Saturday, March 22, 2014

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: some passing thoughts

[Reiterated from a previous blog]

'The Best of Both Worlds' by Jonathan Rosenbaum

A.I. Artificial Intelligence - A Visual Study Part I and Part 2 by Ben Sampson

Discussed to great lengths by many, as it should be, A.I. Artificial Intelligence needs to be examined and debated and disagreed over. Analysis is warranted. So many have long since provided deeper insights; at this point I have no major revelations to offer, only a few observations and my own personal, clipped opinion of the film's intentions and lasting philosophical message.

Stanley Kubrick was not an idiot. He wasn't naïve about Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker. There is a very specific reason he chose Spielberg to direct this film, and one that proves effective once you look beyond the surface-level sentimentalism. People think Kubrick would have rightly subverted the material had he directed, while not realizing the obviousness of such an outcome: Spielberg was the subversion, and a masterstroke of genius it was on Kubrick’s part to assign him the film. Moreover, Spielberg was not unaware of these reasons either, nor is he unable to recognize his own filmmaking sensibility and seize it antithetically when necessary.

We never see the outside placement of Harry and Monica's house. We never get a sense of just where exactly they live. This may seem trivial at first, but consider how common a practice it is in film to begin each new scene or setting with an establishing location shot i.e., a home, workplace, police station, castle etc. There's a general sense of geography that never really happens in A.I. The home of David's adopters seems to materialize from the inside out of nowhere – nowhere, in fact, becomes a place of its own in this film; because while the affordable livings and social lifestyles of Harry and Monica implies an upscale suburban setting, the small glimpses of their outside surroundings reveals just the opposite.

Behind Monica when she first encounters David is a open balcony revealing windblown trees beyond. During the couple's first sit-down meal with David in the dining room, notice through the background window a forest stretching the evening horizon. No streets, no neighborhoods; just endless wilderness under dark, watery ambiance. In later scenes we see Monica, David and Martin sharing a small boat along a forested lagoon, and a backyard birthday party is walled by fern and foliage, barely showing the house exterior.

Mossy primeval environments extends beyond the home setting, seemingly everywhere, on the road to Cybertronics, to the place of David’s abandonment, all-encompassing so that Flesh Fairs and even the sprawling Rouge City feel like secluded remnants of modern humankind amidst a larger natural world reborn. This of course plays into the film’s sci-fi conceit of a future Earth subject to extreme changes in climate and ecology, but it also refers the bedtime story metaphor of David’s quest for the Blue Fairy. The world depicted is at once a connotation of Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood and the inverted terrarium-like biosphere of Jurassic Park. Spielberg would revisit this aesthetic to a lesser extent and with more rainy, noirish effect in Minority Report.

The timeline in A.I., despite its two millennia stretch, seems relative to a dream temporal. As mentioned in the Youtube review, the film’s beginning, post Professor Hobby’s prologue, on up to the final movement is bookended with two different boys sleeping in cryostate. In his book 'Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster', Warren Buckland proposes the idea that Martin and David are one and the same, but split within a single dream as two different individuals in contest for their mother’s love. Perhaps it is Martin dreaming of both himself and himself as David and David’s journey or it could be the ambitious concept that Martin dreamed David but, upon awaking, became David, who in turn remembered the dream as himself.
Read that last part back again to help make better sense.

Within this dream David occupies not only the form of Martin (or vice versa) but also the form of Gigolo Joe, as they, too, become traveling parallels of the same psyche. Consider the fade-to-black transition from one character to the other’s introduction, the psychological implications: David left abandoned by his mother who is then a grown robotic version of himself, forever seeking to be the ultimate sexual and emotional prize for all women. Cynically mirroring the desires of Monica, now in sexual form, Joe says to his client, "I think you’re afraid of letting go. I think you’re afraid of happiness... once you’ve had a lover-robot you’ll never want a real man again... you deserve so much better in life. You deserve me."
David is loving and naïve as a boy, but as Joe he becomes cold to the idea of human love and is but a mere user of women, as he (David) was used as a boy. There is a strikingly evocative image of Joe holding Teddy, standing at the entrance to Professor Hobby’s chambers, next to the door engraved with the quote –- from 'The Stolen Child' by William Butler Yates -- spoken earlier by Doctor Know. This vision of Joe is an aged mirror of David, still holding his bear. And this brings us to Teddy, who, upon further notice, is a rather peculiar character. At first he seems a superfluous addition to the story, a cutesy tagalong.

Yet I’m beginning to wonder if Teddy is something of an R2-D2 equivalent, secretly observing the events from an irreverent outside perspective. He certainly seems sentient: "I am not a toy!" and more than once does he prove vital to David’s quest, for it is Teddy who helps in David’s escape from the Flesh Fair and it is Teddy who brings forth Monica’s DNA ripe lock of hair, which in itself proposes an interesting idea: did Martin’s jealous scheme indirectly lead to David’s ultimate wish fulfilled? Two of the same mind; one unconsciously serving the other?
The denouement to A.I. is a whopper of nihilism beset with the rosy illusion of Hallmark sweetnes. Don’t think so? Look matter-of-factly at what is being presented. The statement being made about the human race is not a promising one. At first we see the externals of our failings, Global Warming’s final coupe de grace as the world frozen over. This is harsh enough all its own. Yet buried in the ice, so to speak, is the internal cause, one that stings the very heart of human nature. Yes, David is granted "the happiest day of his life" with his mother, but she is not his mother. She is not even complete human. She is a lie.
The Supermecha must contort the human genome in order to create an idealized version of Monica. To resurrect the real being is to resurrect her (our) inherent failings of responsibility beyond love. Even when Monica was real, she never really loved David. What she felt for him was ultimately selfish. She used David to fill the hole left by her dead son. Because the Supermecha are great descendants of human creations, they carry on the smallest but most potent fabric of human nature. Everything repeats itself. In the beginning the humans create David as a lie to fill Monica’s needs; in the end the Supermecha create Monica as a lie to fill David’s needs.
"But in the beginning didn't God create Adam to love him?"

Lastly is David himself. He's a monster, as much Frankenstein as he is Pinocchio. Rendered forever childlike and adorable, beneath the pleasantries is a spectrum of emotions made extreme. When David loves he loves absolutely and unconditionally. He's nice to his mommy. He hugs her and warms to her and makes her coffee. When darker emotions take hold David assumes strange forms and commits heinous acts. His programed loving smile behind a bedroom door glass is divided into multiple vertical planes, like a scan revealing synthetic repetition.

When challenging Martin to an eating match, jealousy (not spinach) distorts his face into something grotesque. He rants frantically to Joe, reaching a near state of psychosis:
"Mommy doesn't hate me! Because I'm special and...unique! Because there has never been anyone like me before! ...when I am real, Mommy's going to read to me and tuck me in my bed and sing to me and listen to what I say and she will cuddle with me and tell me every day a hundred times a day that she loves me!"

And less we forget the fact that David violently murders another David, not long before throwing himself from a skyscraper ledge; from homicide to suicide. David is a dark being. A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a dark film.

1 comment:

  1. You might want to check out my second piece about A.I.: