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Joe Bob's Drive-In:Artificial Intelligence

By JOE BOB BRIGGS, Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas   |   Jan. 8, 2003 at 6:50 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, 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 backtracking 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 fantasyland 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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