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"A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001): Why Do People Hate the Ending?


Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a 2001 science fiction drama directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Haley Joel Osment as David, a robot boy who wants desperately to become real so his human mommy will love him.

The film explores how immoral and irresponsible it is to play with life and how the human tendency to play God ultimately backfires with the end of human civilization.

It basically delivers the same message as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: humankind sucks. We are irresponsible, selfish, and uncaring, unable to respect the sentience of any being that isn't human. We can't even respect the sentience of other humans! Otherwise, racism, sexism, and homophobia (and other isms) wouldn't exist!

Given the fact that I love robots and love movies with philosophical themes, A. I. Artificial Intelligence is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. I loved everything about it, even the ending. So I was surprised to learn that most people hate the ending.

I'm going to explain why I think the ending is actually perfect.

Ready? Let's do this.

Mad Scientist Hobby

The film opens with a speech from Professor Hobby (William Hurt), who wants to make a robot child that can love.

After five brief minutes of listening to him talk, it becomes obvious that he is little more than a mad scientist. He wants to create a robot child -- a sentient living being -- and then program it (aka force it) to love a human being that may be incapable of loving it back.

So the robot gets to live in the misery and pain of unrequited love while being treated like an object and a toy, just so a human can play House and live out their fantasies? If none of us would sign up for that wretched existence, why should a robot have to?

Professor Hobby never stops to consider this because he doesn't see robots as people with feelings, even though there is overwhelming evidence throughout the film that they are alive, self-aware, and have feelings and desires.

When challenged by a woman listening to his speech, Professor Hobby's excuse is that God did it first (created a living creature to use for his own selfish purposes), so why can't he?

Professor Hobby is a complete bastard. The callousness, the selfishness is astounding.

And it seems like every human in the movie is some variation of awful. Because again, that's the theme: humans are inherently flawed, selfish beings incapable of morally handling the responsibility that comes with creating life.

Bad Parents

The two people chosen to "love" David, the robot, ultimately wind up failing him.

Henry Swinton (Sam Robards ) is another terrible human being. When watching the film, it's easy to wind up despising him.

His son is in stasis because he's dying. He sees that his wife is (correctly) broken up about it, and so to make her happy again, he goes behind her back and, without discussing it with her first, brings home a robot child.

What kind of person sees their kid dying in a coma and shrugs and decides to replace them? And doing this without your spouse's input? This is a huge, life-altering decision, and he made it for his wife like she's a silly child who just needs to get over the fact that their sick son is dying.

And because he works at the robot factory, Henry doesn't even see David as a living person. He sees him as a neat toy. He can't stop gushing about what an amazing machine David is, like he just brought home a new food synthesizer that creates pizza out of thin air -- rather than a living person who needs love.

As Henry's wife grows closer to David, Henry actually starts to get jealous. In the "perfume scene," he is cold toward David and passive-aggressive toward Monica, assuring her that David is "just a toy" and making her feel guilty for loving the robot child that he brought home for her.

Monica can't win either way.

It always struck me as incredibly childish that Henry was jealous of a robot. Kinda like when a man is jealous of his wife's pets. Like . . .seriously? That's incredibly sad and insecure.

But Monica (Frances O'Connor) wasn't innocent either.

She made the choice to activate David's love protocol, forcing him to love her unconditionally for the rest of his life, even if she couldn't love him back. And all because she missed her son and wanted to play House.

Monica chose to replace her son with a robot. Watching the movie, I looked at her and thought, "What kind of mother does this?"

Monica is as deeply flawed and selfish as Henry. She doesn't love David. As stated later in the film by Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), she loves what David does for her. When she first activated his love protocol, she didn't see David as a person.

When you see someone as a person, you aren't going to sentence them to a lifetime of misery by rewiring their brain to love you unconditionally for all eternity when you are incapable of giving that same love back.

To be clear, human beings can be brainwashed in the same way. You can rewire someone's brain to make them think they're a chicken. It's called hypnosis. This can also be achieved with subliminals (placed in a lot of our advertising), drugs, or other forms of mind control.

The human brain is basically an organic computer that can be programmed at will.

Scary to think how easily we can be controlled, huh?

Sibling Rivalry

The result of David and Martin's eating contest.

The result of David and Martin's eating contest.

When the Swinton's son, Martin (Jake Thomas), comes home from the hospital, he is rightfully pissed that his parents have replaced him with a robot.

He doesn't see David as a person either. In ignorance, he emotionally abuses David by telling him isn't real. And once he realizes that his mother actually loves David, he goes out of his way to cause drama in the house, so that David is eventually expelled.

