RETROSPECTACLE: MOVIES RELEASED WHEN I WAS YOUNGER
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
I spent a week in Kentucky during the summer of 2001. On a rather sleepy night in the middle of a particularly sleepy week, we decided to pile into the car to go see a drive-in movie. At the site, there were two movies playing on screens that faced each other, flanked by two expansive parking lots. Those movies were Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, and A.I. starring Haley Joel Osment. After a family vote, A.I. was the film we ended up seeing.
A.I. stars Haley Joel Osment (quite probably the best child star of his day) as David, a first-of-his-kind android child who was built to be imprinted on by human parents. He is different from other robots because he was designed to love in the same way a young child loves their parents. He is imprinted on through a combination of words uttered by Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor). Complications occur within the family and before long David is abandoned. Recalling the story of Pinocchio, as read by Monica, he goes on a long journey to seek out the Blue Fairy from that story and become a real boy himself so that Monica will truly love him as her son.
What quickly began for me as curious excitement unraveled into utter boredom within the film’s first ten minutes and only got worse from there. Not once during the two and a half hour run time did I ever feel entertained in the slightest. I can recall also at point buckling my seat belt and telling my parents that I was ready to leave. I hated the movie. Hated every single minute of this seemingly interminable movie. It got to the point where I subsequently blanked the entirety of A.I. from my memory, left with instead the basic recollection of having seen a drive-in movie and I hated the one I saw.
So A.I. faded into obscurity in my eyes. It didn’t matter to me that it was slated to be Stanley Kubrick’s last film, a film he had been developing from as far back as the 1970’s until his death in 1999. I didn’t even know who Stanley Kubrick was at the time I saw it. However, it gave me enough of a reason to sit back down and give this movie another shot once I became aware of this.
Stephen Speilberg took over directing duties on this film following the death of Stanley Kubrick, and a major criticism of the film in general is that it feels like a bizarre mish-mash of the two director’s styles. There are some moments of the movie that convey this (the Chris Rock and Robin Williams cameos being prime examples), but I feel that for the most part this is actually a rather excellent movie that offers quite a lot of food for thought while simultaneously making us empathize with the plight of our robot protagonist.
The movie is riddled with adult themes and questions on what kind of responsibility we have to machines and even touches on the dilemma of humanity’s place in the history of the earth. The last half-hour of the movie may seem jarring (and was heavily criticized for being overly schmaltzy) but if you really think about it, it makes sense and even seems kind of tragic in a way. One of the main questions posed by the movie is fascinating as well given the direction it takes, the question of whether David is truly capable of love. Plus, if nothing else, the movie is just gorgeous to look at and boasts some excellent cinematography and special effects.
I feel my inability to enjoy this movie, as a nine year-old kid, is not so much the movie’s fault as it is mine in the sense that I had no interest in such questions at that age. It is a movie not geared for kids at all, as emphasized by the character Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, pictured below) along with the entire middle section of the film as well. You could also argue that the movie is trying to juggle this philosophical narrative while maintaining this sense of it being a fairy tale (Pinocchio was a main inspiration of Stanley Kubrick’s for this film, along with the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss), something that people usually don’t take a shine to (Lady In The Water, anyone?).
All in all, I would say that A.I. is definitely worth a look and a movie that I originally hated with passion but can now find much to like about it.
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