AI (continued)

My comment: I would suggest that most people are so far ingrained in the machine=human paradigm that they can’t step outside it any more than the church in Copernicus’ time could step outside the Earth-centric view of the universe.

Response: Really?

Is this a British thing perhaps? Because such a view would be the OVERWHELMING minority view in America, for sure. I mean way way way in the minority. We’re talking 1 or 2% here. Most people think of science as a nuisance or just something important that they don’t need to worry about. We live in an increasingly superstitious, religiously-oriented world. Science isn’t dead just yet – but God has it on the ropes, that’s for sure.



You know, I love that I have this totally outside view of American culture. No wonder any posts I make which are anti-science are immediately taken as pro-religion. Still, not so. Religion has no more answers than science and a little healthy skepticism about either is a good thing.

I also think there is a machine=human philosophy operating even if religion is the dominant source of expertise. This can be seen in dictionaries and in the theories guiding both psychological research and AI research. The brain=computer theory is a powerful metaphor which is hard to shake because, well frankly there isn’t much else around that would be scientifically testable.

I suppose the main reason I don’t agree with some of your take on the film is that you are operating from an assumption that the modern zeitgeist is an increasingly mechanistic or rationalistic one. I think the exact opposite is true. I really don’t know very many people at all who think “man = machine” or anything close to it.

Again, interesting. I think those things are there in science, which means they are inevitably present in technology. Perhaps because such rationalism isn’t overt it isn’t seen but the impression I get from Hollywood with films like The Matrix is that there is a sense of a reality made up of explainable digits in a logic-based universe.

Perhaps also the dominance of religious thinking is why Spielberg uses a combination of religious metaphors such as creating a person to love the creator, and then resurrection and rebirth plus fairytale and film metaphors such as The Wizard of Oz=quest for heart and soul, and giant moon=childhood innocence. The mecha in AI are clearly simulations and Spielberg endeavours for the most part to show this.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was ambiguous about the main characters more through casting than acting. Despite revealing superhuman powers of strength and ability to withstand extremes of hot and cold, Roy Batty and Pris only appeared to break down in a mechanical way towards the end. Rachel initially comes across as withdrawn to the point of emotionless. Deckard… well, it’s Harrison Ford and he always has that kind of wooden monotonal drawling distance about him.

With the notable exception of Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner is all about imagery rather than emotional depth which is kind of why it works as an exploration of what it means to be human. In common with Blade Runner, AI explores empathy as a defining human characteristic. However, AI is far more ambitious in that Spielberg gives us not only visuals but also more emotional layers and muddily provocative morals to contend with.

I think there are also comparisons with Data and the Borg from Star Trek as well as The Bicentennial Man and the original Frankenstein story. All of these were based on a view of humanity as an evolutionary pinnacle that robots would inevitably aspire to achieve. AI goes well beyond this. AI also tells a nonhuman story where the central character is neither repulsive nor inhuman to look at. Nor is a robot child as threatening as an adult simulacrum.

Spielberg has given us a new way of viewing robots in cinema–and one which remains nonhuman to the end. I have to say I thought William Hurt’s character was a little reminiscent of the flatly unemotional Susan Calvin in Isaac Asimov’s stories. Almost like it takes a robotic type of person to make robots resembling people. It was still interesting that this character was marginalised in a way real people haven’t really been in a robot film before.

It woulda been a little more interesting in Kubrick’s hands, I feel, as he would have resisted the popular pressure to humanize David and give him his happy ending.

I don’t know. Spielberg is clearly comfortable putting complex scientific issues into easily understood filmic terms as witnessed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. He also has a track record of working well with children and exploring particular kinds of obsessive behaviour.

In AI Spielberg hasn’t gone for a soft option of laying it all out for us. He tells the story and explores the issues through layers of characters, visuals and ambiguous filmic metaphors. This is a departure for him and very in keeping with Kubrick. Kubrick is in one sense the real Wizard of Oz here but while AI follows his Yellow Brick Road, Spielberg goes beyond what either he or Kubrick have shown us before.

As for David’s happy ending, well was it? He got a day with Monica but it was a simulated Monica with none of her memories and somewhat off-balance. David was happy with the simulation where a real person would have been disappointed and felt the true hollowness of the experience. That doesn’t say much for robots as the next stage of an evolutionary process of the mind. It does say a lot for human beings as unique and therefore worthwhile however.

If the questions arise, then how can they not be poseable?

I meant that there is a sense in which this film redefines nonhumans as characters and that it will provoke discussion. That will generate future questions that relate back the film but currently can’t be framed because of the philosophies and ways of thinking we currently operate within. Spielberg is breaking a mould here. Maybe a few.

It’s a story about a robot boy who gets dumped in the woods

Or maybe it’s the story of whether a robot can be a boy. Is simply saying the words, “Mommy! Mommy! I love you!” enough? Maybe this is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio. I think it’s more than any of those things. This is something new, a novelty with roots in the past and the present but looking to possibilities in the future.

I hope that if you gave the same themes to someone else they could come up with something that explored those subjects in a film that was half-decent.

I have to disagree. I thought A.I. was very well done. Most film makers given the same themes would have simply come up with a remake of Pinnochio or Frankenstein or a standard Hollywood studio linear action-adventure with all their ‘insert stereotypes here’ unsubtlety rather than creating such a thought-provoking piece of work. I suspect few would have been brave enough to keep David’s character as non-human right to the end.