Film: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
What do you get when you cross a Steven Spielberg
movie with a Stanley Kubrick
You get A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
In the 22nd century, global disasters have drastically reduced the human population. In an effort to maintain human society, humanlike androids called mechas are developed and programmed to simulate humanlike behavior and emotions. Among them is an advanced prototype named David (Haley Joel Osment), a child robot
with the ability to virtually feel love, rather than simulate the appropriate behaviors. The Cybertronics company tests out David on two of its workers, Henry and Monica Swinton, whose son Martin has been placed under suspended animation until a cure can be found for his rare disease. Though Monica is initially afraid of this artificial child, she eventually warms to him after activating his imprinting protocol, which irreversibly causes him to feel love for his new "mother".
However, disaster strikes after Martin is cured, leaving David cast off and alone with his mechanical teddy bear companion Teddy, searching for his place in the world, ultimately embarking on a journey to find his own humanity alongside Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a "love mecha" also on the run after one of his clients is killed.
Released in 2001, this adaptation of the Brian Aldiss
short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" had started development under Kubrick in the early 1970s, under a long series of writers hired by Kubrick himself to try to bring his vision to life, but had languished in Development Hell
for years due to the limitations of CGI, which Kubrick believed would be necessary to bring the childlike robot hero to life. Finally, in 1995 Kubrick handed over the project to Spielberg, but it continued to languish until Kubrick's death in 1999.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion
- All There in the Manual: Unless you read the script you will think those were aliens at the end of the film, where in fact they are super advanced robots.
- Alternate Reality Game: One of these one concocted as a marketing tool - and appears to be the first such.
- And I Must Scream: Thousands of years of being locked in ice, staring and praying at a statue that can never grant what David wants. Yikes. On the other hand, David is a mecha and is probably not bothered by the passage of time like humans are. Also, when he is found, he is not moving or talking, and has evidently been dormant (or at least out of power) for quite some time and thus not conscious for the majority of his time in the ice.
- Apocalypse How Planetary/Species Extinction, by the end of the movie.
- Arc Words: "Please make me a real boy."
- Artificial Human: A truly heartbreaking example here.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: Implied in the pool scene. "Then let's see what you can't pee with."
- Big Applesauce: But then the rest of the world doesn't fare much better.
- Bittersweet Ending: The transhuman robots of the future find David and Teddy frozen, the only two functional mechas who knew living humans. Using David's memories, the mechas reconstruct the Swinton home, and explain to him via the Blue Fairy that he cannot become human. However, they recreate Monica from a lock of her hair saved by Teddy and restore her memories from a space-time "imprint" that all living things leave behind. She can only live for a single day though and the process cannot be repeated. Thus, David spends the happiest day of his life playing with Monica and Teddy. Monica tells David that she has always loved him as she drifts slowly away from the world. And so, David closes his eyes for the last time, and goes "to that place where dreams are born".
- Black Robot Dies First
- Break the Cutie
- The Cameo
- Robin Williams as the voice of Dr. Know.
- Chris Rock has an even briefer and more random cameo as one of the robots destroyed at the Flesh Fair.
- Meryl Streep as the Blue Fairy.
- Ben Kingsley is the narrator and the Advanced Mecha leader. He also appears makes an on-screen appearance as a technician in a scene where David is repaired after eating spinach.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The lock of Monica's hair that Martin goads David into cutting off.
- Also Joe's speech about how humans made mecha to quick and too many, and that humans know after they are gone all that will be left will be Mecha.
- Children Are Innocent: Played with, but with David, ultimately played straight. Justified in that David has been programmed to be eternally innocent, and he cannot be anything other than what is dictated by his programming.
- Covers Always Lie: Hey, wait there, movie poster. David's a robot—he's not actually 11 years old! (Whether or not he actually weighs 60 lbs. isn't made clear, but that seems doubtful considering he sunk like a stone.)
- Creepy Child: David. It's not his fault.
- Defiant Stone Throw: Against the mecha-slaughtering circus master.
