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Joe Bob's Drive-In: Obsessing Over A.I.

By JOE BOB BRIGGS   |   Jan. 8, 2003 at 5:14 PM
GRAPEVINE, Texas, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- I don't get the ending to "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence."

I'm obsessing about it way too much.

It's making me really steamed.

I made the mistake of watching "A.I." on cable the week they

showed it about 792 times, and I ended up watching it EVERY TIME

IT WAS ON. I think it's a great movie--one of the most original

movies ever made--and so this wacko ending is BUGGING ME.

I'll tell you how bad it's gotten. I actually went out and

bought a copy of "Pinocchio." The movie's so full of Pinocchio

references, with Joel Haley Osment constantly saying "I want to

be a real boy," and the whole Blue Fairy thing, and the mad

cartoon scientist who tells us Pinocchio is the secret to getting

his wish, that I thought it must be some kind of Spielbergian

reinterpretation of the Pinocchio story, with space aliens

instead of a giant shark and a friendly tuna.

But that didn't really help. The original Pinocchio is an

obnoxious brat who always does the wrong thing (until the very

end), never loves anybody except himself (until the very end),

and has no intelligence at all, artificial or otherwise (until,

of course, the very end).

We already know that David, the Joel Haley Osment character,

is a good-hearted android/puppet, because from the very beginning

William Hurt programs him to be full of perfect love. If anything

this story is the Anti-Pinocchio. Instead of a brat wandering

down strange byways where he's constantly in fear of death, we

have a loving perfect boy who's forced by his own parents (okay,

step-parents) to survive in the cruel world, where he's NEVER in

fear of death.

From the moment his "mother" abandons him in the woods, we

identify with the android, not the humans. (Of course, I guess

the same could be said of Pinocchio.) David is the moral

conscience of the movie--and yet he's a machine. And so Spielberg

seems to be saying that perfect love is possible--it's just not

possible for we imperfect humans.

So the whole movie is based on a single suspense element--

will David be able to find his mother? Will he be able to express

his love?

But does it really matter? So what if he does find her?

She's already pretty much demonstrated she doesn't love him

because she left him out in the woods. What are we really

expecting to happen?

I think we don't have any earthly idea what's gonna happen.

This is one of those rare movies that has a totally original

plot. It goes in directions we could never predict, and moves

only according to its own internal logic. But there are several

key moments that tell us what it means.

One is where David and Gigolo Joe find the Albert Schweitzer

cartoon guru fortune-teller, supposedly the smartest guy in the

world, and he tells David that the only possible answer to his

dilemma is a combination of fantasy and reality: Pinocchio is the

answer. This means he has to find the Blue Fairy.

So what IS the Blue Fairy? In the original "Pinocchio"

adventures, the Blue Fairy is a young girl in the early stories

and a mother in the later stories, and she's this sort of magical

Perfect Woman who always forgives Pinocchio and rescues him from

himself.

But David has no idea who or what the Blue Fairy is, because

he's never seen her. Still, for some reason he follows the advice

of this eccentric computer-animated genius and he searches for

her in Manhattan, which is now mostly underwater. But first he

has to have all his illusions destroyed.

This happens when he finds his maker, the Geppetto figure,

William Hurt, and discovers that there are hundreds of "Davids,"

that he's not unique at all, and that his love for his mother--

which he thinks is so special--is actually programmed into all of

them. This is a pretty horrifying idea--sibling rivalry magnified

by a factor of a million--which, in fact, so enrages David that

he destroys one of the David androids in an act of brutal

violence. He then becomes depressed and tries to commit suicide

by plunging into the murky waters that have engulfed Manhattan.

And then he finds the Blue Fairy. She's down there on the

bottom of the ocean.

Only one problem. The Blue Fairy is fake--just a Madonna-

like statue that was once part of an attraction at Coney Island

but has now sunk to the bottom of the sea. But David won't give

up. He parks his underwater craft in front of the statue and

waits, staring at the emotionless enigmatic plaster woman.

At this point I thought the movie was over. It SHOULD be

over. If it's over right here, it's a great movie. Create

synthetic love and what happens? It will seek out synthetic

things to love. The story was a tragedy from the moment David was

created. It was arrogant to think you can build machines to love

us. What you've created is a longing that can never be satisfied,

if for no other reason than that we're going to die and the

machine is not.

Spielberg even does a back-tracking crane shot at this

point, the traditional way of ending a story. Is he intentionally

trying to fool us? Did he at one time want the story to end here?

But there's 20 more minutes of movie!

Two thousand years pass. David waits, never moving. And then

the waters recede and he gets out of the little watercraft and

touches the Blue Fairy, and of course she crumbles to dust. Okay,

a weaker ending, but still, an ending. His final illusion

destroyed.

But then we go into total fantasy land with these see-

through robotic creatures that now populate the earth. These

advanced life forms that look like the aliens in "Close

Encounters" take David under their care, read all his thoughts,

and explain to him that he's in a world where the last humans

died out many centuries ago. Everyone is a synthetic being, just

like him.

And then they tell him two things so incredible that they

should have fired the screenwriter who came up with them.

One, there IS a Blue Fairy. She's this ethereal goddess with

the voice of Meryl Streep.

And two, they have a way to rip open the fabric of the

universe and bring back any being from the past, but only for one

day. David WILL get to see his mother.

So David spends a fantasy day with his mother and at the

very end, before she dies again for all eternity, she tells him

she loves him and she always loved him. And David cries real

tears.

All right, aside from the fact that I don't buy the ending--

you can't just CHANGE ALL THE RULES at the end--I'm not sure what

it means that he cries real tears. Is the movie saying that an

android CAN become human? Does David become some sort of Christ

figure at the end, bringing new life to the world (but in

reverse--instead of dying to bring life, he is born to bring

life)?

I have no idea. William Hurt has already told him that he's

a machine and he'll always remain a machine. And why does the

mother suddenly love him? SHE DUMPED HIM IN THE WOODS! Why should

we believe her? Furthermore, WHY would she love him more than her

genetic son?

Okay, I'm getting waaaaaay too worked up again. It's bugging

me. Why this extra material at the end of the movie? How can we

let Spielberg change all the rules in the last 20 minutes? Isn't

David's love just as pure, REGARDLESS of whether the mother

returns the love or not? Isn't it a better story if he loves

without being loved back?

Okay, I'll stop.

No, I won't. I demand to know the answer!

"A.I." Web site: aimovie.warnerbros.com.

*

To reach Joe Bob, go to joebobbriggs.com or email him at

JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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