Can we just forget that the last 10 or 15 minutes of this movie ever happened?
In my opinion, that would make the film much much better. After 2 hours, Spielberg and Kubrick had already accomplished something significant. They've made us come face to face with our dreams, fantasies, nightmares. Like all worthy films, "A.I." caused us to consider, deeply, the human condition. Why is there a need, then, for an extraterrestrial entity to comment on or validate all this? Was the voiceover not explanatory or annoying enough? Why would we care if they learn about the so-called human spirit, when we've already witnessed it ourselves? I suppose I'd have to ask Spielberg himself.
There is no doubt that for two hours, the film plods along engagingly and occasionally brilliantly. Sometimes I resent the emotional manipulation ("Haley Joel is *sob* adorable *sob*, why did you abandon him *sob* you bitch?"), but that's Spielberg for you. The master of button-pushing. I'd like to think that Spielberg came up with the fantasy elements and imaginative visuals, and Kubrick came up with the sinister underworld of robot gigolos and flesh fairs, but I know there is nothing in this film that can be neatly categorized. I hate to say this because it seems like I'm saying it way too often in regards to films these days, but even if "A.I." is a tad too didactic and manipulative for my tastes, it still comes with amazing accoutrements. Quality we've come to expect from Spielberg and Kubrick, etc etc. An eye-popping and not-always-pleasant vision of the future. Little details like much-improved household items, cars, money, a virtual reality fortune teller that operates suspiciously like a search engine (if you've ever gotten porn listings after searching for something seemingly innocuous, you know what I mean), the various phallic symbols in Rouge City (?), the texture and movement of the bots, that adorable and sage old Teddy, etc etc (by the way, it's amusing to me that a teddy bear was the smartest character in the film). The sprawling (computer-generated) ghost town of Manhattan, the fictional Rouge (?) City, the Rising Moon machine (Dreamworks nudge?), and the coup de grace: a submerged and haunting Coney Island. Spielberg's direction veers off in a direction surprisingly dissimilar to his previous projects. Of course, a lot of that has to do with subject matter. It's become tiresome to say so lately, but I will say it again: Haley Joel Osment is awesome. While he was required to be slightly more one dimensional here than in "The Sixth Sense," his David is one of the major reasons Why This Movie Makes Me Cry So Damned Much. He's a great actor, but as the casting director knows, he looks every bit the part of boy created to be adorable and huggable. Jude Law ... well he's good in every movie. I didn't particularly like Francis O'Connor's overly-weepy performance, but it is understandable because her character is very melodramatic.
To my pleasant surprise, not everything was roses as I expected them to be. I've always enjoyed slightly twisted, apocalpytic visions of the future a la "Brazil," and "A.I." contained plenty of dark, un-Spielberg-like (again, I use this term loosely) surprises. One wouldn't expect this from a film starring Haley Joel Osment and a cuddly teddy bear. But what distinguishes "A.I." is its willingness to confront the darker undercurrents of humanity. Despite its emotional appeal to audiences, it also consistently goes farther than our comfort threshold. It makes us squirm. With today's controversies over cloning and stem cell research, these probings strike close to home. The mirror images of himself, lined in a row like slaughtered pigs in a butcher's shop. Disfigured robots clawing through the remnants of human excess and irresponsible manufacturing. The very first mecha we meet, putting on makeup expertly just like any woman would. All of these images ask us to reexamine the line between human and machine, between life and death, and between moral and immoral. The question posed to the zealous professor at the beginning of the film is the one that possesses the entire film. What responsibility do we as humans have toward the beings we create? I can't answer that question, and this uncertainty makes "A.I." potent. When the humans in the film do things that makes us cringe, it is because we can imagine ourselves doing the same. I might call Monica a bitch or Henry insensitive, but I'm not sure I wouldn't make the same choices.
To conclude with what I started out with, I don't know why, in the end, we needed aliens to tell us what they thought about humanity. I'm sure it makes us all feel good to imagine that a superior civilization would be interested in "the spirit" of humans. To posit that this spirit makes up the fabric of the universe however, is completely solipsistic and indigestible for me. Yes, I am unaware that this makes the film more beautiful and perhaps more appealing to some. And since this is only a movie, I won't dwell on the subject. Several times at the end, I expected the film to end. For example, if the film had ended when David plunges into the ocean, it would have been quite poetic and metaphoric (return to the womb etc etc). But then we wouldn't have seen Coney Island. Okay. If the film had ended with David staring at the blue fairy for eternity, that would have been acceptable too. But no, we're interrupted by the voice as if we're suddenly reminded that we're watching a Discovery Channel documentary. This and other places are where the film goes too far, where we're required to suspend a little too much disbelief. Ordinary plot holes and that sort of thing. Basically, I appreciate "A.I." as a thought-provoking, high-quality drama, but when it veers into morality-tale territory, then it's being a bit too didactic and distracts from the beauty of the ambivalent.
Rating: B+/A- (First viewing, 7/16/01)