Monday, November 5, 2012

Star Trek / Sci Fi Philosophy

I feel like I have already spoken enough about Star Trek in 2012, the 60 minute challenge was completed, and really all I had left to talk about was how some of the characters walked kind of funny and how the captains adjusted their suits way to over dramatically when they stood up, so rather than beat a dead horse again, I want to move on and tie in another work of science fiction that we focused on in that class I mentioned during the Star Trek episode, Philosophy in Science Fiction. The course forced me to go back and really think about a hand full of movies that I had taken for granted as a pubescent teenager. One in particular was the movie "A.I." or "Artificial Intelligence".

I wrote extensively on that film, in particular about the theme of the living and the dead. Many of you may know that the film was started by Stanley Kubrick, but he died during the making of the film, so Steven Spielberg completed it. I feel like this was oddly reflected in the major them of the film. The following was my final paper for the class. I exceeded the professors expectations with the paper, I think because he took me out into the hall, I thought to lecture me, but it was to congratulate me on a job well done. That was a first for me and it gave me the confidence to speak up more in class without gulping or swallowing weird. I've had many a gulp filled comment in that class prior to the paper, so hopefully it can work it's charm once again and cure my hatch gulps, assuming the professor comes back from space, reads this paper, and takes me outside the hatch to say nice paper!

The Living and the Dead
In “Artificial Intelligence”

