A.I. Artificial Intelligence

4 Jan

The human race is capable of an immeasurable number of emotions and actions. We can work together to explore the furthest reaches of the universe but we are just as adept at designing weapons to destroy each other. We feel immense love for those close to us – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and surprisingly even animals can be the object of our affections but what about objects?

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a film that examines our ability to love a robot programmed to love us. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, a “mecha” child that is ‘adopted’ by a human couple who’s real son is in a state of suspended animation until a cure can be found for his rare disease. Ultimately, a cure is found and David’s ‘mother’ Monica, who finds herself unable to continue caring for him, abandons him to fend for himself in an ugly vision of future society.

Osment, who earned a plethora of awards – including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor – for his role in ‘The Sixth Sense’ two years earlier, delivers a dazzling performance as David. You would imagine that even the most seasoned actor would have difficulty taking on a role that hovers somewhere in the Uncanny Valley but somehow he pulls it off hypnotically.

It’s all too easy to be fooled by his human visage and the raw emotions he is capable of displaying but Osment portrays him so effectively that the subtle mechanical traits seep through the exterior facade, pervading the air around the character. For example: David doesn’t blink, his posture is unnaturally perfect and his unwavering emotion towards Monica is too naïve to belong to even the simplest human. This devotion leads him to seek out the Blue Fairy of Pinocchio fame in order to become a real boy and regain Monica’s acceptance.

Gigolo Joe, played by Jude Law, who is perhaps the most interesting character in the film, assists him in this quest. Joe is a male prostitute mecha who breaks through the programming barrier in order to go with David rather than continue satisfying customers. However, in contrast to David, he is quite noticeably non-human with an unnatural glaze to his exterior and the ability to change his appearance in order to achieve maximum satisfaction from his customers. His ability for belief is also significantly less than David’s and on one occasion he directly confronts him about the likely non-existence of the Blue Fairy.

The film was directed by Steven Spielberg who took up the mantle after the death of would-be director Stanley Kubrick whose presence can still be felt in the finished product. Kubrick’s vision was considerably darker but surprisingly, the emotion that the film manages to achieve was still present. Perhaps the emotional nature of the film despite the main character lacking a certain je ne sais quoi is its greatest accomplishment.

Critics were mixed when the film was first released ten years ago and since then some have warmed to it’s charms but others still haven’t revisited what I consider to be a masterpiece. I suspect that they were expecting a bleak, profound sci-fi on a level with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which was also not warmly received on release) and became blind to what lay before them – a fascinating, emotional fairy tale that is every bit as contemplative without the cold, pessimistic atmosphere.

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