Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Love and Death in A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Love and Death in A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Article excerpt

LOVE AND DEATH IN A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

At the end of the Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick production of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) a blond, innocent-looking boy, played by the remarkable child actor Haley Joel Osment, goes to bed with his beautiful, dark-haired mother, played by the equally remarkable Frances O'Connor. The two are alone in what looks like a California-modern house located somewhere beyond the city. Significantly absent are the boy's father and brother, who, much earlier in the film, caused the boy to be sent away from home. The day is fading, suffusing the room with earthen colors. "I really ought to be tucking you in," the mother says as her son covers her with a bedspread. "How strange, I can hardly keep my eyes open . . . Such a beautiful day!" In close-up, she gazes adoringly at the boy. "I love you, David," she says. "I do love you. I have always loved you." A reverse angle shows the boy smiling through tears and embracing her. On the soundtrack, a voice-of-god narrator tells us that this "was the everlasting moment [David] had been waiting for, and the moment had passed, for Monica was sleeping." Dissolve to an overhead shot of the boy crawling into bed, where he lies on his back next to his mother, who is posed almost like a stone figure atop a catafalque. The boy blissfully closes his eyes, the room grows dark, a John Williams piano score reminiscent of Schubert rises on the soundtrack, and the camera begins craning back and away. The narrator speaks again, as if reading the last lines from a child's bedtime story: "So David went to sleep. And for the first time in his life, he went to that place where dreams are born." The camera continues craning back, moving out the bedroom window, and we see that the sleeping couple is being watched over by a robotic teddy bear at the foot of the bed, who moves his furry arms and head in benediction. Outside, blue night has fallen, and as the camera cranes up and away, the lights in the house go out one by one.

Several intelligent critics and not a few friends whose opinions I value have said that they dislike this scene and the movie as a whole, finding in it a sentimentality they associate with Spielberg and a pseudo-profundity they associate with Kubrick.1 Even when they express admiration for one or both directors, they complain that the teddy bear is no E.T. and the bedtime-story narration no substitute for the cinematic razzle-dazzle of 2001. I've heard reports of audiences laughing at the end of A.I., and I once encountered a couple on an elevator who had just returned from the film and were grumbling about the time they had wasted. As for me, I've watched it five times, and on each occasion I've been moved to copious tears. I should perhaps note that as I grow older I seem to shed tears more easily in the movies, even when I know my emotional buttons are being pushed; then, too, the last scene in A.I. probably has a personal resonance for me, because my mother died when I was about the age that the boy appears to be in the story. At any rate, David's cry of "Mommy! Where are you?" at a point near the end, when he returns home after a millennium of longing, is voiced in a tone of such desperate excitement and anxiety that it wrenches my heart. In the concluding shot/reverse shot, when he hears his mother's declaration of love and embraces her, I weep-and I feel in tune with the film, because tears are one of its most important motifs. To those who are unmoved, I can only say, in the words of William Butler Yeats, who is quoted twice in A.I., "the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."

But would laughter or at least a wry smile be totally inappropriate? Despite all the fairy-tale sweetness, David is experiencing a kind of Freudian wet dream. The film is fully aware of this implication; it tells a straightforward Oedipal story containing several overt references to Freud-as in an earlier scene when David surprises his mother in the bathroom, where she is sitting on a toilet reading a book entitled Freud and Women (a volume Frances O'Connor chose for the shot). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.