- Department of Redundancy Department / Shaped Like Itself / Viewers Are Morons: The title, obviously; it's a bit like calling a movie "FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation." The film was originally titled simply "A.I.", but apparently the studio discovered that moviegoers misread the poster as "A.1." and wondered why anyone would make a movie about steak sauce.
- Note that this is not the first Spielberg film to have such a title.
- Dissonant Serenity: Invoked intentionally during the flesh fair. David is panicking realistically, while the other robots who presumably do not have his advanced emotion programming have dull, calm expressions even while fleeing for their lives.
- Distant Finale: David and Teddy remain frozen in the ice for over 2,000 years before they're thawed out by the Future Mechas, when humanity has long since died out.
- Do Androids Dream?: The role of David's and Gigolo Joe's original programming in shaping their behavior, or not.
- Driven to Suicide: After he's told by Professor Hobby that the Blue Fairy isn't real and being confronted with an entire assembly line of copies of himself, David jumps off the Cybertronics building into the ocean. Subverted, as since he's a mecha the fall can't kill him, and he can't drown.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: And HOW. If any character outside of Dickens or Shakespeare had earned a happy ending, it was David. And even it was, to say the least, bittersweet.
- Eating Machine: David discovers the hard way he isn't one.
- Einstein Hair: Dr. Know is a cartoon Einstein, complete with (of course) the hair.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The patrons of the flesh fair cheer as machines are horribly disfigured and destroyed. But when the undamaged David has to step up they are rapidly disturbed by how alike to a real human child he is, and reluctant to destroy him (and by extension his guardian, Gigolo Joe). It's aided by the fact that the flesh fair is implied to have melted a real human before, and the crowd isn't completely convinced David is actually a mecha (his model has yet to be made public).
- Eye Awaken: When Monica activates David's seven-word code in the trailer. Very slowly.
- Failsafe Failure: Shortly after Martin is cured, he's having a party with his friends, and the kids decide it would be a hilarious idea to test David's personal safety subroutines. Right next to the pool. They do this by gently approaching his arm with a knife, at which point he takes a death grip on Martin and begs him to "Keep me safe", which freaks out Martin, overbalancing them both into the pool and nearly drowning Martin.
- Famous Last Words: "I am! I was!" Gigolo Joe - at least from David's POV.
- Fantastic Racism: Of the most chillingly inhumane kind.
- Fantastic Slur: Lord Johnson-Johnson calls robots "iron". (The acceptable terms are "mecha" and "orga", removing the "-nic" from both.)
- Ferris Wheel of Doom: Subverted (or submerged, even). The rusted-out underwater Wonder Wheel falls over and traps the police hovercar on the ocean floor, with David and Teddy inside.
- Foreshadowing: When we first see David's silhouette, the light distorts it to resemble the body shape of one of the future mechas.
- Gigolo Joe's confident prediction that the human race will go extinct and only mechas will be left.
- A God Am I: Implied with Professor Hobby, David's creator. When one of his colleagues asks him what the moral implications of creating a truly sentient robot child would be, Hobby responds that God first created Adam to love him too. This is made much more heartwrenching later on when it's revealed that David is made in the image of Hobby's dead son, making him David's Father in more than one way.
- Go Out with a Smile:
- The Nanny-bot at the flesh fair.
- David, at the end.
- The Hero Dies: David, but he lived long enough to find his happy ending.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Downplayed at the end of the flesh-fair, when Lord Johnson Johnson is exhorting the crowd to kill David and they turn on him instead.
- Humanity's Wake: The Future Mechas at the end of the film are either the last creations of the extinct human species or of their own predecessors (robots building more sophisticated robots). They are marvelled by David because he actually knew living humans from before the end of their civilization. Their leader explains that he mourns their death because they consider humans to hold the key to the meaning of life.
- Humans Are Flawed: Gigolo Joe's opinion.
- Humans Are Special: The Future Mechas clearly say that they are studying humans because they believe them to hold the key to the Meaning of Life.
