Do Dreams Make Us Human?
Release Date: June 29, 2001
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 146 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Executive Producer: Ian Harlan & Walter Parkes
Writer: Steven Spielberg
Address Comments To:Barry A. Meyer, Chairman/CEO
Warner Bros., Inc.
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001
Phone: (818) 954-6000
The protagonist in this science fiction remake of the fairy tale, PINOCCHIO, is a robot named David, played by Haley Joel Osment of THE SIXTH SENSE. The first of his kind, David is built to look and feel completely like a 10-year-old child so that couples, forced to remain childless by the future government, can have their own simulated child. A test couple is given David so that he can replace their sick real child, Martin, who’s been frozen to wait for some kind of life-giving cure. When Martin suddenly is cured, David endangers the mother, Monica, and Martin. David is scheduled to be taken apart and remade, but Monica can’t bear to see that happen, so she abandons him in the forest and tells him to run away. There begins a lengthy series of adventures where David tries to find out how he can become real, like Pinocchio did, so that his mother, Monica, can really love him.
A.I. has some very entertaining, deep and stimulating moments. Some of the best moments include the wonderful set designs and the mechanical, talking teddy bear which helps David on his fantastic travels. Also praiseworthy are Haley Joel Osment’s spectacular performance as David, Frances O’Connor’s warm performance as Monica, and Jude Law’s often humorous performance as Gigolo Joe, a robot designed to give sexual favors to humans.
There are several major archetypal mother figures in A.I. In addition to Monica, David runs into a statue of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. He also meets a damaged, friendly robot, with a motherly female face, that’s destroyed by a crowd of humans upset about the terrible impact humanoid robots are having on society. Finally, David thinks that, because the Blue Fairy helped Pinocchio become real in the story, she can help him become real too. All of these mother images raise countless provocative questions that the movie fails to really answer, nor can it, but that’s the nature of many science fiction stories, especially those with a lot going on in them like A.I. What the movie should try to answer is why there aren’t any really good father figures. Once again, the male sex appears to take a bashing in this movie, which appears to have several politically correct subtexts.
Looking back on his career, Spielberg sometimes is weak on dialogue but he’s always good on storytelling, especially when it comes to emotional climaxes. Kubrick was always good on creating wonderful images, but he always wanted to tell too many stories, and he never knew when to cut. In A.I., Spielberg takes over Kubrick’s dramatic flaws and often fails to achieve the kinds of emotional climaxes for which he is famous. Essentially, A.I. appears to have too many stories to tell. Good dramatic principles, however, suggest that a filmmaker or a playwright really should tell just one story.
Thus, Spielberg probably should have just concentrated on either David’s search for the Blue Fairy, David’s relationship with Monica, David’s discovery of his creators, the arrival of some aliens on Earth, or the story of the clash between mechanical creatures and organic humans. By trying to tell all of these stories, Spielberg begins to tire out the viewer. Also, by the time A.I. resolves all of the stories, many or even most viewers will become very restless.
Of course, there are many fine long movies that hold your interest, such as BEN-HUR. Also, there are many movies with more than one entertaining ending, such as the original DIE HARD. If a movie, however, has dull moments like A.I., it’s usually because of a structural flaw. The multiple stories and multiple endings in A.I all have their pleasures, and many people may find one or two of them highly intriguing and entertaining, but most people will not be enamored with all of them. In fact, the multiple endings all seem to have a similar monotone, with little or no big climaxes to sustain viewer interest. It all just becomes a bit tiring eventually.
Furthermore, A.I. contains a lot of things that don’t really make sense. One of the little things is the explanation for why David can’t eat food without gumming up his works but can go underwater or shed tears with no apparent damage. Of course, with today’s waterproof mechanisms, there may be simple explanations for this or the other little things that may bother viewers.
What can’t be explained, however, is why David’s creators didn’t make him with any failsafe devices. Many science fiction stories about robots and androids contain failsafe devices that help prevent robots and androids from doing something to endanger people’s lives. David in A.I., however, twice endangers the lives of other people and endangers himself in one scene by eating spinach on a taunt from his human brother, Martin. Thus, A.I. is poor science fiction because it ignores a well-known convention of science fiction stories about robots. Of course, if the movie had not ignored this convention, and instead had embraced it, Spielberg probably would have to change the whole story. Since, however, the movie does ignore this famous convention, there’s a huge black hole of irrationality spinning inside the whole movie.
Worse than this, perhaps, is the fact that David seems to be programmed to love the person who says the magic words to him that will cause him to imprint all his being on that person. Once Monica imprints these magic words on David’s mechanism, his intense love for her never wanes and never changes to hate or even indifference. Thus, in actual fact, David can never really be human; he’s still a robot, a machine, who cannot really question his programming. This not only leaves a huge black hole in the story, it also leaves a huge black hole in the movie’s thematic structure and worldview.
A.I. appears to have a pagan, polytheistic worldview, similar to the kind of pagan, or non-Christian and non-biblical, religious worldview that other anthropocentric religions have. Thus, Man becomes a new god by creating the robots, especially the lifelike child robot, David. In a way, God is being diminished in the movie. It’s not the God who is there; it’s a Divine Butler in the sky, a Divine Mechanic, or even the nondescript magical aliens who eventually show up in the movie, much like Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or Spielberg’s own CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
Furthermore, the premise of Spielberg’s version of Kubrick’s vision is that dreams make us human. In effect, A.I. reduces the human soul to dreams and memories. However, the human soul is more than this, much more. In fact, contrary to what this script says, a certain percentage of people don’t dream in the traditional sense according to the dream research center at Princeton University, including very intelligent people such as Thomas Alva Edison, the famous inventor. Thus, dreams don’t really make a person human, although the capacity to dream is an important trait that many people have, just as the capacity to tell stories is an important trait, but not all people tell stories. What really makes us human is the fact that we all are made in the image of God, who wants us to love Him and worship His Glory and Incredibly Benevolent Character.
There’s also a spirit of anti-supernatural, anti-God secular humanism in A.I. to go along with these false religious, pagan notions. This humanism may originate not only with the late Stanley Kubrick but also with the original short story by Brian Aldiss, a famous science fiction writer. Thus, there’s a lot of God talk in A.I., but the movie provides no evidence that God actually exists, and it says that prayer to God doesn’t work. Kubrick and Spielberg forget, or don’t know, that God does not always answer prayers in the way that humans, or even robots, may want. Also, God’s not going to answer a cat’s prayer to be a dog, or David’s prayer to be human, although the movie does say that David’s prayer to be loved and to be human is ultimately satisfied, at least in some humanistic, or even pagan, sense.
All of these worldview problems, not to mention the more disturbing examples of violence and the brief sexual content, make A.I. an ultimately abhorrent movie for committed Christians and other people who take the Bible, the Word of God, seriously. Still, A.I. has many wonderful moments in it which show filmmakers what kind of fantastic stories the art of cinema is capable of in this strange day and age in which we live.
A.I. is a visually dazzling, fairly entertaining, provocative work. It has a number of storytelling flaws, however, and a number of moral, philosophical and spiritual flaws. The storytelling flaws prevent A.I. from becoming the truly entertaining, uplifting movie it wants to be. The other flaws make A.I. an ultimately abhorrent movie for committed Christians and other people who take the Bible, the Word of God, seriously.