A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson based on the short story by Brian Aldiss
I saw this at the movies when it first came out, and probably once or twice again since. I had put off watching it due to being traumatised by the Flesh Fair sequence.
Ah yes, the advanced future where everyone wears grey all the time, the homes are filled with ceramics and chrome and wives stay at home all day doing housework while the husband goes off to work.
As soon as Martin is introduced the abuse starts. The first thing we see him doing is picking up Teddy by the ear as he says ‘Martin, no’, then he makes Teddy choose between the two of them. The way Teddy is animated makes this sequence pretty heartbreaking, although undercut with a laugh when Teddy very wisely chooses to follow Mommy out of the room. Mommy’s casual, amused ‘are they torturing you?’ seems to be a foreshadowing.
Monica’s choice to abandon David in the woods rather than return him to the factory he was made in is supposed to show her humanity, her inability to destroy something she cares about, but ultimately is the most monstrous choice she could have made. She even seems to know it, telling him ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world’ before driving off. She had to know that things would be hard for David out there with no one but Teddy.
The Flesh Fair sequence remains horrid. Is it a coincidence that the first thing they destroy is a clearly coded black man? However maybe because I was prepped for it, or maybe because I watched so many horrid things since I last saw this movie, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Plus, Brendan Gleeson! Still not pleasant to watch though. The joy in the destruction of others… horrible.
The story is somewhat meandering. It’s a very long running time for a film which only really has four settings and not too much story. It needs a bit of an edit, although the SFX have held up remarkably well for something seventeen years old. The not quite real make up job on Joe is fantastic as well.
Does it make me love the people? Hayley Joel Osment does a fantastic job in this role. It’s very hard not to feel for him even as he’s being creepy and appearing noiselessly or dangerously getting something wrong. I also really love Jude Law as Gigolo Joe and Teddy – the actual humans in the movie are a lot harder to care about, but ultimately it’s not a film about them.
Bechdel test: No, although there is Monica and a handful of other named women almost all the speaking roles in this film are men. Weird really… no need for Martin to have only friends who are boys, or for every scientist to be male… now that I think of it the women are only in two roles: Mothering (Monica, Blue Fairy, the nanny at the Flesh Fair) and sexual (Gigalo Jane, the women hiring Joe.) The only exception is the little girl in the flesh fair who is supposed to be David’s mirror I think.
Gigolo Joe: She loves what you do for her, as my customers love what it is I do for them. But she does not love you, David. She cannot love you. You are neither flesh nor blood. You are not a dog a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific like the rest of us… and you are alone now only because they tired of you… or replaced you with a younger model… or were displeased with something you said or broke. They made us too smart, too quick and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us. And that is why you must stay here… with me.
State of Mind: It remains an enjoyable movie but I feel like these themes and ideas are being explored better in TV now, notably Humans and Black Mirror. I understand Westworld as well but I haven’t watched any of that yet. This film is a moment in time, and no doubt was influential and important for the genre of sci fi and AI movies. I feel like yeah, there’s better out there now.