- Idiot Ball: David's initial product testing is laughably inept. He's basically just dumped on a family with no supervision. The mother just straight up abandons him in the woods when she needs to get rid of him, which could have potentially ended with David as scrap and any data lost. For that matter, there are several glaring problems in creating a robot designed to unconditionally and unfailingly love whoever it is imprinted on. Did no one think to test what would happen if an imprinted David encountered another of his model? David went into full-on murder mode when confronted with the reality. The family should thank their lucky stars David didn't snap Martin's neck as a threat to his relationship with Monica.
- Innocent Inaccurate: A programmed version. Gigolo Joe thinks that a client's horrible bruises are the result of sexual "passion," although the woman has clearly been abused. Finding her dead, on the other hand, wakes him up pretty fast.
- It's What I Do: Gigolo Joe's response when David asks him about the dancing. Part of the film's Do Androids Dream? debate (a freely willed act, or just executing a string of code?).
- Martin, David's "brother", since he's highly resentful of having been "replaced" by a robot.
- Henry qualifies when you think about it. He's the one who brings David home to "replace" Martin and then gets creeped out by the fact that David is so "creepily human". On top of that, AFTER Monica bonds with David, Henry shows signs of hostility towards David even before Martin gets better. Which leads to the unfortunate implication that mothers and offspring can and will form powerful attachments, but fathers and offspring can not and will not form any attachments even if their lives depend on it. (This is actually a theme that Spielberg has explored in many of his films.)
- Just a Machine: There is a group of humans who hunt and brutally destroy mechas to vent their rage at the automation of labor.
- Just Before the End: Human civilization is pretty much on the way out even at the beginning of the film. Even some of the robots seem aware of the fact.
- Meaningful Name: "David" means "beloved".
- Mechanical Evolution
- Mistaken for Murderer: Why Gigolo Joe is on the run.
- Monumental Damage:
- Note the Statue of Liberty's torch on the way to Manhattan.
- Inverted, jarringly, with the World Trade Center, still mostly intact 2000 years later.
- Moral Myopia: We see a group of humans that make a sport and spectacle of publicly destroying sentient robots in various ways. They are shown having great concern when the possibility that a child has gone missing on their grounds and that it may have been confused with a robot is presented to them. Meanwhile, the crowd who've gathered to see this show end up rioting when the MC tries to have the child-mecha David dissolved in acid, and it's clear that they did this mostly because the MC failed to prove that David was a robot.
- Noodle Incident: Before hunting down Gigolo Joe, Lord Johnson-Johnson asks his subordinate to confirm that Joe isn't human, alluding to an otherwise unexplained (but probably fatal) "Trenton incident."
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Subverted; David and his female counterpart are already in mass production even though David's still in the testing phase. Apparently they didn't think to keep track of their beta test.
- Our Souls Are Different: Apparently, space-time itself stores information about past events and people. It's pretty much a handwave so David can get something approaching a happy ending.
- Parental Favoritism: Admittedly, David is "just" a realistic robot.
- Phrase Catcher:
- "Hey, Joe, whaddaya know?"
- "Hey, Jane, how's da game?"
- Pick Your Human Half: Averted - David has both the appearance and behaviour of a human.
- Pinocchio Syndrome: Anviliciously and deliberately used here, complete with a Blue Fairy.
- Poor Communication Kills: There's lots of poor communication, because the plot depends on it. No one from Cybertronics ever seems to check in on David's progress, despite being an obvious prototype. Martin isn't given ground rules to follow or carefully introduced to David. A girl notices David in the cage at the flesh fair, but despite a child mecha never having been seen before none of the burly guys pulling the mechas out consider him odd at all.
- Population Control: Mentioned in the expository voice-over as a response to the polar ice-caps melting and the coastlines flooding. This is why Martin's parents haven't tried for another kid.
- Punny Name: If you tried to find out the identity of the Puppetmasters running the Alternate Reality Game by querying DNS records, you'll get Geppeto in the name field.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: When David is discovered after 2000 years under the frozen sea, he is seen still mostly functional. And New York City is intact under a sheet of ice. Mind you ice sheets move and would have long ago torn the city up and pushed the rubble into the sea. The vehicle he is in is unharmed, and the old ferris wheel which collapsed over him looks like it had the majority of its aging between the flooding of New York and falling over.
