Movie Musings: Deciphering the ending to A.I. Artificial Intelligence
*Note: This ‘Movie Musings’ article is going off the assumption that the reader, has seen the film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” If you haven’t seen the film and wish to remain spoiler-free, please turn back now.”
In the Summer of 2001, I was eagerly awaiting a film that was said to have been several decades in the making: A.I. Artificial Intelligence. While originally a film that tantalized Stanley Kubrick, he was said to have been unable to imbue his obsession with emotional heart. Who was he to turn to? Steven Spielberg, of course-the man who touched millions of hearts in 1982 with E.T.
Over many years, the two would often talk about the project, an adaptation of the Brian Aldiss short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long.
However, the two soon reached an impasse. While Kubrick felt Spielberg could do the film justice on an emotional level by directing it, Spielberg felt that Kubrick should direct the project instead, since he had devoted so much time and effort to it.
And then in 1999, Kubrick passed away. Following Kubrick’s death, several members of his family asked Steven if he would consider trying to finish the picture. Spielberg then took the numerous pieces of information that had been done over the years, and crafted a screenplay, (one of his first since Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
Steven largely kept to the outline and information that had been accumulated over the years, but to many who saw the film, there were cries of blasphemy, that he had destroyed a perfectly “Kubrickian” ending.
After David and Teddy use an Amphibicopter to dive down into the remnants of the sunken Coney Island Amusement Park, David finds a statue of the Blue Fairy, from the Pinocchio fairy tale.
Unable to separate fantasy from reality, David believes he has found the one being who can grant his wish: to make him a real boy, and thus allow him to return to the Swintons, and win back Monica’s (aka his Mommy’s) love.
As David asks the Blue Fairy to make him real, the voice of the story’s narrator is heard:
And David continued to pray to the Blue Fairy, there before him. She, who smiled softly, forever. She who welcomed him, forever.
Eventually the flood lights dimmed and died, but David could still see her, pale-y by day, and he still addressed her, in hope.
He prayed until all the sea anemones had shriveled and died.
He prayed as the ocean froze, and the ice encased the caged Amphibicopter and the Blue Fairy too, locking them together where he could still make her out- a blue ghost in ice. Always there. Always smiling. Always awaiting him.
Eventually he never moved at all. But his eyes always stayed open, staring ahead forever all through the darkness of each night. And the next day. And the next day.
This is where some claimed that Kubrick would have ended the film, but as some in the auditoriums that summer began to rise from their seats, the narrator’s voice continued:
Thus…2,000 years passed by.
From here, we were treated to an image of lithe creatures, flying around in cube-constructed vehicles, cutting into the ice covering the Earth. The original proclamation by many was to assume that these were aliens (making several flash-back to the thin-limbed creatures in Close Encounters). However, they are actually Future Mecha- the evolution of artificial intelligence, having outlived their creators. The most obvious reason for their lithe form is that they retain a certain resemblance to their creators (a head, a body, and 4 limbs), but they have no use for human features like hair, eyes, or internal organs. Word was that Kubrick originally envisioned them with a leathery texture, but here, their translucent forms, make them look like an exaggerated iMac version of the human form.
Eventually, a group of Future Mecha find David and Teddy in the amphibicopter. After restoring power to David, they then scan his mind, and begin to analyze his memories. Much like human beings searching for information about ‘the ones who created them,’ the Future Mecha here are excavating into the ice, looking for more information on their own creators. With David, they have an amazing find: a mecha ancestor, who actually lived among humans!
Using his memories, the Future Mecha create a replica of the Swinton home. David can’t comprehend the difference between his memories and the fabricated world, and assumes that he and Teddy have ‘come home.’ Running around looking for Monica, David comes across The Blue Fairy in another room.
David once again asks to be made real, but the Blue Fairy claims she cannot do this. Eventually, we see several of the Future Mecha examining this scene. It soon becomes obvious that they are controlling the image of the Blue Fairy.
David asks where Monica is, but is informed that it’s been 2,000 years since she was alive. The Blue Fairy then claims that other humans can be brought back to interact with him, but because of his imprinting, David only wants Monica.
