In Defense of “A.I.”

Many people have faulted Spielberg for the feel-good ending of A.I. but this is not entirely fair. Kubrick’s working title for this project was “Pinocchio,” and theme of wanting to be loved was his.

These comments in the Kubrick FAQ describe the problem Spielberg inherited:

It was the relationship between David and his mother that most occupied Kubrick and [novelist] Sara Maitland. An alcoholic whose ‘Bloody Mary’ cocktails David would mix for her in a vain attempt to win her affection. The mother was the to be emotional center of the film that would eventually come full-circle.

At the story’s conclusion, the robots that have inherited the Earth use David’s memories to reconstruct, in virtual form, the apartment where he had lived with his parents. Because his memories are subjective, the mother is much more vividly realized than the father, and his stepsister’s room is not there at all; it is just a hole in the wall.

For Ms. Maitland, the film would end with David preparing a Bloody Mary for his mother, the juice a brighter red than in real life: “He hears her voice, and that’s it. We don’t see him turn to see her.” Kubrick, however, wanted a coda in which the new race of robots, because of a technological limitation, cannot keep the mother alive after reviving her. The movie would end with David in his mother’s bedroom, watching her slowly disappear.

Ms. Maitland was displeased this scenario, and was furious with Kubrick for insisting on it. “It must have been a very strong visual thing for him,” she says, “because he wasn’t usually stupid about story. He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen when I told him, ‘You can have a failed quest, but you can’t have an achieved quest and no reward.’ ”

Kubrick’s Pinocchio enters the world in a dysfunctional family. Can he win his mother’s love? Nope.

Spielberg’s change was to change the mother. When resurrected for one last day of quality time, she . Did she love him? She responds that she always had. They fall asleep together, Teddy turns out the light, and the fairy tale ends.

If Spielberg destroyed anything, it was the last 30 seconds.