Saturday, March 7, 2009

After Us, The Mechas

I'm probably one of the few people who really likes this movie. I think of it as being a little like Orson Wells' The Magnificent Ambersons, audience poison, but catnip for critics and film mavens. It's Steven Spielberg's (and the late Stanley Kubrick's) 2001 movie Artificial Intelligence, a perfect movie to watch as we contemplate the end of civilization through sheer human fecklessness. The movie is set in a near future among a shrinking human population and rising seas in a world dramatically altered by global warming and resulting shortages. The dwindling remnant of humanity begins to turn on the robots they created to serve them, knowing that their own robots will survive them. One of them, played by the then very young  Haley Joel Ozment, wants to become human so that the woman who abandoned him like an unwanted dog in the woods will take him back and love him as he loves her. He has a series of adventures inspired by the tale of Pinocchio as he looks for the Blue Fairy he believes can make him human.  I think this movie is so very beautiful, beautifully made, and very thoughtful; one of my all time favorite Sci Fi movies.  Below is a clip from the movie where he finds the Blue Fairy.

This was supposed to be Stanley Kubrick's last movie. He dreamed it up probably 30 years before and sat on the idea until film technology made his vision of a population of robots of varying degrees of life-likeness possible. By the time he got to make it, he was already in ill health and asked Spielberg to finish it for him.
It's an inverted fairy tale full of deep passionate belief in transformative magic in a world that has none.  While the movie explicitly follows the story line of Pinocchio, the other story it implicitly alludes to is Frankenstein.  This time, the monster is played by adorable child actor Haley Joel Ozment instead of by big scary Boris Karloff.  And this time, it is the mob of villagers who menaces the clumsy yet innocent monster.
Stanley Kubrick was a deeply misanthropic man, and this is one of his most misanthropic movies.  All the humans in this movie are venal, frightened, self-serving, and duplicitous.  Their world is coming to an end all around them because of their own greed and stupidity.  The robots are all pure in heart, and actually miss their human creators after they are gone.  Spielberg played up the fairy tale aspect of the movie without softening its misanthropy.  What are we to make of the idea that love is something that can be programmed into a hard drive?  What are we to think of a woman who wants a perpetual child who will never grow up, to love her and her alone?  And yet, Spielberg gives that scene where she programs him to fall in love with her the richness of a magic spell.   That we invest all our sympathy into a machine that can be programmed to love us is the meanest trick of all.  And yet the spell really works.  It's impossible to watch the last scene added by Spielberg with dry eyes.  Our robot hero's wish finally comes true, sorta, but only for a day.  The movie ends with him lying down next to his beloved "mommy" who is dying all over again in a world that is literally cold and empty.

1 comment:

bls said...

I also love this movie (except for the alien scene!), and you're right: there aren't many of us.

It was so interesting, all the way through. And very, very beautiful, I agree.