AI (Artificial Intelligence)
Author: James Murkett Keywords:
Love, humanity, longing, hope, desire, jealously, dreams, prejudice
Film title: AI (Artificial Intelligence)
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg (plus the late Stanley Kubrick)
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O' Connor, Sam Robards, William Hurt
Distributor: Warner Bros / Dreamworks
Cinema Release Date: September 2001
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In a future where sea-level rise, triggered by polar ice cap melting, has caused
widespread population migration, pregnancy is licensed. Humans ('orgas', short
for organics) are increasingly dependent upon robots ('mechas', short for mechanics).
At a board meeting of Cybertronics, a leading mecha production firm, Professor
Hobby (Hurt) suggests a new stage in mecha evolution: the development of a 'perfect
simulacrum' of a human, a mecha capable of love. An employee of Cybertronics and
his family - Monica (O'Connor) and Henry (Robards) Swinton - is chosen to test
'David' (Osment), whose own son Martin is critically ill. Initially David frightens
Monica, though as their relationship evolves she shows him some measure of love.
She initiates David's love programme, which is an irreversible commitment to care
for David or face taking him back to the factory for destruction. David instantly
begins to call Monica 'mommy' while continuing to call Henry by his first name.
The Swinton's world is turned upside down though by the miraculous recovery that
Martin undergoes. He returns to the house and through a series of incidents causes
concerns about David. This leads to David being excluded from Monica's love, eventually
to such a degree that David with his mechanical 'Teddy' are abandoned in the woods
to fend for themselves.
David, programmed to love unconditionally, begins a quest to become a 'real boy'
so that 'mommy will love me'. The parallels with Pinocchio are obvious: David
sets off to find the mythical Blue Fairy whom he believes has power to transform
him into a human. His search goes via a Flesh Fair where enraged orgas burn and
destroy mechas for pleasure, echoing dark events in human history: 'History repeats
itself' as a mecha comments during the event. Here he meets Gigolo Joe (Law) -
a mecha who exists solely to provide sexual pleasure for female clients and who
is wanted by the authorities after the murder of a client by her jealous husband-but
thanks to David's similarity to a human, David and Joe escape. The quest leads
them to Rouge City where sensual experiences are readily available, and they discover
the location of Blue Fairy. The journey ends at a submerged Manhattan ('the end
of the world') where David meets his 'creator' only to find that he is not unique,
but is actually a brand name for artificial children, causing him to destroy another
He is affected to such a degree he plunges into the waters surrounding Manhattan
- an attempt to kill himself? - only to be rescued by Joe. However within the
waters David has seen enough: the remnants of Coney Island and a Pinocchio attraction
containing a statue of Blue Fairy. Using a craft he pilots down to the attraction,
still with 'Teddy' by his side, and meets Blue Fairy face-to-face. He prays to
her to make him 'into a real live boy'. However, his entrance to the attraction
has made it unstable and it collapses trapping him in his craft, staring day after
endless day at Blue Fairy in the hope she can grant his desire.
Two thousand years pass, an ice age comes and still David waits in his craft.
Unidentified beings - 'aliens', the next level of human evolution or the pinnacle
of robotic technology? - discover him, and recognise he is the nearest thing to
a human remaining on the planet. They place him inside a carefully reconstructed
version of the Swinton's home for observation. David meets an animate Blue Fairy
who, although she cannot make him into a real boy, nonetheless wants to make him
happy. The beings are able to recreate Monica from a piece of hair but she will
only last for one day. David accepts this offer and spends the 'happiest day of
his life' loving and being loved by Monica. There are indications that David may
have become 'a real live boy' and the film ends with both David and Monica asleep
together while 'Teddy' - a machine and thus unable to sleep - looks on.
A.I., the result of years of hard work initially from director and scriptwriter
Stanley Kubrick, began life as the short story 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long'
by Brian Aldiss. In 1983 Kubrick bought the rights to the story and set about
turning it into a film, frequently consulting Steven Spielberg. In 1994 Kubrick
asked Spielberg to direct the film, but later retracted his offer. With Kubrick's
death in 1999, the outline and concept of A.I. was passed onto Spielberg who wrote
the script and enhanced the storyline, turning A.I. into a 'true amalgamation
of the two' (Jan Harlan).
