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Retro/Active: Rosenbaum on ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’

Retro/Active: Rosenbaum on 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence'

As if written in response to my piece earlier this week examining the critic’s right to suggest improvements to films and defending the end of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” — no, I’m not narcissitic, why do you ask? —  comes an absolutely superb meditation on the movie’s themes and allegorical value as cinema about cinema from Jonathan Rosenbaum.  Drawing upon his knowledge of Stanley Kubrick and Spielberg’s filmmographies (connecting, for example, the ferris wheel that traps Haley Joel Osment’s robot boy David at the bottom of the ocean with the one that rolled through Hollywood in “1941”) and even sprinkling in some autobiographical details (comparing, for example, the author’s feelings of loss about his own mother with the ones experienced by David), Rosenbaum puts on a critical clinic.  And he mounts one of the best defenses of the film’s much-maligned ending I’ve ever read.  From his piece in Film Quarterly (which contains SPOILERS):

“Viewers who criticize [David and his mother’s] final scene together… as sentimental usually overlook that it’s occurring long after humanity has died out. This means that the death [James] Naremore refers to has to be the death of an emotion or idea — even if, as the film’s offscreen narration implies, it’s also the birth of a dream, a robot’s dream. Perhaps it could be regarded as an artificial and manufactured footnote to the human race, a sort of ghostly echo. Something, in short, that is very much like a film… In the pessimistic cosmology shared by Kubrick and Spielberg, cinema and death appear to be the only enduring realities, each one dominated by fixation on a maternal figure. The Blue Fairy, a deity from ‘Pinocchio,’ is described by [David’s creator Professor] Hobby as ‘part of the great human flaw—to wish for things that don’t exist’; David seeks her out to make him a ‘real’ boy and thus gain [his ‘mother’] Monica’s love. And the Monica who loves David and appears only in the film’s final scene is a deity derived from life, but no less a fiction. For Hobby, a version of both Mephistopheles and Frankenstein, human flaws, including his own, can be ‘great’ and therefore cherished, but for David, condemned to love someone who won’t love him back, they can only be lamented. Both characters, in effect, are incurable cinephiles. And the film brings us closer to David than to Hobby, so that we ultimately love a film that refuses to love us back.”

I’m not sure what the film critic equivalent of a drop the mic moment would be — drop the laptop?  Nah, too expensive to replace.  Drop the notepad?  Not dramatic enough.  We’ll keep working on it. — but Rosenbaum deserves whatever it is after this piece.

Read more of Rosenbaum’s “A Matter of Life and Death: ‘A.I.’

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