Steven Spielberg is the king of crowd manipulation, but how does he end up playing with it? Artificial intelligence?
It’s hard to imagine two directors with personalities as different as Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. One was a detail-obsessed control freak, the other an audience-obsessed dreamer. You may already know that, but the two were actually close friends. They shared admiration for each other’s work and often shared ideas.
Ultimately, that friendship would lead Spielberg to make one of his most daring films, one that undermines everything we know about him and his stylistic nature and storytelling tendencies.
The idea for AI Artificial Intelligence comes from Brian Aldiss’ short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”. Kubrick loved the idea of making a story about a boy who could never please his mother, but the more he worked on it over the decades, the more he thought he wasn’t the person telling the story. He knew it had to be his friend Spielberg.
Spielberg himself wasn’t convinced, but enjoyed looking at some of the concept art and story documents Kubrick had created. Kubrick’s tragic death in the late 1990s made Spielberg look for his next project. After some searching, he knew that the way to honor your friend was to take his advice and embark on a journey that would challenge himself.
A few years later, on June 29, 2001, AI Artificial Intelligence Hit cinemas. It was an enigmatic look at human nature from the perspective of a nonhuman. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this movie, but what a lot of people focus on is this enigmatic ending.
After the film was released, critics everywhere were unsure what to make of the film. It was as if Spielberg had channeled Kubrick and undermined everyone’s expectations. Roger Ebert described the film as “wonderful and insane.”
In the rare form of applause, critics Armond white said “Every part of David’s journey through carnal and sexual universes into ultimate eschatological devastation becomes as profoundly philosophical and contemplative as anything by the most thoughtful, speculative artists in cinema –Borzage, Ozu, Demy, Tarkovsky. “
But the ending is what time stood, the pun intended, and what we’re going to focus on today.
What happens at the end of AI Artificial Intelligence?
For those of you who are forgetting the end of the movie, I’ll get you guys up to speed quickly. David is a robot boy who is thrown away by his parents when their biological son is recovering from an illness. Forced to fend for himself, he wanders the real world and befriends a gigolo robot named Joe. After David was kidnapped from a meat farm, he found his creator in a largely submerged New York. When he finds out that he is one of many David-style robots, he realizes that he will never be a real boy, becomes depressed and tries to commit suicide.
Underwater he thinks he sees a fairy and swims towards her (with the help of some fish), but before he can get there, Joe saves him. Joe is then arrested by authorities trying to get robots off the street, but before that happens he programs their vehicle to hide David underwater. David and Teddy are trapped underwater in a vehicle after crashing into an old piece of the Coney Island ferris wheel. David just sits there and asks the fairy (a Coney Island attraction) to be turned into a real boy until his battery runs out.
We flash 2,000 years into the future and all of humanity is extinct. Manhattan is buried under the ice. Creatures emerge, dust David and revive him. David can communicate with these creatures, which are unique robots called mecha, and they grant David’s one wish by reconstructing his family home from David’s memories. They then use an interactive picture of the fairy to talk to David. They tell him they can’t turn him into a proper boy, but David insists they use what they know to restore his lost mother through genetic material from his strand of hair. The creatures appease David and make a mom clone who can only live one day.
This is how David spends his happiest day in the morning when he wakes up, and at night she tells him he is loved. The film’s narrator says that David “will get the eternal moment he’s been waiting for”. Then: “David falls asleep too and goes to the place where dreams are born.”
David closes and finally finishes his mission.
The Significance of the End by Steven Spielbergs AI Artificial Intelligence
First, I’m in the camp where the mecha-creatures David meets are robots that evolved long after humans went missing, not aliens. I respect the people who theorize that they are aliens. Your fascination for him must be like the human fascination for fossils. These creatures try, out of fascination and the desire to study him, to make David’s wish come true. Perhaps their processor has found some emotions that they can replicate as well.
At the end of the day, David was a computer that had to fulfill an instruction – to get a mother’s love. The movie ended with his mom clone (it could also be a hologram or a mental projection) hugging him and telling him he was loved. As soon as David’s love instruction is reached, he falls asleep or closes himself, after all the pain of not being able to please his mother has subsided. David is effectively freed from his misery.
So what does it mean?
I think it’s interesting to see a jump in time of 2,000 years projecting David onto the mecha as an almost god-like being. He was an object that was touched by its creators, who have long since disappeared. There is some degree of cynicism here as they are trying to basically lift David out of his misery and complete a directive that his programming longs for.
But I wonder if the film has a basic concept of the idea that if we were to create a human being, the need to receive and give love would be central to that experience. Even after thousands of years and human extinction, love is at the center of what we wanted to convey to robots.
While the mecha are fulfilling David’s fantasy, I’m not sure if we can see this as they learn to love or be compassionate. I think it’s probably closer to computers that want something to do their programming for. But they understand what love is. So they can build this clone or his mother’s projection for him. It calms him down and lets him find peace.
What does Steven Spielberg say about the end of AI Artificial Intelligence?
In this clip, Spielberg talks about how many reviewers assumed he was the one who added the mecha in the end, but that was actually Kubrick’s idea and stems directly from his treatment.
Spielberg shrugs at this and says he feels obliged to get the film there for Kubrick, but also for what is important to him.
It’s interesting to think about how we see Spielberg and Kubrick and who is cold and warm. The truth is that different filmmakers have more to offer than we see on screen all the time. I know the film turned out to be the perfect marriage of two visions. Spielberg was able to use Kubrick’s notes, but I think the film that was made is essentially Spielberg.
He mocks his own Spielberg, which he shot at the end of the film to make a puzzled face, but it’s one of a robot kid that got knocked out. This kind of subversion of who he is was the right recipe for him to remake his directorial career in 2001. It’s almost as if Kubrick knew that the key to Spielberg’s later directing career would be to face who he was in the past. I’m glad he encouraged him to make this film, and I’m glad we have to discuss this ending forever.
Let me know what you think in the comments.