One of the most debated moments in the underrated Steven Spielberg classic, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, was with its ending. When the film first premiered twenty years ago, many viewers came away thinking that Spielberg gave the film a happy ending. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, A.I. Artificial Intelligence turned out to be Spielberg’s first genre film to take on a more mature and downbeat tone, which reflected many of his non-genre films. Spollers ahead.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence starred Haley Joel Osment as David, an android or a Mecha built to be a surrogate son for a couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose son, Martin (Jake Thomas) was in a coma. David’s programming was altered so that he could experience emotions and be imprinted onto his “mother” Monica. This created problems when Martin recovered and sibling conflicts led to David being abandoned by his mother.
For the rest of the film, David embarked on a frightening and fantastical quest to find a mystical Blue Fairy, who he hoped would turn him into a real boy so he could be loved and accepted by his mother. David became obssessed with the Blue Fairy thanks to his mother reading him Pinnochio earlier in the film. He met many Mechas in his journey, including the male prostitute Mecha, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who helped David with his quest. Eventually, he made his way to a partially submerged Manhattan (climate change and rising sea levels have claimed many coastal cities in the future setting of the film) where he became trapped underwater in a vehicle. It is revealed that he is in Coney Island, which was completely underwater, and he discovered a statue of a Blue Fairy. Trapped in the vehicle, but with the statue in clear sight, David begged her non-stop to be turned into a boy, and that is the first ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
The film’s coda took place two thousand years later. The Earth was turned into a frozen wasteland and humankind is long extinct. Their only legacies being crumbling infrastructures and Mechas who have evolved into alien-like beings. David was found frozen and revived by the future Mechas. After they downloaded his memory files, they granted his wish of reuniting with his mother by cloning her. The catch was that the clone can only live for one day, yet she is able to provide the unconditional love and acceptance that the original Monica never could. Once she died at the end of the day, a content David allowed himself to sleep and go to the place “where dreams are born.”
This is a very ambigous ending, although on the surface it can be interpreted as a happy ending. After all, although David’s wish of becoming a real boy is unfullfilled, he attained his ultimate goal of being loved by his mother, the reason for wanting to be real. But it came at a cost. The clone of his mother died, and it is implied that he died, too, in a manner of speaking. Once he achieved his desire, his reason for existing was gone because the clone could not be revived and the cloning process cannot be repeated. So, it’s possible that he shut down his system in a type of suicide. Or maybe he took one step closer to becoming real. At one point in the film, he met his creator (William Hurt), who told David his ability to feel love and go beyond his programming by believing in abstract and mystical concepts proved that he has evolved. Then again, this could just be faulty or corrupted programming that left poor David in a loop.
It can be difficult to watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence because of the emotional torture David underwent in the film and his ultimate fate: left alone in a frozen world; his only companion being a semi-sentient super toy called Teddy. Without his mother, why would he want to continue existing? An irony here is that his Teddy also seemed imprinted onto David, but he largely ignored the toy If David did indeed die, then Teddy is the one to pity since by the end of the film, he is the last survivor, or did he shut himself down, as well?
At the second end of the film, David is given a false copy of a mother who was not able to love or accept him and while he was happy, this was just a one-time fantasy. He was never able to attain any of his dreams and was incapable of realizing this. In fact, David had an unhealthy obssession with his desire, which indicated an inability to move past his imprinting. In the end, David was unable to grow and move on past his parent.
While the ending may seem like a bittersweet wish fullfillment, and many argue it was typical for Steven Spielberg film, the conclusion up being a hollow victory for David. It is also sad to see that David was not able to realize or accept his circumstances and that he probably shut himself down instead of moving on. The ambigous ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence is certainly open for discussion, but its downbeat and blue tone is undeniable and a testament to Steven Spielberg’s growth as a filmmaker.