Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Brendan Gleeson

MPAA Rating:  (for some sexual content and violent images)

Running Time: 2:25

Release Date: 6/29/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

What is important to human existence? That is the question at the heart of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a film of visual elegance, technical wizardry, and unique intelligence. For two hours, we are presented with a film of emotional and moral ambiguity, and then presented with a polarizing final act that never resolves its story but finds a simple and hopeful way to resolve its central conflict. My first impression of the ending was that it was too sentimental, yet upon another viewing, I had a completely different reaction—utter appreciation of a work of beauty.

Sometime in the future, the polar ice-caps have melted, and chaos has resulted. Cities have sunk, millions have died, and resources have been destroyed. Only the worthy human beings are allowed procreate. This, of course, leaves a dilemma for many families who want children. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) has come up with the solution. At this time in human technology, artificial life can be made, and the professor has decided to build an artificial child with the ability to love.

Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Francis O’Connor) have an ill child, who is cryogenically frozen until medical science can help him. Henry is an employee at the same company, and because of their situation, the couple is first in line to test the child, named David (Haley Joel Osment). The resulting scenario places David learning about human life and Monica learning to accept him as a possible substitute for her own child. There is a great amount of emotional ambiguity in these scenes, because Monica could never replace her child and David is programmed to do whatever his parents say. So when Monica finally decides to program David to love her, she is not doing it because of mutual affection, she is doing it out of selfishness. This emotional complexity finds its way into more scenes as the film progresses.

There is also an intellectual and philosophical complexity to the story. If David is programmed to love, can he also feel hate? He obviously feels jealousy; he even develops an Oedipus Complex. Is it right to force David to love when the recipient of that love may not love him in return? If one feels one emotion, does that not mean that experiencing the full spectrum of emotions is possible? Of course, to actually think about these issues, one must accept the fact that David is capable of genuine love, as the movie states more than once. If you cannot accept this fact through the willing suspension of disbelief, the entire film will most likely ring false. These questions are handled with care, complete vagueness, and a darkly cynical world-view.

That is until the final act comes around. I will not divulge any specific details, but I will say it is more than reminiscent of the final scenes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Upon further thought, I have come to realize that the entire film is thematically and philosophically structured after 2001. The first acts of both films show a birth and development. The second acts show a dark world where people are overrun by a conflict of their creative and destructive tendencies. The final acts end on a single note of hope that people can rise above this conflict to a higher state. Taking this fact into consideration, it is easier to understand why the final act takes on a new tone. A.I.ends on a sequence of ambiguity, hope, and bittersweet emotional resonance. While it seems a stretch that such an ending would have come from Kubrick and some are left wondering how the ending would have been at the hands of Kubrick, there is an answer to both those thoughts, and it lies in the ending to 2001. That ending captured the first two elements—ambiguity and hope—but lacked an emotional depth. This is where Spielberg’s abilities come into play, and the result is poignant in its simplicity. That is not to say thatA.I. surpasses 2001, but I believe both films will last in the minds and hearts of people generations from now.

There is also much more to praise about A.I. Haley Joel Osment shows there is definitely an actor capable of far more than most people would expect in that little body. His performance here will probably rival those of the best performances this year. His scenes of discovery are strangely magical and haunting. There are also subtle instances where Osment forces us to remember that David is not human. He does not blink. His language is properly constructed, and his tone of voice is always steady. These subtle touches make David sympathetic, but not because he is human. He is sympathetic because of his determination and the idea at the end that perhaps what he represents is the best human beings have to offer. As the film progresses and David grows, Osment really gives the film its heart. At times beforehand, the film seems like a character study, considering Osment’s dynamic performance. The other person to mention is Jude Law playing Joe, a robotic gigolo. He is surprisingly funny, playing the stiffness of his body for whatever flexibility and quickness it can give.

A.I.’s technical prowess shines in every scene. Spielberg, the ever-developing auteur, displays a technical expertise that may soon rival that of Kubrick. Each scene is played out with the right pacing, style, composition. The special effects are some of the best I have seen, and they actually serve the story instead of vice versa. The world depicted here is as visionary as the worlds seen in other films such asBlade Runner or Brazil and, at many times, seems much more plausible.

I really admire films like A.I. They ask the viewer to take time and think about them. They challenge audiences to think about preconceived notions. They challenge film lovers to take some time and realize that perhaps the most simple solution can be the most profound. I have thought long and hard about A.I. since I first saw it. It has done all of the things I just mentioned, and that alone makes it one of the best films of the year.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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