Its setting is the future and the main characters are robots, but A.I.: Artificial Intelligence focuses on an old-fashioned, time-honored, Spirit-powered human emotion: love.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg and based on ideas from the late director Stanley Kubrick and short stories by Brian Aldiss, this science fiction opus tells the Pinocchio-like story of a mechanical boy, David (Haley Joel Osment), who wants to be a real boy.
David has been created by a scientist (William Hurt) at Cybertronics Manufacturing in the future, after the melting of the polar icecaps have drastically affected human civilization and population numbers. Robots are in common use, but David is unique: the first robot capable of true human emotion and the first able to love. The scientist describes David as “a robot child who can love…with a love that will never end” and as “always loving, never ill, never changing.”
When asked if it is possible for humans to return love to a robot, the scientist replies, “In the beginning, didn’t God create Adam to love him?”
With humans, however, the give-and-take of love gets more complicated, as David’s situation illustrates. He is “adopted” into a family and is soon imprinted with a permanently bonding love for his human mother.
In true human (“orga” for organic) fashion, though, complications arise in the mother’s feelings for her “mecha” (mechanical) son. David’s love, however, is “forever” and cannot be altered.
In this scenario, the film raises serious questions about the nature and boundaries of love. Never mind the robots and the futuristic setting, we’re really examining ourselves — here and now — with such questions as these:
— What constitutes true love?
— How and why do we turn love on and off?
— Is it necessary for love to be returned to be valid?
— Can we really love something that is mechanical or not alive? (People say they “love” their new car, boat, house, toy, or shoes. Why not a mechanical child?)
— What responsibility do we owe children we create or are responsible for? The question applies to humans, and maybe someday to robots. And what about animals for which we are responsible?
— Is love dependent solely upon the actions or character of the beloved?
— Why do we so desperately want to love and be loved?
— Why is a mother’s love so important to a child?
— Is there an eternal, spiritual element to love?
— Why are humans so frequently frustrated and traumatized in their pursuit of love?
— Where and how do we usually look for love?
The last two questions are raised especially with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a robot specifically designed to pleasure human women. Joe helps David during a quest.
Besides being the first robot to love, David also is the first robot who dreams, which means that he can actively pursue his dreams. David, throughout much of the film, pursues one dream: to become a real boy so he can come home to his mother’s love.
David experiences what many humans have before him — finding out that dreams can be as difficult to obtain as true love. Profound psychological overtones concerning love and dreams run throughout the story.
This beguiling artificial child with a winning smile personifies many a human child and adult as he “buys into” fairy tales about love and dreams.
For David, the fairy tale is Pinocchio, in which the Blue Fairy turns a wooden boy into a real boy “in return for your good heart.”
What does David’s “good heart” gain him? In his own journey leading to the Blue Fairy, David gets wide-eyed views of the “real world” of human emotions such as greed, callousness, anger, fear, jealousy, and hate. David becomes apparently mired in a fairy tale of love and dreams — and like so many before him seeking love, eventually settles for what he can get. The view isn’t necessarily a completely satisfying or reassuring one.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world,” David’s mother says to him. But what could he have done with the knowledge anyway? Experience is what really teaches.
A.I., which contains outstanding visual effects and artistic designs, also raises questions about the future of humankind:
— Will there be drastic changes in geography, population, and life because of temperature shifts?
— What will be advances in science over the next century?
— How will intelligent life on this planet or elsewhere years from now look upon human history and humans?
— Will artificial intelligence be a reality in the not-so-distant future?
Hans Moravec, director of the Mobile Robot Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, sees a bright future for robots.
He says, “Within the next century they will mature into entities as complex as ourselves and eventually into something transcending everything we know — in whom we can take pride when they refer to themselves as our descendants. Unleashed from the plodding pace of biological evolution, the children of our minds will be free to grow to confront immense and fundamental challenges in the larger universe. We humans will benefit for a time from their labors, but sooner or later, like natural children, they will seek their own fortunes while we, their aged parents, silently fade away. Very little need be lost in this passing of the torch — it will be in our artificial offspring’s power, and to their benefit, to remember almost everything about us, even, perhaps, the detailed workings of individual human minds.”
As a depiction of one of these early “children of our minds,” David perhaps gives us a preview of what lies ahead in Moravec’s vision.
A.I. is certainly a questioning film — with inherent questions about love, dreams, science, robots, and the future.
“Is it a game?” David asks about activities he doesn’t understand.
A. I. is indeed like a question-and-answer game. Your turn.