- Recycled IN SPACE: Pinocchio IN THE FUTURE!
- Replacement Goldfish: David is intended to spiritually replace the couple's comatose son - but things get awkward when he's no longer in a coma.
- Ridiculously Human Robot: David is even more ridiculously human than normal robots. He even fools humans into thinking he's human. He still can't eat or drink, though.
- Robot Buddy: Technically, David and Teddy are this to each other, but Teddy fits the trope better.
- Robot Kid: Why yes.
- Rule of Pool: The fact you know it's coming doesn't make it any less heartrending.
- Secret Project Refugee Family: The gang of runaway robots.
- Sexbot: Gigolo Joe, a rare male example, and Gigolo Jane, his female counterpart.
- The beginning of the Flesh Fair scene involves an elaborate, drawn-out, single-camera shot involving fair workers and Teddy. This is generally regarded as an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s style of cinematography.
- Whether intentional or not the film has a few Disney related references, some blatant, others subtle. There's the entire Pinocchio plot but then we have Monica (David's mother) playing "Once Upon a Dream" from Sleeping Beauty to her cryogenically frozen son... She's then also humming the tune later before going to a party with her husband and as they're leaving her shoe slips in a Cinderella moment. There is a possible referance to TRON, the bikers sent to collect robots for the flesh lights are on Tron-esque bikes and have Tron Lines.
- Gigolo Joe dancing down the street is a Shout-Out to Singin' in the Rain. This may, by extension, be a Shout Out to A Clockwork Orange which very prominently featured the title song.
- Hello, Doctor Know?
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Gigolo Joe goes down this route once it becomes clear that David will stop at nothing to find the Blue Fairy and be reunited with his mother, whether or not he has to abandon Joe in the process.
- Skele Bot 9000: The advanced Mechas at the ending.
- Slept Through the Apocalypse: Well, remained powered down through it, anyway; David and Teddy ride out the coming of an Ice Age and the extinction of humanity on the ocean floor.
- Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Towards human.
- Stan Winston: Teddy, a puppet of astounding realism and personality, is often lauded as Stan's best creation since The Alien Queen.
- Sunken City: New York
- Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Downplayed. David never shows any blatant displays of super-human strength and is programmed to respond realistically to pain. That said, he locks onto Martin with a death grip well beyond the strength of a child his size, and it takes the parents some effort to pry him off.
- Tomato in the Mirror: David already knows that he's a machine. He later discovers to his horror that he isn't special - there are other Davids (and Darlenes), all mass-produced, all not special. To say he takes this badly would be an understatement.
- Tech Marches On: Doctor Know, an information service that charges per question, and by "question", we mean "anything ending in a question mark".
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Inverted, the "sinful earth" dies first, David outlives it.
- Tragic Dream
- Transhuman Aliens: A rare positive example, though technically they're advanced robots, not aliens.
- Turing Test: David causing a riot at the Flesh Fair for being mistaken for a real boy could be seen as sort of an unofficial one.
- Turned Against Their Masters: Possible aversion. It is unclear what happened to humans by the end of the movie, but it is apparent that they are extinct, and the silvery robotlike beings outlived them. Plus, they were also genuinely interested in studying humans and were utterly fascinated with them.
- Underwater Ruins: Of a mostly submerged New York City, no less.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- Teddy at the end. Those advanced futuristic robots better look after him.
- Other!David, who protagonist David destroys on the spot insisting he is the real one. Professor Hobby doesn't even acknowledge this. Granted, it's obvious that David isn't coming back and probably wasn't even imprinted (he behaves as David did before his own imprinting), but you'd think Hobby would at least care that David just beat another copy of himself into spare parts in a jealous rage.
- What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Explored from two different angles by David, the child-mecha, and Gigolo Joe, the prostitute mecha.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The entire movie is a discussion of this.
- Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: The murderer's excuse for killing Gigolo Joe's client, Samantha.