The Blue Fairy claims that only through the use of human tissue or hair, can they bring people back. Luckily, Teddy is there, and reveals to David how he saved some of Monica’s hair (from an incident earlier in the film). David offers the hair to the Blue Fairy, claiming that now, she can bring Monica back.
In the room with the Future Mecha, one of them speaks in English, and we hear the voice of the narrator: “Give him what he wants.”
David is then returned to his room in the false-home. When a knock comes at the door, David eagerly assumes it’s Monica, but finds it is one of the Future Mecha, who is designated as The Specialist (in the credits, and voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley).
Sitting down with David, the Specialist expounds on his race’s fascination and search to understand more about their creators.
The Specialist claims they attempted to recreate humans from pieces of bone or skin, but also attempted to try and see if they could bring back human memories, which would surely help them understand more about their creators.
However, their attempts proved futile, as the longest any creation lived, was less than a day…and once a person had been brought back once, it could never happen again.
“David, you are the enduring memory of the human race,” explains the Specialist. “The most lasting proof of their genius. We only want for your happiness, David. You’ve had so little of that.
Even in explaining what bringing Monica back will mean (only a single day with her), David will not be deterred.
“If you want for my happiness,” he says, “then you know what you have to do.”
And with that, the sky outside lightens, as ‘a new day’ comes. The Specialist then tells David that Monica is just waking up, and David finds her in the main bedroom.
Monica then greets David with a smile, and he quickly offers to make her some coffee, as the day begins.
Throughout the day, David is all smiles, as he and his Mommy do all sorts of things. There is no mention of Monica’s husband Henry, or her son Martin. As the narrator says, “There was just David.”
Eventually, the day draws to a close, and David returns Monica to the bedroom. As she settles down to sleep, she remarks on the ‘beautiful day,’ before drawing David in close, and telling him:
And with those final words, Monica goes to sleep…one from which she will never awaken.
David soon goes to ‘sleep’ as well, the reciprocation of Monica’s love, the fulfillment of his very existence.
What many moviegoers who felt the ending was cliche fail to realize, is that this ending brings the film full-circle. Throughout much of the film, circles are a motif we see in a number of areas and designs.
In the beginning, David was created as a placebo for those unable to have children, or those who needed something in order to ‘move on.’ When David was living with the Swinton’s, Monica was never fully able to accept David, because he wasn’t real. He acted more as a stand-in to her son Martin, until he recovered.
Eventually, Monica decided to take the next step, and “imprint” on David. This allowed him to ‘love’ her unconditionally, as per the parameters in his program, but it was like a hardwired bond that could never be broken. If Monica ever decided she didn’t want David, he would need to be returned to Cybertronics, to be destroyed. Though he looked human, he really was nothing more than a ‘super-toy’ like Teddy, meant for a specific purpose.
2,000 years into the future, mecha have supplanted humans as the dominant species. And, in a turn-about way, we find that the machines of the future, have the ability to create humans. However, the process to create and preserve human life, is still a mystery that they are unable to resolve.
In the case of the film’s finale, it is Monica who has been created to fill a void for David. However, while many assume this is a schmaltzy happy ending by way of an overly touchy-feely Spielberg, digging deeper into the ending scenes, shows otherwise.
A Beautiful Day, A Beautiful Lie
Though many assume that David’s final day with Monica is a beautiful thing, one has to figure it is little more than a beautiful lie.
The Monica David spends the day with, is very different from the one we see at the beginning of the film.
She never questions where her husband Henry, and ‘real’ son Martin have gone. At one point, she questions the day, and simply accepts David’s answer: “it is…today!”
For much of the day, Monica is all smiles, though a questionable expression, comes when David shows Monica a number of finger-paintings, as he explains about his journey.
It’s a look that almost harkens back to the the rather placid eyes of David’s when he was first brought into the Swinton household, leading me to believe that this Monica was recreated moreso from David’s memories.
One assumes that the Specialist and his kin, must have rooted around in David’s ‘brain,’ and found situations that seemed to bring happiness, and from that, designed a day, that would recreate those moments, but on a whole other level.
Like in the beginning, there are games of hide and seek, and a Birthday party. Though the game is more of fun than awkwardness this time, and the party is for David, not for Martin.
