November 18, 2002
REVIEW: of Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) and Pinocchio (1940)
(Brothers Judd, 11/18/02)
Pardon the hyperbole, but I wonder if we can't trace a goodly portion of the decline of Western culture in just the drop-off from Walt Disney's Pinocchio to Steven Spielberg's A. I.: Artificial Intelligence. Despite the surface similarities between these tales of a wooden boy on the one hand and a robot boy on the other, both of whom hope to become real, and despite Mr. Spielberg's quite conscious attempt to implicate Pinocchio in his film, it is really the differences between the two that are instructive. Pinocchio is a story of the moral education of boy, an education which when completed makes him human. A.I. is the story of the emotional retardation of a boy, a retardation which sees him live for thousands of years without ever progressing beyond a desperate need for his mommy's love. It may well be that both stories are about becoming human, but what they tell us about how our culture perceived humanity at these different times is rather depressing. In 1940, to be human was to be a moral being. In 2001, to be human is to fixate on your own emotional needs. That's progress?
BTW: As an inducement to get you to read the whole review, there's a link to the original Brian Aldiss story that got Kubrick going and you can see that despite all the changes they kept much of it intact.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2002 12:53 PM
Pinocchio will last the test of time (as it has since mediaeval Italy). AI will be dismissed as a cultural artifact of the Clinton years.
I agree that AI isn't progress but a setback. It is however a temporary
Well said, Orrin! A.I. was idiotic.
I actually found A.I. to be worthwhile. Both Collodi's and Disney's Pinnochios were aimed at teaching children the consequences of ignoring their parent's good advice. A.I. neatly flips this around and lectures adults about the consequences of neglecting their duties as parents--extinction.
Um, Derek, how would preserving the robot have prevented extinction? I'm with the folks at the Flesh Fair--rage against the machine.
I think you may have the movie a bit backwards, Orrin. It isn't a question of "preserving the robot." Rather; it's the hubris that creates the robot which is the downfall of man. Dr. Hobby is the bad guy in the film, from beginning to end. From when he ruthlessly sticks a pin into the robot in the movie's introduction, to his god-defyingly arrogant speech right after that, down to his manipulation of David at the end he is the ultimate example of modern moral obtuseness. Look at how Spielberg has Hobby react after David brains his robot doppelganger in the office. He says "We're so proud of you!" with nary a notice of the fact that David could have just as easily killed a real human. What better portrait of the neglectful, excuse-making parent could you have?
Do you remember that scene in the office where there is row after row of kids waiting to be produced? The ominous tone of that scene was not accidental. This, Hobby's project, is according to the film what killed Man.
Hobby, of course, isn't the only one who fails in his duty. David's "Dad" is another profile in convenience. Instead of forcing his wife to confront the loss of their son. You see this trend repeated with other characters.
You're right to agree with the Flesh Fair message. The problem, as the film presents it, is not that the Flesh Fair people are wrong in their general fear and loathing of robots--the robots do replace man at the end--but rather that they have no positive solution to the problem beyond mere destruction and nihilism.
It's important to remember that Kubrick was obsessed with the thought that man, left alone and without God, would eventually destroy himself. This film is a continuation of that theme.
Okay, that much I definitely agree with. But recall that the population controls are already in place; Hobby is just filling an economic niche.
True, Hobby has a market, just like those cookoo doctors in Italy who want to produce human clones. They're just filling an economic niche, too.
In Italy they'll also be vital to just trying to maintain some kind of stable Italian population.
True again, but now you're agreeing with A.I. thematic warning about escaping social problems through easy, technological options, options that very often have unpleasant and unintended consequences.
If you get a chance, Orrin, you might want to watch A.I. again, and keep the points I brought up in mind. They make a tremendous difference in how you view the movie, which has a lot more depth to it than you give it credit for.
The very premise of the future world, a world ruined by overpopulation, is anti-human to its core. And Spielberg's vision is pretty clearly that the pinnacle of existence is to be the sole focus of your mother's love, preferably with no one else even alive on Earth.
Of course A.I. is anti-human. Kubrick was anti-human to the core. Of course, any Christian who takes his Original Sin seriously is anti-human, too, really. Left alone humans will mess everything up, the story goes, and thus they need God to save them.
As for the bit about having the sole posession of your mother's love being the end-all to existence, you can only hold that position if you think Spielberg agrees with Hobby, the man who programed David with this desire. As Hobby is shown to be a hubristic figure playing at God, heedless of the consequences, I don't think this view is tenable.