Abandoned in the Woods

After an incident at the swimming pool where Martin almost drowns because of David, Henry demands that Monica take David back to the kid factory to be destroyed.

That scene always burns me up, because Henry was the one who brought David home -- without consulting Monica at all! -- and now he wants to act like everything that's happening is Monica's fault, so she must clean it up.

At this point, Monica has recognized the humanity in David. She's come to the realization that he's a living being, and because of that, she cannot let his creators destroy him. She decides -- perhaps out of guilt -- to leave him in the forest instead.

In his continuing adventures, David winds up at a flesh fair, a grotesque event where humans destroy robots -- living, sentient beings -- as entertainment.

The man who runs the flesh fair, Lord Johnson-Johnson (Brendan Gleeson ), decides to destroy David. Another man who works there tries to stop him, stating that David is too unique to destroy.

The other guy seems benevolent on the surface, but the only reason he protects David is because -- much like Henry -- he considers him an amazing piece of machinery. Not a person. And to hell with the other robots being murdered and tortured!

Lord Johnson-Johnson ignores the man's pleas and sets out to burn David alive, only David starts screaming and pleading for his life. Most Mecha don't beg to be spared, but David has been created to look and behave like a human child, so he screams for mercy.

For this reason, the people in the crowd believe David is real. They demand for his release and he escapes with Gigolo Joe.

Rouge City and Dr. Know

Driven by the (very human) need and desire to be loved and accepted, David turns to a holographic answer engine (basically Google) called Dr. Know to help him find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, as he thinks she is real and can make him a real boy.

Let me pause here to say that it was wonderful hearing Robin William's voice when I watched this recently. May he rest in peace.

Once David is told by Dr. Know that he needs to go to Manhattan, Gigolo Joe tries to warn him that it's pointless, that the Blue Fairy may not even be real, and that Monica will never love him because humans are incapable of loving robots, who they see as little more than things to use.

David insists on going, though, so Gigolo Joe -- intent on helping David after David saved his life at the flesh fair -- steals an amphibicopter for him and they fly off.

A Broken Heart

David finally arrives in Manhattan, only to come to the bleak realization that he is not special or unique. He is little more than a toy, manufactured for the pleasure of humans who will never see him as real, who will never love him, who will always see him as a thing for their use and benefit.

Dr. Hobby rants happily about what a success his experiment is, oblivious to the fact that he has just put a living being through pointless hell all so he could perfect the image of his dead son.

Dr. Hobby is like Homer Simpson almost accidentally sitting on Maggie: he doesn't realize how negligent and emotionally, psychologically abusive his actions have been to a living being.

David has just been led around by a non-existent carrot, lied to and manipulated and used for an experiment. That he had a psychotic break and destroyed another David is not surprising after all that (and somewhat proves Henry right about how dangerous a super strong robot kid can be).

Once Dr. Hobby leaves the room, David sits down and mutters that his "brain is slipping out." What he means is, his heart is breaking. He is feeling real, intense emotional pain. Because he has just come to the realization that Gigolo Joe was right: Monica never loved him, she loved what he did for her.

David doesn't get to be loved, though he has been selfishly programmed to love others to his own detriment. With this realization, he tries to end his life by jumping from the building and into the sea.

The Blue Fairy

While David is drifting miserably under the water, he encounters a Coney Island statue of the Blue Fairy and becomes convinced she's real.

But before he can reach her, David is saved by Gigolo Joe, who uses the amphibicopter to pluck him out of the water. They are speaking when Gigolo Joe (who has been framed for murder) is captured with an electromagnet by the police.

A determined David then takes the amphibicopter underwater and sits there, talking to the Blue Fairy statue.

Two thousand years later, humans are now extinct, and a frozen David is rescued from the ice by evolved robot lifeforms called Specialists.

The Specialists are fascinated by humans and are obsessed with studying them, so they offer to bring Monica back for one day. It will only last one day because, apparently, they haven't perfected the art of resurrection.

I like the ending because, after all his suffering at the hands of humans, David finally gets to be happy. He finally gets to experience real, unconditional love from the woman he was rewired to love.

There's no Henry, no Martin, no flesh fair maniacs, no Dr. Hobby -- there are no humans around who can abuse him, manipulate him, and use him for their own selfish ends.

Yes, it's sad that Monica dies (again) but it's still nice that David gets his one happy day. And once that day is over, he can choose to either shut down into sweet oblivion (which he seems to do at the end of the film) or live with a bunch of futuristic, highly evolved robots who actually see him as a person and won't abuse him.

He has options to be happy now. His suffering was rewarded with peace.

For me, it was the perfect ending.

© 2019 Lee

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