Last night The Husband and I watched Artificial Intelligence: AI, the movie Steven Spielberg released in 2001.
We watched on cable TV, and briefly discussed during the ad breaks.
I knew AI was a box office flop, but had no idea why. All I knew was that it was a story about a boy robot and his friend, a gigolo robot, or something to that effect.
Well, there was plenty of reason for that film to flop, as it turns out.
On the surface, this is a retelling of Pinocchio in a high-tech setting. You are wrong if you think this film is suitable for children: There are sexual situations, violence, cruelty, and the message of the film is thoroughly pessimistic.
The film is overloaded with symbolism, which at times is explicit, “In the world of Orga, blue is the color of melancholy,” and at a few rare times left for you to understand, but the sensory overload of special effects and audio has the effect of numbing you to whatever there is.
AI‘s high tech world is filled with gadgets and toys whose purpose is to ease the humans’ lives. The humans use these toys, including the robots, to not only do their work, but also to conveniently ease or avoid the pain of real human-to-human relationships. To that end, they have manufactured sentient toys, called “supertoys”, like a noxious-looking teddy bear that was thisclose to being a replica of an ewok, and also sentient, feeling, self-aware robots.
The humans refer to each other as “orgas” and to the robots as “mechas”.
“Orgas” are cruel, sadistic beings (and don’t tell me the scriptwriters had never heard of orcs, with whom they share several character flaws), who, rather than make the robots with an On/Off switch – something Mr. Data‘s maker had the presence of mind to do – dispose of the screaming, protesting robots in the most horrifying ways imaginable: Not only through a Roman Circus-like show which provides a truly disturbing sequence in the film, but by the human mother cruelly abandoning the loving (robot) child, David, in the woods.
David’s quest then becomes to find the blue fairy that will turn him into a real boy so his mom will love him.
“Mecha” love is never the same as “Orga” love, and Jude Law’s character, Gigolo Joe, has plenty of experience on that. In one of the more memorable scenes, Joe explains to David,
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.
Poor David lives his existence unable to go beyond what he was created to be. Unfortunately in this film this is a parable for the human condition.
The message of this relentlessly depressing movie is that chasing your dreams is a useless quest, and that, try as he may, man will never overcome the limitations of his nature.
The nihilists in The Big Lebowski had better attitudes than that.
To complete the obnoxiousness of it all, the Narrator also drones on about melting icecaps and greenhouse gases.
I would speculate that the effect of this morose film on someone who’s feeling sad or depressed would be equivalent to sitting down to listen to a stack of Billie Holiday CD with a bottle of booze immeditely after a break-up: it would increase your urge to defenestrate.