A thank you to Lloyd Fonvielle for writing a wonderful and insightful piece on Spielberg’s A.I. Thanks for the piece itself, which is an excellent read, and for sparing me the trouble of writing at too much length about this film myself. I have been wrestling for quite a while with A.I., wanting to write about it, but Lloyd’s piece relieves me of that, other than the few comments to his piece that I will make here.
Like Lloyd, I had confused and conflicted feelings about the film the first time I saw it. But I went back numerous times to see all or parts of it, and have come to a similar place as Lloyd: that if what Spielberg and Kubrick were doing was on purpose,
then perhaps A.I. does become one of the greatest movies made in our time — an analysis of the narcotic cinema that distracts us from real things. If they did it by accident, then it still might be one of the most important films made in our time.
Lloyd’s first reaction was that the film was “just a kind of philosophical mess”. Much of his piece represents a kind of working through of that reaction. For me, of course it will appear messy at first, since it is a sincere attempt to reconcile Kubrickian aridity with Spielbergian schmaltz. It doesn’t feel like a marriage that can be made without creating a philosophical mess. But does it fly? For Lloyd–me, too–yes it does, and it is all the more powerful for not fully reconciling the competing demands of the two auteurs.
Spielberg retelling Pinocchio? My God, a project like that would seem a prime candidate for Spielberg’s brand of over-ripeness. And every bit of that director’s emotional palette is on display. But so is the “emotional subersiveness” (Lloyd’s term) of Kubrick’s nihilistic tendencies. Pinocchio is, and remains, a puppet, and there is no magical happy ending. Well, magical maybe, but not happy.*
Adding Spielberg’s melodramatic and crowd-pleasing skills to the mix, then, heightens the force of the film on the viewer–this viewer, at least. You are authentically sucked into the parental love but continually reminded that you are not quite seeing and feeling what you think you are in David.
Moreover, the cold Kubrickian intention is, I think, to remind the viewer that humans themselves are perhaps not much different from robots in the first place. Yes, we are made of meat, with a squishy gray processing center inside our skulls. But is David’s love for his mother much different, really, from that of his mother for him? So we start by feeling the tragedy of David–that he feels from the inside out that his love is authentically his when it is “merely” a function of his program. But we then move on to the tragedy of us–that we are not much different.
Maybe this would have been one of Kubrick’s most devastatingly cold films had he directed it. Or maybe not. Kubrick handed the troubled project to Spielberg before his death, so maybe he saw that pessimism is all the more powerful when real love runs right through it. And maybe Spielberg took the project on for the flip side: to show that true love is real even in a possibly meaningless universe.
There’s so much of this movie that is parental. I am not sure it would have been nearly as powerful had it not been about a kid, and if I myself were not the parent of a son who was about David’s age when the movie came out. Perhaps the movie was just engineered for my program as a human parent.
- Here’s Spielberg on the ending to the film, and how it is not a schmaltz set-up but part of Kubrick’s initial vision. I agree that the ending only looks schmaltzy, and that it is as rigorous as the rest of the film.
- And here is Lloyd on The Wild Bunch–very much worth reading though this time I find myself on the opposite side, for now at least.