Looking Back At A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace finds the Blue Fairy.
Automation seems like it could end up replacing everything; it’s revolutionized manufacturing and reshaped communities in the process. This technology is making what had previously been mere inanimate objects into things that we can have very real interactions with. Despite illusion, they are not human, and as such cannot quite feel certain things that are very human.

In that environment, Steven Spielberg asks: can you make a robot feel love?

This is a film with an unnerving premise, one that is explored for all its thematic depth. A.I. Artificial Intelligence was released in 2001 after going in and out of development since the 1970s. It is based on the short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, the pioneering New Wave science fiction writer, and developed for a long time by Stanley Kubrick before being handed off to Spielberg. The end result feels like a combination of the two, with Kubrick’s angst and darkness melded with Spielberg’s concern with family and childhood. This could have been bungled by a lesser director, but the whole film feels seamlessly cohesive.
The actual plot is centered around Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor, respectively), whose child Martin (Jake Thomas) contracts a rare disease and is placed in suspended animation. To cope with that loss, they buy a robotic child, David (Haley Joel Osment) to fill the void left by Martin’s death. This is complicated when it turns out Martin can be healed, and so this leaves them in the strange situation of having both a child and his robotic doppelganger.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence turns twenty years old this year, but it almost feels like it could be made today. It definitely feels like a more kid-friendly version of Ex Machina, with less misogyny and more unnerving depictions of children (both very deliberate in their respective films). The concerns it has about artificial intelligence, specifically those concerning human intimacy, are as potent as ever as such things gradually lurch their way into reality. About the only thing that is dated is the Google-like kiosk Dr. Know (voiced with gravitas by Robin Williams), which feels like a prediction of the internet before it reached its current ubiquity.
So much of A.I. is based around what love is and what love means. This starts even in the first scene, where the very possibility of a robot loving is debated at length. David’s character exists to interrogate whether humans can love a robot, as he acts in a manner that falls solidly within the uncanny valley. When the film gives the answer to that as a solid ‘no,’ you get a peek at the neon-infused red light districts of this world, where it interrogates whether a human can love a robot sexually. The answer again seems to be ‘no.’ One great sequence among many great sequences is when it shows what the people who have decided not just that they can’t love robots, but actively hate them, have decided to do after the sun goes down.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is science fiction that seems straight out of the golden age of the genre, interrogating the future and yet also showing its wonder. It is a film that is simultaneously deeply human and unnervingly inhuman, a dichotomy that has aged like fine wine as the two have gotten closer together over the course of the twenty-first century. With that one dated console aside, this film could have been made yesterday. Those who have not seen it should watch it post-haste.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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