In the US, A.I. grossed $80 million while costing $86 million to make. The themes
dealt with partly explain the film's poor commercial showing. Further explanation
for this include the fact the film is an 'amalgamation' of two of the giants of
modern cinema. For some (including myself) this leaves a disjointed film showing
the influence of both Spielberg and Kubrick. However others see no inconsistency
in the overall tone of the film.
What separates humans from machines? Are we capable of truly loving a machine?
Do we have a responsibility towards technology we create? Why do we exclude and
harass those different from ourselves? From where do we get the desire to be 'better'
than we are? What if this desire is grounded in jealousy? All these are questions
raised by A.I. Not exactly the stuff of commercial success, but enough to make
A.I. an interesting, thought-provoking film, if in my opinion, lacking coherence.
People once thought that technology would solve the problems of the world. In
relation humanity was inferior, in cases liable to replacement by technology.
This is no longer such a popular view as continuing social, environmental and
economic problems remain despite the use of technology in an attempt to solve
them. A.I. seems to agree with this, as David desires to become human. He sees
becoming human as a means of getting Monica to love him, as he is somehow inferior.
As Christians we must insist humans are distinct from machines and the technology
we create. The Bible teaches that humanity is the apex of God's creation - we
are 'made in God's image' - capable of being relational and creative as God is
relational and creative. This gives us value and a dignity however fallen we may
be. Humanity has the power to be creative, to bring forth new technology but must
have moral responsibility for that technology.
Our desire for relationship and love is a consequence of being made in the 'image
of God'. The Bible teaches that man was made for relationship with God, and that
only in such a relationship can we find fulfilment. David had a desire to love
and be loved. We have a desire to love and be loved, we have a 'God-shaped-hole'
in our lives that desires relationship with our Maker. People look for fulfilment
that satisfies temporarily but eventually leaves us empty. Only relationship with
God through Jesus Christ will fill that hole, truly 'our hearts are restless till
they find their rest in thee'. Our friends need to hear that what can satisfy
the deep longings of their hearts is not things of this world, but rather a relationship
with the God who formed us for himself. The desire to love is God-given but to
who or what this love is given is key.
If humans are 'made in God's image' we bear some of his characteristics. One
is an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. This may be subverted and repressed, but
remains in all of us. Each of us is aware through our own moral experiences, and
when we are honest, that we are not perfect. We know that we hurt people, that
we let people down and we see the effects of this in the world around us: injustice,
violence and oppression. The Bible sees these failures as signs of a deeper problem,
a rebellion against God and his rightful rule over our lives as our Creator and
Lord. If we are being honest we would all like to be better than we are, to be
more loving, less selfish, less arrogant. David desires to be better than he is;
he longs and prays to become human so Monica will love him. If we can get our
friends to acknowledge that they are not perfect, that the world around is not
as it should be, then we are on the way to being able to explain clearly why Jesus
came and died.
Jesus died in our place under the just punishment for the failure to live up
to God's standards. He frees us from the result our rebellion deserves. We can
do nothing about it because we on our own are incapable of changing and getting
it right, we need Jesus to do it for us. When we recognise our need for someone
to put us right with God we can accept what Jesus did and become a follower of
him. If we are a Christian, God by his Spirit lives in our hearts, revealing areas
in our life where we need to change but also helping us to do just that. We need
this, as we can never do it on our own. David recognised this as he prayed and
searched for Blue Fairy to do it for him. Our friends need to hear that the desire
to be better than we are is God-given, and it reveals our need to be put right
with God. Only God himself can rescue us while at the same time helping us to
Our friends need to hear of the hope this gives. Of the certainty, if we acknowledge
what Jesus has done for us, of a restored relationship with God and a place in
heaven for eternity. David hoped in Blue Fairy who could not make him into a 'real
live boy', but was ultimately able to grant him a day with Monica. Our hope is
in Jesus who is more than able to put us right with God through his death, while
guaranteeing us a hope of eternal life with him. The world is searching for hope
amidst hopelessness and we have an answer to that. Let's not keep it to ourselves.
Related articles/study guides:
Author: James Murkett
© Copyright: James Murkett 2001
Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.