A Tunnel in the Sky

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A. I.

Reviewed by Mark Ebert
Posted February 24, 2002

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Last summer a parable came to theaters in the form of an FX-filled science fiction cinematic presentation by Steven Spielberg. Equal credit can be relinquished to Stanley Kubrick; it was the late producer’s idea to turn the original story - written by Brian Aldiss entitled Supertoys Last All Summer Long - into a motion picture (likewise, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, contributed the use of his ILM studio and Skywalker Ranch sound studio).

Artificial Intelligence, better known as A. I., is the magnum opus of all involved, a little over a century of cinema has led to this bijou experience. The film uses extraordinary circumstances to tell a tender story that is unabashedly ordinary.

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The film tells of a child named David. He is perhaps the ideal child. Too old to wet his pants or need constant supervision, too young to spend time with his friends rather than his mother. Nevertheless, ideals - no matter how glamorous we imagine them - are not always what we seek. David is an exceptionally loving child. He cannot read - he requires his robotic teddy bear to help him write - he doesn’t know how to swim, and his table manners are perfect, only because he cannot swallow. Nevertheless, he excels at love. While many children are embarrassed by their parents as early as fourth grade, David only wants to please his mother, only craves her approval and attention, even though she is imperfect and prone to caving into the whims of others.

Many people would imagine a child like David to be a miracle. He is dependent, loyal, trustworthy, helpful, kind. Nevertheless, he is not really the woman’s child and his greatest snag is that he will be an eternally loving child. What a boldfaced remark on so many current cultural dilemmas at once: foster children, adopted children, ADHD children, and special needs children of all types. There is even the shade of children with parents who have a problem, like alcoholism or severe depression, as David is either the scapegoat or hero in various family situations.

The truth is David is a robot, and that has been the stumbling block for certain viewers. They cannot feel for David, and this, in and of itself, illustrates the message the filmmakers were trying to convey. “His love is real, but he is not,” reads the poster. It amazes me that each time I view A. I. there are a significant number of senior citizens, or at least persons old enough to be “empty-nesters.” Likely, they have come to realize that there are far worse fates than not being “real.” Ultimately, the theme of the film is this: Love makes one real. To paraphrase the Bible through the words of Jesus Musician Larry Norman: “Without love, you are nothing!” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

David, to a cautious extent, can be seen as the Christ personality of the movie. He is - at least - as Jesus says everyone who wants to see Heaven must be: “…as [a] little child.” Nonetheless, there are shades of other, dubious biblical personalities. Hubris Professor Hobby is the Devil, although, like God, he creates, he has no real concern for his creations, referring to them as “it” and lying to them about their own abilities (he tells human-envious David that he is “a real boy”). Then there is ‘Gigolo’ Joe. More like Mary Magdalene than the prostitutes of other fare, indeed, when he is introduced to viewers, he is nothing more than a machine bent on carnality, like so many humans. Nonetheless, the picture changes when David - about to leave Joe rather than lose his faith - rescues him. The rest of the scenes with Joe finds, not a gigolo, but a hero who only wants the needs of a young boy to be met. Additionally, benevolent Teddy is a kind of guardian angel.

The remaining characters are not as biblical as they are archetypal. Henry Swinton, the father who never really is a father to David, has the makings of a good man, but keeps missing the mark. He wants his wife’s happiness, but when she is pleased with David, Henry - who perhaps is jealous - ignores and, later, outright turns against the child. Martin - Henry’s son - is created in his father’s image. He takes on his father’s perception of the new “kid.” Martin may be the most tragic character in the story. A special needs child himself, Martin could have found friendship and understanding in David, but, instead, saw the opportunity to hurt another as others had hurt him; a twisted alteration of the Golden Rule. Monica Swinton is the motion picture’s cowardly hero. She wants to love David, but the pressures from Henry and Martin become too great. Throughout motherhood she has always loved and thought first of Martin, possibly living vicariously through Martin, but in a brief time she found love enough for two children. Unfortunately, she is the only Swinton with a generous heart. She physically detaches herself from David, like so many parents and teachers emotionally remove themselves from the children in their care. David is lost in the woods, while our children are lost in the world, left to make up their own rules and figure things out for themselves.

The climax of the movie is part delirium and part fairytale. David is finally simply - and wonderfully - loved by his elusive, but ultimately affectionate mother. Furthermore, the concluding moments make a statement about legacy. David is mankind’s best surviving masterwork. It is an accolade that does not particularly make him proud. It is an eerie testimony to the fact that everything matters, what we do and say and how we treat others.

Artificial Intelligence is a film that cannot be ignored. Entertainment Weekly’s cover says it best “love it or hate it.” Whichever, it says more about you than it does the film. It has been said that the best art is merely a mirror, a reflection of the admirer. A. I. is art of the highest caliber!

Also available, Galen's Review


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Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg
Ian Watson

June 29, 2001

Haley Joel Osment
Jude Law
Frances O'Connor
Sam Robards
Jake Thomas
William Hurt

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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