During the events, some may even question just “where” David and Teddy are when this happens. My feelings are that it is the equivalent of a neural highway/internet configuration that the future mecha have created. We see they can transmit imagery and such without cables or wires in one scene, so most likely, David and Teddy’s “brains” have been transmitted into it for the final part of the story.
Plus, in the simulated world the Future Mecha have created, almost anything seems possible. Notable is that in this world, David seems more alive than before. For example, we see him shed tears, which he never did in the real world.
Of course, sadness of the lie comes at the end, when the figure of Monica, tells David that she loves him. The real Monica could never bring herself to utter these words to David, but this one can say it willingly enough, that David is placated into thinking that his cherished wish has come true…when in truth, he is really on a dead, frozen planet, being placated by his more advanced descendants.
Thoughts on the Future Mecha
The Future Mecha also show how the creations, have evolved beyond their creators.
In the past, Gigolo Joe explained to David that even though they were living among the humans, and did numerous things for them, they were hated and oppressed by their creators (as we see in a number of sequences).
“They made us too smart, too quick, and too many,” Joe explained to David. “We are paying for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left, is us!”
David himself, is an important link in the evolutionary chain of mecha. Before his creation, robots were programmed what to think and do, but as seen in David’s quest, he is the one who “chooses” to seek out the Blue Fairy. This seemed more like a ‘baby step’ in mecha evolution though, because David was unable to think and reason beyond his simple program to love Monica. He couldn’t live beyond that main piece of his programming, and as we see when the Future Mecha try to bargain with him to consider other ways to view him interacting with humans, he never wavers from wanting to see her again.
Of course, one has to wonder how this affected the Future Mecha. They were most likely able to extract information from David’s memories, but were probably saddened that they were unable to interact with him on a more investigative level.
David would probably be seen as a God to them, considering he was alive when their creators roamed the Earth. His interaction with humans 2,000 years ago, makes him at this point in history, the most ‘human’ thing left on the planet.
When one backtracks to the beginning of the film, it is the voice of the Specialist we hear, first narrating over an image of a roiling ocean.The film has an often cold sterility to how some characters act, let alone the coloration of some scenes being slightly muted at times.
If one looks at the film overall, it could be seen as a possible extrapolation of information the Future Mecha have gleaned from David, and what they have unearthed about the past. Given the Specialist’s voice is heard in a narrative capacity 3 times, it stands to reason that maybe he is relaying this story as some form of history lesson, on the evolution of the mecha ‘species.’
This can also make sense, as the story largely is about David’s creation, birth, life, and eventually, death.
There is a certain ‘sterility’ throughout the film as well, almost like affection and emotions, are kept at arm’s length from us. Even in the color palette in some of the environments are not as bright as we would expect…making one wonder, since the Future Mecha are unable to fully have as strong of emotions as their human creators (are they even imbued with a soul?), maybe that sterility and uneasiness of trying to channel emotions into the story, is a little ‘wonky’ to them.
Though one has to also wonder, if these Future Mecha see human beings as their creator, do they also subscribe to the man-made theory/thought process of a Supreme Being, or has limited knowledge and information in the future, truly supplanted such notions, and moved humanity to the top of that Divine Plane?
While it isn’t one of my Top 5 films by Steven Spielberg, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is one of those films that has managed to sit in the back of my head, and bubble to the surface every once-in-awhile with its subject matter.
The concept of the creation of artificial life, as well as human acceptance, is something that has often fascinated me, maybe in some capacity, because of studying animation, which some have called, “The Illusion of Life.”
During the summer of 2001, I was part of a Spielberg-related chatroom, and for the rest of the summer, I and many others, would trade discussion back-and-forth on the film, and what we felt certain elements stood for. Other Spielberg topics languished, as the A.I. board quickly rose to 10,000 posts and beyond. No stone was too small to overturn, as we searched for symbolism, the meaning to the end, as well as created fan-fiction to fill in the holes we saw.
Much like how Titanic brought me to a community to discuss my thoughts in 1998, A.I. Artificial Intelligence did so 4 years later, in a new capacity. Even watching the film 15 years later, there are still new things I am finding out.