So, the film we had all been waiting for has finally been released.
I saw it in Toronto: lucky me. The screen there was enormous, Ziegfeld-size,
and the experience was amazing. (It makes up for Canadian passive-aggression:
cafés which wouldn’t sell me a bacon sandwich, or Air Canada
putting me in a middle seat on a virtually empty flight, twice.)
You know my attitude towards Stanley Kubrick; my attitude to Steven
Spielberg is not far off. So, predictably enough, I loved the film.
I loved the classic Spielberg moments, of which there are many (David,
left alone in the woods, receding in his mother’s oval rear-view mirror)
and also the Kubrickian production design. Quotes from both Kubrick’s
and Spielberg’s oeuvres came so thick and fast I couldn’t keep up;
I’m not sure quite so many were strictly necessary. But Spielberg
gave himself completely free reign here by writing the screenplay,
the first time he’s done so for one of his own films since Close
A.I. really does come across as a cross between the two masters.
The opening weekend’s box office was bigger than anything Kubrick
ever saw, but hardly compares to great Spielberg blockbusters. Part
of the problem seems to be that the Kubrick touches have put off the
family audience: A.I. doesn’t have the simplicity of E.T.,
and 80% of the opening weekend’s audience was over 25. I can see why:
having recently taken a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old to see Shrek,
I know I wouldn’t have wanted to take them to see this. It’s too long,
too dark, and too subtle; it also requires prior knowledge of Pinocchio.
But at the same time, Spielberg has surely kiddified Kubrick’s vision:
the film comes with a PG-13 rating, and you just know what
Kubrick would have done with Rouge City.
A lot of people seem to be surprised or disappointed at the final
third of the film, and, knowing that, I was expecting something akin
to the ending of 2001. But although there are similarities,
A.I. has been made in a much less credulous era, something
of which Spielberg is fully aware. I think the ending is beautiful
and not at all difficult to sign up for, while 2001‘s ending
was a bit hard to swallow even when it was made. Do I have a minor
problem with David suddenly growing tear ducts for the final reel?
Well, yes, but that’s about the extent of it.
One thing I particularly love about this film is the way in which
it tells a story from the point of view of robots who don’t really
have a point of view themselves. It certainly does no favours to the
"orgas," but I’m not at all sure that I accept the criticism
that the film places the viewer on the side of the robots against
the humans without really exploring the full implications. Yes, David
is a sympathetic character, although Haley Joel Osment does a stunning
job of always remaining a little bit less than human. In one of the
best scenes in the film (and one for which I think the credit must
go to Spielberg much more than to Kubrick), David’s auto-defence mechanism
results in him almost drowning his brother. It’s a chilling reminder
of the limitations of machines, and of the price we might have to
pay when we try to make them part of the family.
When the action moved on to the flesh fair, I, for one, felt little
sympathy for the destroyed robots who feel no pain. I did,
on the other hand, sympathise with the stone-throwing demotic, who
were seeing their world being both destroyed by their environmental
negligence and taken over by their technological hubris.
Jude Law, in his excellent performance as the mecha Gigolo Joe, has
a monologue towards the end of the second third of the film where
he complains of the "suffering" (his word) that the mechas
are going through. That rang a little false: the robots have been
imprinted with basic survival mechanisms, but it seems to me that
the whole premise of the film is that, at least until David comes
along, they can’t feel emotions. And if you can’t feel emotions, you
Really, however, all this discussion misses the point: A.I.
is a fairy tale, and an excellent one. I defy anybody to easily forget
the image of the lions crying at the flooded base of Rockefeller Center:
this is the sort of thing which only cinema can do, and which Steven
Spielberg does better than anybody else.What he has done in this film
is make a much more grown-up fairy tale than he has in the past, one
in which a search for love turns out to be a search for death. If
Spielberg’s Jewishness was responsible for his initial move from mass
entertainment into something more cerebral, then Stanley Kubrick has
taken him back, as a mature filmmaker, to the cinematic playing-fields
of his earlier career. For that we should all be thankful.
PS. It’s interesting, after seeing the movie, to read the
original short story on which the film is based. Written by Brian
Aldiss at the end of the 1960s, it has none of the intelligence and
subtlety of the film; it also suffers from the worst sort of leaden
sci-fi prose. In a word, it’s dreadful.