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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

A.I. (2001)

(aka: Artificial Intelligence: A.I.)



Reviews and Comments

A.I. has an unusual history attached to it. Prior to his death, Stanley Kubrick toyed with the material for ten years. Afterward, Steven Spielberg, who I believe came to be involved with the project before Kubrick's death, picked it up and worked at it himself. The end result is a hybrid between Kubrick's cold and Spielberg's warm styles.

Like most structured narratives, A.I. has three acts. I say this because each act is disjointed -- thematically and in tone -- from the other two. The first act is the best one, striking just the right contrast between the humanity of the characters and the soullessness of the futuristic world. It raises and explores intriguing philosophical questions. If a robot looks essentially identical to a human, learns like a human, grows to love -- or simulate love -- as a human, experiences -- or appears to experience -- emotions as a human, what does this imply about our moral responsibilities toward this robot? More importantly but less simply, what impact would such a robot have on us as human beings? Are we filling a need we have to give and receive love from others, or are we perverting our own souls, twisting our own humanity in ways it was not meant to be? There is genius in the first act of A.I.. It spoke to me on a deep, fundamental level, triggered thought about what makes us human, and simultaneously dazzled and scared me with the very believable (perhaps inevitable) consequences of technological progress.

The first act ends when a family parts ways with its adopted robot son, and the film takes a sharp turn. It chronicles the events that happen to the robot when it should be continuing the story of the family and the impact the robot has had on their lives. The movie becomes more about exploring the world instead of exploring its themes. The other major character during this act is also a robot. Their exploits together do not have the resonance of the first act, and small wonder: without true human involvement, we are simply watching computer programs operating unmanned. Still, the world of this film is creative and engaging, and it was intriguing to me how much the appearance of humanity elicited sympathy for what we know is not human.

The third act is much disliked. I can understand why -- it takes a very weird turn, practically changing genres in the process -- but I liked it because it sort of takes up the ideas abandoned from the first act and pursues them further. I liked the irony in turning the tables on the characters and asking the same questions we were asking ourselves earlier -- what makes us real? -- but applying it differently. Still, this third act is not the intellectual payoff the first act warrants. It's a good effort, but the real solution would have been to ditch the second act and focus it instead on the human characters. That's where the real story is.

I do recommend A.I., however. It's worth seeing for the first act alone, but even the second and third are creative, visually stunning, and wonderfully acted. Haley Joel Osment proves he is the rare child actor that has range, nuance, and sense of subtlety uncommon even in adults. He's always watchable and the film is always fun, even when it is going wrong.