination by the manager of the android producing company: intrigued, even moved, by the ability of the bot to behave like a human and decided to take him back. This explains the ease with which David escapes his persecutors, as in reality he was being followed most of the time. That could have been Ending Number One: David is taken back to the company and serves as an ad for the mass production of childlike androids for childless couples.
But no, David Jumps out of the window of a skyscraper and ends at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. He finds there the remnants of a Pinocchio themed park, and ofc among other figures there is a Blue Fairy. David stands there motionless asking from the statue to turn him into a boy. Statues do not answer wishes, and robots do not change their mind. So, David stays there forever asking the same thing from the Fairy: to make him a boy. Many years pass and his computer body gets corrupted and stops working. David stays motionless in the bottom of the Ocean, his eyes forever staring at the Fairy. That could have been Ending Number Two (actually my fave one).
But ofc it goes on. And unfortunately it becomes more and more grotesque. 2k years later, humans have disappeared and an advanced race of robots has taken over the Earth. They find David and bring him back to life. They suppose he would be happy he was rescued but the little pr*ck still wants his mommy. In a rather ridiculous scene, a Blue Fairy arrives and explains to David that she cannot do the impossible - we need some DNA evidence to recreate your mommy David. But David never gives up. He finds some hair of his mum, and all cockiness asks for the Fairy to bring his mum back.
A desperate robot rushes to the scene to explain to David the technicalities. You see, mathematic formulas and some weird space-time stuff suggests that Yes, we can bring back your mommy, but she will only live for one day. After that she will be die in her sleep and David will be forever alone. You'll have a day of perfection David, but then the whole eternity to regret it.
You won't believe it, but David still wants his mommy.
The robots give in (on the assumption that David is so pure and innocent he cannot be touched by reason) and mommy is finally back for a Spielbergian scene of pure cheesy indulgence. David finally has his wish fulfilled and he spends a day being the sole object of his mother's love.A perfect childhood dream.
He then submits to his destiny willingly. We see him lying down next to his already dead mother, and a narrator (perhaps some humans survived after all
) explains us that for the first time, David falls asleep and dreams, like a human. Is this because he has become a full human at last?
Or was the whole day with his mother an illusion in David's brain created by the superior robots? And the same robots now decided to mercifully disconnect David?
Now, there are two radically different ways to approach this movie as a whole. A first, intellectual approach suggests that David never feels anything. He and the other robots are just following their code. No matter how human they can appear to be, in the end AI is genetically doomed to only imitate but never to be. Kubrick probably wanted to make such a movie, playing with the idea of the androids being somehow tragically aware of their emotional amputation. But this is a very hard idea to turn into a film, it's more suitable to be the topic of an essay or a short story. Maybe Kubrick, who was a master of making carefully balanced films, could have pulled such a trick, but we'll never know.
A second, more cinematic approach, means to take what you see on the screen as more important than what you (think you) know about AI. Osment/David is so convincing and moving that in the end the viewer is compelled to accept him as a follow human being. In the hands of Spielberg, who enjoys magic and melodrama, A.I, instead of a new Solaris or Space Odyssey, became a tale about how a little cute robot turned human even at the cost of giving up eternal life for a day with his mother.
Incidentally, in his first review
of the film Roger Ebert defended the second approach, but he changed his mind and sided with the first, more intellectual approach, in a revised review
of the film. I found the revised review rich in hints, but philosophically naive tbh.
tl;dr A film with weaknesses, but it does make you think. I'm sure to re-watch it before long.