We see in the film, “Artificial Intelligence” many examples of the close relationship between the living and the dead. We see this multi-layered relationship throughout the story of David, the robot protagonist. It is a universal concept that all living things must feed off of things that once lived. We must eat dead organisms to gain nutrients to remain alive. This is true on an artistic and cultural level as well. Another reason the living need the dead is simply a matter of a limited supply of natural resources. If the living never died there would be no room for new life. This is another theme of the film. One other relationship the living share with the dead in this film is emotional. Characters sometimes react to death with mourning and melancholia. The main goal of this paper is to show how “Artificial Intelligence” is a story about how death is a crucial part of life, and more of a transformation rather than simply the end of one’s existence. That one must die or at least be able to die in order to truly live.
The opening sequence takes us through a brief history of the apocalypse. We are shown a vast sweeping glance across the flooded Earth as the narrator calmly explains what we are seeing. His voice is reverent almost mournful. This helps to set the tone for the film. The camera shows us the physical frame of the world as the narrator tells us the historical frame. We see this two part framing again later in the story as we are introduced to a new stage of the apocalypse. The camera sweeps along a frozen world of Manhattan with a new form of life flying along the landscape with us in their ships. They are archeologists, there to observe the dead. They chip away at a past world covered in ice.
This chipping away at the ice is a metaphor of the journey or coming to life story of the robots of this film, particularly David and Joe. When they are first introduced to us they are cold, mechanical, and run strictly by protocol. As the story progresses that coldness is chipped away. In an early scene Joe walks into a room to carry out his duty as a digital prostitute. Up until this moment he seems innocent to the fact that he is causing any harm to those he is programmed to serve. When he finds a woman he is programmed to serve is dead, lying on the bed, he shutters. The husband is in the room with them and tells her to remember that she killed him long before he killed her. He knows Joe hears this, but acknowledges Joe’s inherent innocence as he takes no revenge on him. He simply asks, “How many seconds has it been?” He sees Joe as a just a glorified stopwatch, and leaves him be. After that moment, the death of a woman he slept with, he becomes more aware of the consequences of his actions. He learns accountability, becomes more human, more alive.
David’s journey is similar. He is a different type of love mimicking robot. His very existence is in reaction to a death of Professor Hobby’s son. His development came years after the initial development of artificial intelligence. This came after the apocalyptic flood, one that killed off hundreds of millions of humans. Death, limited resources, and the need for mechanized labor spawned the creation of robots in the world of this film. David’s model came after many upgrades in technology and many generations of artificial intelligence. Professor Hobby created David to match his son’s appearance and likely his personality. If the real life version of David never had died, the new version of David would have never been created or needed. David is later programmed to love a grieving mother named Monica. David’s services are rendered as she attempts to replace the loss of her son due to an uncured disease. She does this by reading a specific sequence of words, a code that initiates his child like love programming. The need for David’s services, as far as his initial design, is shattered the day the sick boy, Martin recovers. Since he does not die, David becomes a pending second child.
David can not compete with the original biological child, as we see in a heart wrenching sequence. Martin sees David as competition. Like the jealous husband, Martin see’s that the one’s he loves have attempted to replace him. Unlike the jealous husband, he does assign the blame to the robot. Perhaps this is because he lacks an adult perspective and can not justly analyze the situation. He is too innocent to recognize the actions of his parents as a type of temporary abandonment. As we see it, Martin comes back to life after his parents have considered him as good as dead. Martin responds by putting David in his place. He talks to him like he would any robot. He asks “what can you do?” He compares him to his old toy Teddy and even mocks him at the dinner table by showing him how to eat. David becomes fed up with the rivalry and attempts to eat as well. This causes his face to distort as though he were having a stroke. As we cut to the next scene we get a shocking reminder that David is a robot. The technicians have his abdomen opened up as they vacuum up the spinach. They give him a nickname as they clean him, “Robo boy” as if they are attempting to comfort a real boy. He is their creation so maybe they feel he does have sentiment.
David is ultimately rejected by his programmed mother. He is let go by Monica because he proves to be a threat to their real son’s life. The scene where David grabs on to Martin for protection is full of metaphorical imagery. The boys are shirtless, so we see that David fits in superficially. One boy even comments on how real he looks. When David pulls Martin into the pool with him he initiates a type of baptism. Baptism symbolizes death, burial, and rebirth. David seems to fall to the bottom, motionless, while Kevin struggles to break free. Martin is pried free by people who care for him, while David is left for dead at the bottom of the pool. We never see how he gets out. This scene is mirrored towards the end of the film when David is once again buried underwater. Again he is left for dead, entombed in ice and metal. This time he is preserved in an amphibian police aircraft as a type of metal and glass casket. It is quit appropriate for a robot, opposed to having a casket made of wood or anything else organic. If we look back earlier in the film we see Martin in a similar metal and glass tomb. This is one where he too is buried alive and frozen, also awaiting an advancement in technology. In both cases they are brought back to life by eager hands.
This film uses mirroring over and over, visually as well as thematically. One scene that shows a mirroring in behaviors is when David returns to Manhattan. Just like Martin, he returns home believing that he is an only child only to find another child, another David. The protagonist David says “you can’t have her.” He takes a lamp and beheads his competition. Of course he doesn’t realize that the other David has no intentions of competing for Monica’s love. He doesn’t realize that in that way he is unique, that he is the only David emotionally tied to Monica. All he see’s is a room stocked full of replicas of himself, mirror images, competition. Professor Hobby tries to help David understand how he really is special, being the first of a kind. But even Professor Hobby knows that his real son can not be replaced by his replica. These series of events kill David’s innocence. But within the same scene he is born again.
David is born again as he relives his birth. He walks up to a copy of his face held by a machine by a chair he glimpses through the eyes up at the “Bird” he drew for Martin. The bird he saw as his first memory. This imagery is mirrored not too much later as he pulls the police amphiblicopter up to the blue fairy. Her eyes overlap his in the reflection of the windshield. He rests there and begins to pray. He becomes entombed there with Teddy after the Ferris wheel collapses. First the floodlights die out. Then he is left praying in the dark, hoping to be transformed into a real live boy. He doesn’t try to escape. He is exactly where he wants to be, pending in a glass coffin, reflecting the scene with Martin. But in Martin’s scene the lady on the outside was praying for him to live.
We should also look briefly at the flesh fair. This scene brings up death in a new light. In fact the scene is lit up quit dramatically. It is a celebration, but of what, life or death, or both? It is called a flesh fair, but they are burning and melting metal. So do they consider these machines to be flesh, or is it an ironical name for a brutal event? The stadium is a coliseum reflecting the brutality of those of ancient Rome. We see gladiator types, chopping robots in half, and bike riders with lions on their helmets. All of this with a heavy metal band accompanying the destruction. One line of dialogue stands out, given by a captured robot. He explains to David that they are doing this “to maintain numerical superiority.” The Orga need the Mecha to die so they can remain domineers. Since the life expectancy of a mechanical life form is so much greater than an organic life form, they must be destroyed in order keep that balance.
This film brings up another important relationship between the dead and the living. Without the living, the dead would have no means to leave their legacy. There would be no “enduring memory of all man kind” without David. David carries with him memories of human art, music, and culture. The new life forms that dig David up 2000 years after his burial say that he is unique in all the world. They say that humans may hold the meaning of existence because of their abundance of culture, music, and art. Now David is the one who can not be replaced. So these new life forms give him whatever he wants. They want him to be happy. They need him to be happy. They recognize a need for him to not just exist, but to live…to become fulfilled. And so they bring back from the dead the one person who can provide that, his mommy. After she fulfills her purpose she dies again, and David goes “to the place where dreams are born.” The lights in the room go out and the film fades to black. The story dies, and the audience can then return to their other lives, but with new incites. The film gives us a few moments to mourn at the end. The music helps the transition as familiar scores allow us to relive moments from the film, until finally we are expected to move on. But can we? We are but another layer of reflection of this film, as we write and discuss the themes within, we perpetuate the them and give them enduring life.
“Artificial Intelligence” gives us several examples of characters that must, on some level die before they can really live. The film itself is a symbol of a life. It fades from black, goes through many stages of character development, and then fades back to black at the end. By featuring mechanical life forms as its protagonists this film makes us ask, what does it mean to be alive? Joe tells David “I am. I was.” He certainly made an impact in the world he participated in. A woman is now dead and a jealous husband too. But he also made it possible for David to come to a greater understanding of his reality. The more a being is aware of reality the more real they become. It took the deaths of millions for David to be created and several more to fuel changes in the world around him in order to get him to the point where he could discover who he really was and to become sentient. David had to be kicked out of the nest in order to grow up. He had to learn that death was a part of life, and experience it first hand as he watched the one he loved die. That experience, having her tell him that she loved him followed by her death gave him the closure he looked to the blue fairy to provide. It wasn’t a blue fairy who really granted him that, but a blue alien projecting the blue fairy. Even at the end of the film David was not fully aware, but the end gives us hope. He has become more aware than he was when he was first built. Perhaps he would need to evolve somehow beyond his circuitry in order to reach a higher level of spiritual life. Much of human’s art, religion and culture claims that this evolution happens after death. You leave your mortal shell and move onto a new realm of existence. Ironically his prolonged life cycle only delayed his confrontation of death, and further progression. David, as far as we see, has not yet reached that point, he remains in his original physical form, but he has evolved to a point where he can now dream, and grasp more deeply what it means to be human, to be “a real live boy”. 

The End

If you read this whole thing and listened to the entire Star Trek episode you are probably the most amazing human on the planet and should win a prize or something. 

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