I stumbled across a video analysis of Steven Spielberg’s underappreciated Artificial Intelligence the other day on Slashfilm.com. I remembered thinking that the initial reaction of movie-goers showed a lack of attention or understanding of the film’s ending, in particular. (They’re so obviously not aliens…they’re evolved robots.) There was a lot of BS pushed about how Spielberg had tacked on a fairy tale ending, when point of fact, this part was Stanley Kubrick’s — the moviemaker whose idea this project was.
Here’s the video analysis of the picture’s motifs and themes. It’s worth the time.
Now, for a bit more analysis — mine, this time. We’ll start a comment on the filming style of the film. Kubrick’s style was to present a “moving picture in a frame.” There are a lot of tracking shots in his films — usually following or preceding a character as they move through a set. The action happens on either side of the primary focus, or behind them. An example might be the interminable kid-on-Big-Wheel scenes in the hotel of The Shining, or watching Frank Poole jog through the carousel of Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I think the latter is much more effective for establishing the completeness of the carousel set.)
Spielberg turns this on its head. He follows characters through sets, but is rarely straight-on to their front or rear, and in the Flesh Faire set, he tracks with a worker through the set, but the character moves left to right, but always in the center of the action while the background setting unfolds. It is the same idea as Kubrick’s “moving picture in a frame”, but it is more kinetic and interesting to watch than Kubrick achieved in his films.
This blending of style, as well as the use of color palettes and the circular motifs mentioned in the video show an excellent melding of the two filmmakers’ styles
The relationship between Gigalo Joe and David is also intriguing in that joe is obviously not sentient…he doesn’t have true emotions, but emulates them well. He is a creature of instinct, programmed behavior, much like Teddy, the Super Toy bear, is. But he has a clarity of intellect that is on display in one of the more interesting scenes in the movie, when — after having gotten a hint as to where to find the blue Fairy from Dr. Know — Joe attempts to protect David, in my interpretation, from the reality of his existence…that David’s quest may lead to disillusionment.
It’s a wonderful moment of self-awareness. Joe is so close to being “real”, and his desire to protect his kind from humans shows the seeds of the altruism that the future robots show in the final act. He also foreshadows the final act with his observation “…in the end, al that will be left, is us.”
It’s a dark, fatalistic view of humanity, but also of existence in general, and it continues through the allegedly “sweet” ending. Found by the future robots, David is a link to not just understand the “why” of existence, but shows the desire to have a connection with their “parents.” They are altruistic, but they also show a certain lack of empathy for these long-dead humans when they, horrifically, resurrect David’s mother for his perfect day.
She is now the robot — an incomplete person created to salve the emotional needs of David, the same role he was to play for Monica. She is as much a slave as he was. And while he is able to achieve her love for that one perfect day, it is still ephemeral, still transitory — just as it was before Martin came home. When she dies, the implication of David “going to the place where dreams are made” implies his death, or at least a growth beyond the need for this obsessive, destructive love he carries through the movie.
This is not a happy ending. It is arguably even more awful that what David went through.
Lastly, let’s consider the sidekick character that I view as the real protagonist of the piece: Teddy. The Super Toy is introduced as a means to distract David from his fascination with Monica, and he becomes David’s constant companion and protector throughout the movie. He attempts to protect David when he is competing with Martin in the food eating “fight”; he provides guidance when the two boys are competing; he “saves” David from the flesh Faire by bringing attention to him; he is with him throughout the movie, even sitting through 2000 years of being trapped in the ice. An consistently throughout the film, like a good dog, he helps his “boy”…and is conveniently forgotten when David makes connections with Joe (Teddy is chasing after them at the flesh Faire as they effect their escape), he is left with Joe when David discovers the other versions of himself in Manhattan, he makes is possible for the future ‘bots to bring Monica back, he is an afterthought while David plays with Monica in the final act, and when David goes to the place where dreams are made (whatever you interpret that to be…), Teddy is left to sit on the foot of the bed, left behind.
It’s a terrible moment. Like Joe, Teddy is not sentient; he ‘s more of an animal — a very smart machine, but not a person. He is a slave with no choice but to serve his master. While he cannot love David, his devotion is love-like, and as for everyone in the movie, it is destructive, obsessive, and ultimately, unrequited.