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Jordan Hiller on Film

AI: Artificial Intelligence(PG-13)

Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is worth talking about. The movie, essentially about a child robot that has been programmed to feel genuine emotions, begs us from the beginning to contemplate the issues, rage over the possibilities, and struggle with a glimpse of one predicted future. With all of these trying, relevant discussions it does not seem important to engage in the popular Kubrick/Spielberg debate where critics are relishing an opportunity to show off their cinematic intuitiveness by deciding which elements of the film are pure Kubrick and which are from Spielberg’s hands. Many reviews for this thought provoking film have become posthumous tributes to and in memoriam of Stanley Kubrick, which was inevitable, but instead of pondering who deserves the credit or the blame for this movie, it is so much more appropriate, in this particular case, to speak about what we see on screen, how it makes us feel, and how it may affect us beyond the time spent in the theatre. For this reason I am abstaining from commenting (in the review – See Oscar Watch) on individual performances, sets, sound, special affects, and the rest. Needless to say, all of the above are first rate and highly impressive. The movie is worthwhile seeing for the visuals alone…or the really cute bear.

The tag line for the film is, “His love is real. But he is not.”. Before seeing the movie a line like that is easy enough to swallow. It tempts your curiosity and intrigues; but ultimately, the teaser phrase on a movie poster is just a ploy to get us in the seats – they are not normally intended to be complex concepts betraying our sense of fact and fiction, right and wrong, humanity and morality. Here is the exception.

Love, as used in the film, is merely the paradigmatic emotion standing for all emotions. David, the mechanical child, programmed to love his new parents, is not limited to that one stream of expression – and how can he be? Is there love without hate, without jealousy, fear, anger, mercy – Can love possibly exist alone? Take into account “artificial” as it precedes “intelligence” and consider for yourself whether love can exist alone when that love is a function of microchips and databanks. As the film attempts to wrap up, it even goes as far as to suggest that perhaps these machines are capable not only of connecting with humans on an emotional level, but they can even be children of destiny. That is all together perplexing.

What makes fantastical notions such as this palatable is the opening of the film, which takes place in a boardroom where a scientist (mad or not? – you decide) explains his desire to improve upon the pre-existing Mecha (cyborg, to you) and create one that is capable of loving its owner. Like a nuclear reaction the questions explode into our heads. How can love be real if it is simulated? Even if it were “real,” how would such a love from a packaged product fulfill the needs of those people craving the love they may be missing? The “hows” and “whys” are tormenting, but before this prologue ends we receive a bit of insight displacing some of our skepticism. After all, we are informed, G-D “created” us to love Him and from that point our humanity was born - so how far off can it be that man, who is made in the image of G-D, can create a being to love man and that love turns out to be dynamic and potent.

Disregarding your opinion in reference whether it is morally correct to play G-D; or whether lifelike robots in the future should be able to provide intimate services for those not getting any (i.e. Yeshiva students around the world – “Show me in the Torah where it says you can’t score with a machine!”). What we must accept is that Mechas or some form of them are coming. A.I. takes that future for granted, putting us in a world where the robotic men and women are already part of everyday human life. They are mowing your law, dry cleaning your clothes, and watching your kids. Frown if you like, but know that your great-grandchildren may be married by a rabbi with a circuit board underneath his or her beard.

The predicament that Mr. Spielberg unearths should be familiar terrain for him as he has already touched on it in his Jurassic Park work. The theme is human beings eager to unveil a product with an overwhelming lack of forethought and a suspicious mix of greed and benevolence. In Jurassic Park the quote was “You were too busy thinking about if you could (create), that you never stopped to think about if you should,” and here a Mecha speaking to another Mecha says, “They made us too smart, too many, too fast …and in the end, all that’s going to be left is us.” In both movies there are humans who celebrate and sympathize with their new fellow inhabitants as well as those who fear and abhor these manufactured creatures and want them destroyed. But A.I. is all the more powerful; One can’t help but feel for something that turns in its brow, quivers its lip, and emits tears from the eyes when in pain, even if all those actions are preprogrammed.

The movie will test that aspect of your humanity. Can you sit like stone while a Mecha, with beautiful human features, gracefully accepts a torturous “death” at the hands of an enraged Mecha-hating mob? I guess you could if you view Mechas, with all their apparent spirit and lust for “life”, as merely jazzed up extensions of your toaster. And you who can do this are the wiser of the species. Although the film itself and its immaculate pacing keeps us believing that his love is real – it is impossible to be intellectually honest with oneself and come to that conclusion. I can’t say that man will never create a mechanical “organism” with artificial intelligence because then I would be as foolish as those in the past who said man will never fly or walk on the moon or the Galena brothers will never come out of the closet, but at this point it boggles my mind so greatly making much of A.I. seem, in retrospect only, absurd.


Best PictureAI - Being that it is the first real contender of the season and the prominent minds behind it, it should get the nomination, but I would disagree. The movie is tainted by being overlong and with an epilogue that belonged undoubtedly on the editing room floor.

Best Actor Haley Joel Osment – Surely give him the nomination but not the statue. His better work here is at conveying the human side of the robot as opposed to the mechanical side (although we have come along way since Vicki from Small Wonder.) Either way, he is a very freaky kid and despite all his emerging talent, he irritates me.

Best Supporting Actor Jude Law – His work is always good and once again he exudes charm in this dashing role, but his screen time seems a bit limited (although actors have been nominated and won for less) and if he didn’t win for The Talented Mr. Ripley, where he was more deserving, then he should not win here. His nomination depends on whatever else comes out in The Fall, but at this point it looks as though he will likely be acknowledged.

Best Supporting Actress - Frances O'Connor – She is reminiscent of a younger Barbara Hershey and her acting talents are as finely tuned. This category is usually the toughest one to fill with good performances and Ms. O’Conner is outstanding as a mother coping with being the recipient of artificial love. The best odds for this movie to come away with one of the “Big-Six” on Oscar night lies with her.

Best Director Spielberg, as usual, gives his heart and soul to his work, but for the same reason the movie will have Best Picture trouble, he will suffer in this category. Look for Spielberg to be that yearly exception where one Best Picture nomination and Best Director nomination don’t match up. I’d rather him get the nod then the movie, but that would be very rare.


Reviews by Jordan Hiller

Trembling Before G-d


Veronica Guerin

Pieces of April


Bubba Ho-tep

Casa De Los Babys


American Splendor


The Holy Land

Return from India

The Shape of Things

City of Ghosts

Anger Management


The Guys

Assassination Tango

Gaudi Afternoon


Nowhere in Africa

Foreign Sister



L’chayim, Comrade Stalin
part 1

part 2


Divine Intervention

The Pianist

Best films of 2002 1992

8 mile

Punch Drunk Love


Gaza Strip

The Kid Stays in the Picture


Minority Report



Spring Movie Preview 2002

Panic Room

The Oscar Preview 2002

Royal Tenenbaums

Harry Potter

The Man who Wasn't There

From Hell

Training Day

Hearts in Atlantis

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

the others

Planet of the apes

Jurassic Park III


Shrek & Atlantis

The Mummy Returns

Enemy At the Gates


Exit Wounds

15 Minutes

You Can Count on Me

The Mexican

Down to Earth

Meet the Parents

Golda's Balcony HERE

Tribeca FIlm Festival 2003

Daily Coverage: HERE

Photo Gallery HERE

Film Reviews:

A Breach in the Wall

Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas

Paper Chasers

Resisting Paradise

MC5: A True Testimonial

Sweet Sixteen

The Shape of Things

Yossi and Jagger

Persona Non Grata

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