How A.I.: Artificial Intelligence ends in a different, better universe

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I have my own personal canon for the series I love. There is no epilogue to the Harry Potter series. Ron Moore and I have some differences of opinion on the final fate of the Galactica. Select later season episodes of Buffy and the entirety of Star Trek: Voyager NEVER HAPPENED.

Is this arrogant on my part, to be overwriting the work of authors and directors with my own personal preferences? Is it greedy to want a story that meets your exact specifications? Maybe, but I'm not alone. Since Jar Jar walked on screen in Episode I, we've seen an explosion in fanon (fan canon) and personal (or head-canon) versions of popular films and TV shows.


It's not that these works are bad; far from it, actually. It's that they're good enough that we want to tweak them to make them the stories they could have been.

There are any number of examples of movies that could use the personal canon treatment, but I'd like to nominate A.I.: Artificial Intelligence as a first film in need of revision. There are actually a lot of good aspects to Steven Spielberg's 2001 posthumous collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, including some stunning special effects sequences and Jude Law as a robotic gigolo: the role he was born to play. But there's one huge problem that keeps me from thinking of it as a truly great movie, a problem that I like to pretend doesn't actually occur.


Warning: The following discussion is obviously going to contain spoilers for a movie starring Haley Joel Osment. The Sixth Sense has taught me that sometimes upsets people.

I actually went to see A.I. its first weekend in theaters during a terrible thunderstorm out of a new-found love for Stanley Kubrick and a mixed-to-positive review in the local paper. I spent most of the movie upset at it for wandering forever through its maudlin and predictable emotional core while running through its exciting world-building so fast you could hardly wrap your head around the concepts before they were gone.


What saved the movie for me was the ending.

Before you all get upset with me though I need to explain how A.I. ended for me. After the permanently child-like robot David spends the entire film searching for the Blue Fairy he finally finds a statue of the fairy in a sunken Coney Island attraction and prays that "she" will turn him into a real boy. Then...



A bolt of lightning hit the theater and the screen shut off. The theater's manager came in and apologized before promising that the movie will be up and running again in 10 minutes. A few people started to wander out of the theater and I considered doing the same, but I came to the movie with friends and they wanted to stay. I relented since I wasn't really looking forward to going back out into the storm anyway.


After the movie came back, A.I. took a hard left turn into Spielbergian sentimentality as David is awoken 2000 years in the future by advanced robots who clone his mother so she and David can spend a final, heartwarming day together. It was a bizarre shift made all the more bizarre by a thunderstorm that wanted to make sure I never saw it.

I spent the next few days insisting to my friends that the ghost of Stanley Kubrick hit our theater with a bolt of lightning. I don't want to pretend this was a personal communication. I assume Kubrick's ghost was doing his damnedest to hit EVERY movie theater with a bolt of lightning that weekend. But, supernatural or not, you've got to admit the bolt of lightning had a point.


The ambiguity of leaving David at the bottom of the sea wishing eternally for a life as a real boy doesn't just avoid the weird far-future coda, it's actually a stronger ending that resonates more with the film's themes.

Unlike other robot movies that are about exceeding your limitations, the robots in A.I. are defined by the limits humans have put on them. David will always be a little boy; Gigolo Joe will always be a sex-bot — I mean it's right there in his name! It's a film about how cruel it is to create a being that exists for only one function and never allowing them to grow past it. If you give David what he wants, then you defuse the drama of who he is.


Instead, the best option is to leave him at the bottom of the ocean in a weirdly poignant program loop, trying forever to exceed the bounds of what he is without ever actually being able to. David, and the audience, are left eternally hoping he can be a real boy while knowing he actually can't.

At least that's what I think. If you've got your own version of A.I., feel free to share it down in the comments even if you just want to tell me the film is perfect as it is.