Movie Review - A.I., - Haley Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards - Directed by Steven Spielberg, 2001

Reviewed by James W. Prescott, Ph.D.
(Institute of Humanistic Science)

[ A.I. = Artificial Intelligence ]

Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Love, Artificial Sex, Artificial Human, and ultimately species extinction of homo sapiens, has been well chronicled by Stephen Spielberg in his latest searing inquest on the "dark side" of what it means to be human.

America and humanity -- writ-large -- was forewarned of its impending doom by John Steinbeck in East of Eden (1952):

The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt -- and there is the story of mankind.

Spielberg has dramatically portrayed this story and the demise of humankind. The loss of the capacity for human love has been replaced by a genetic-based engineered "robotic human" in the form of a child that has unending and unconditional love for its mother (and father) but whose love was ultimately betrayed and abandoned by its "mother" and "father."

Machine love has replaced human love and that is the terror -- not the hope -- of this extraordinary film that rightly forces human attention on homo sapiens lost capacity for human love--a paradise lost that must be regained, if homo sapiens has any hope to survive as a species.

Early on in the story of the computer design of an electro-mechanical robot child that has infinite and unconditional love for its mother and father, the question was raised about the equal responsibility for such love that mother and father must have toward the child -- a question that was not given a satisfactory answer and which ultimately became the fault zone for the destruction of the child and its mother when it's mother betrayed and abandoned its robotic son to the wilderness forest to survive on its own with advice to avoid all humans and to stay only with its own kind -- robots. Human mothers and fathers cannot be trusted.

The scene of the mother's abandonment of her robotic son to the forest was one of the more powerful images of this film, a role which was forced upon the mother by the father who warned her that if the experiment did not work- out he would have to be shipped back to the laboratory for destruction. To save him she had no alternative but to abandon him in the forest to survive on his own. But where was the father in all of this who masterminded the robotic child as a gift to his wife?

The scenes of the mass destruction of damaged, unwanted, unusable but still "living" robots, as entertainment for the crowds, reminds one of the destruction of unwanted and undesirable humans to the lions and tigers of the Roman Coliseum for public entertainment.

This violence and destruction continues today -- as public entertainment for the masses -- through the surreal images of the media entertainment industries -- the film, TV and video-games of violence and destruction. One is also reminded of the images of the holocaust where human life and love has no value except that which was determined by the State.

The robotic boy's never-ending search for its mother (not his father), to be loved and to become a "real boy" -- like another fantasy story of Pinocchio portrayed in A.I. -- reminds us of the never-ending searches of the many adopted children of today and the many more abandoned, abused and lost children in American society who continue their search for mother love and human love but can only find substitute "love" in drugs and exploited sex in a disconnected humanity.

After two thousand years in a deep freeze -- brought about by a planetary collapse of its climate with the melting of the Arctic ice sheets and submersion of the coastal cities -- a thaw brings "life" back to David with all of his stored memories of a human civilization that has long ago disappeared but his search for mother and human love continues with the new computer life forms that have replaced humans -- sexless, faceless, no passion but not without compassion when a faint human face emerges from the faceless face, as they tell David they want him to find happiness, which David knows can only be realized by being re-united with his mother--not his father. The ending of this exceptional film will have to be discovered by yourself and it's ultimate implications for the future of human civilization.

My first reaction to A.I. -- that was based on a critical review in the Canadian National Post -- was that this film must be a monstrosity that could even conceive or advance the possibility that artificial intelligence could create artificial love to replace human love. The viewing of A.I. has lead to a different interpretation and message of this Spielberg-Kubrick film, namely, to warn us of own folly and self-destruction in the loss of human love that cannot be replaced by machine love. Others will disagree with this interpretation.

There are some concerns that I have with this film and one is the impression which is easily left that human love can be found in our genetic code [genes code for proteins not behavior, e.g., any newborn can learn to speak any language in the world -- like a native -- if the newborn is exposed to that language during the formative periods of brain development, otherwise the language can only be poorly learned and spoken -- like a foreigner.

This principle is equally true for learning the languages of love and hate where the languages learned are in the software (environment) and not the hardware (genes)]; and another is that computer-machines can duplicate the quality of human emotions. Not true and it will never be true on both counts. It is human experience that determines the genesis of human love and violence and the scientific support for this statement can be found at

A.I. is the rare film that requires more than one viewing to appreciate all of its complex messages and I will probably see it again for that purpose -- like Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." A.I. is a powerful film and should be seen by all adults and young adults and it is expected that A.I. will prove to be a classic film that will be long discussed.

A.I. will prove to be disturbing and traumatic for many; and young children should not be permitted to see this film even with the accompaniment of parents. Such decisions, however, remain the responsibility of parents.

Ontario, Canada has rated this film as "Adult Accompaniment, Not Recommended for Children" and this should be its rating worldwide. It is my understanding that Steven Spielberg will not permit his children to see this film. I was surprised to discover how many parents have taken their young children to view this film -- some of them as young as 7 or 8 years old, as well as the many teen-agers that have seen this film.

It would seem important to obtain the reactions of the children and teens who have seen A.I. and the relevance that this film has for their own lives and the lives of their fellow students. This could be a good project for the Parent-Teachers Associations in our various schools to form discussion groups-- with and without parents.

Additionally, A.I. could be an effective film to use in the rehabilitation of adult and youth offenders, drug offenders and violent personality disorders, as it forces attention upon the crucible of human existence -- mother love, which lies at the root of our social-cultural disorders where the suicide rate in the 5-14 year age group has doubled over this past generation and which goes unexplained by the mental health authorities. (See and "Home-Alone America" by Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review, June/July 2001 at ).

The social-cultural burden of our societal disintegration should not be laid upon "mother, as mother" but upon a society that does not support mothers as nurturing mothers and which does not value woman as mother. Computer-machines cannot save humanity from its own self-destruction -- ask another David and HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey!

The acting of Haley Osmont, as David Swinton -- the robotic son -- is an Oscar award-winning performance, as is that of Frances O'Connor as the mother (Marian Swinton) in a supporting role. The special effects are stunning and the haunting musical score by John Williams are also deserving of Oscar nominations, as should the film, A.I.

James W. Prescott, Ph.D.
Institute of Humanistic Science
212 Woodsedge Drive
Lansing, NY 14882
Website on circumcision:
Touch The Future - Bonding or Violence Section:
James W. Prescott, Ph.D. is a developmental neuropsychologist and cross-cultural psychologist. He joined the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD where he created the Developmental Behavioral Biology Program of the newly created NICHD and served as its Health Scientist Administrator from 1963-1980.

During this period, Dr. Prescott initiated and established a number of basic brain research programs which documented that the early life experiences of mother-infant separation induced a variety of developmental brain abnormalities.

Prescott concluded that the failure of bonding in the mother-infant relationship, including insufficient breastfeeding, induces developmental brain abnormalities in the infant/child that results in later depression and violence of suicidal and homicidal behaviors that are of epidemic proportions in America and can account in part for the prevalence of the massive psychiatric medication of the children and youth of America.

Want to read another excellent movie review of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)? See A.I.

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