The icecaps have melted and humanity is struggling on dwindling resources. Pregnancies are licensed. Professor Hobby of Cybertronics therefore proposes that he and his team design, build and sell child robots, robots that can "genuinely love" and that "[do] not consume resources beyond those of their first manufacture". Accepting that love can indeed be synthesised and that there is such a thing as an energy free lunch, the benefits for a threatened populace are evident. The inference is this: Real, 'organic' children, take. Robot children only give.
At this point it is worthwhile to address the nature of Monica's decision to accept David as a substitute for her comatose son Martin. The decision is not only born out of a desire to love something but desires to be loved and to not grieve. In Greek the word 'Monica' means solitary. There is a loneliness and emptiness that needs to be filled, much as the 'formless void' confronting God at the beginning of time.
Why do we create life? To fend off the abyss? To love or to be loved? Do we, truthfully, know? Although it is a fair assumption that love can and does exist in an unrequited and unreciprocated state, I believe A.I. posits a world where the pain of loss and the fear of nothingness have proven corrupting. Monica wants a mirror for her love. She is not selfless. As an example, take the baptismal act of imprinting*. It is a prayer, bathed in sacred light, that ends with an echo:
Monica, David, Monica
It's logical that, once David can no longer act as an effective mirror, he will cease to fully serve his purpose. That is not to say that Monica is heartless, but that her inner tumult and David's relative passivity and disposability enables her more egoistic side to hold greater sway. It enables her to self-love or, to put it more kindly, self-preserve. These creations bring out such an approach. She simply cannot love David as she loves Martin.
It is easy to see why. As much as the audience is reminded that David is "one of a kind" (a splendidly ambiguous phrase), Martin's uniqueness cannot be replicated. There is no escaping David's oddness. It is an oddness that Spielberg repeatedly points up and not merely from Monica's perspective - shot through an halatious light fitting, split by a ridged door, turned into a four-eyed fuzzball, his neck elongated in silhouette.
Of paramount importance to the characters of A.I. is what someone or something can do for them. If you are not giving, then you are not:
I love you. Don't kill me
Don't forget. You killed me first.
They have been turned into consumers. Knowledge is sold at 3 Newbucks a question. Sex is openly on offer at Rouge City. Now love is a product too. We are consumers of what Professor Hobby describes as "the key" to refilling the arid channels of the subconscious. Love creates compassion, fear, anger, jealousy. It is of the soul, and Monica can buy it. It is interesting, though David cannot consume, that when he does greedily stuff himself with spinach his face crumples and sags. We are left in no doubt: consumption deforms.
Humans have grown uglier. It could be the impact of what has befallen them. Maybe they feel the guilt of perpetrators. Possibly it is as simple as the hunger to survive. "The world is more full of weeping than you can understand", says Carlo Collodi in Pinocchio, quoted here. The sight of water gushing from the eyes of lions into the rising ocean suggests a world drowning in tears. The lion weeps, the waters rise, the lion weeps and suffering intensifies. David, hopeless, attempts to take his own life, and falls as a tear reflected upon Joe's face.
Flooded by Tears
What is valuable is protected from being washed away. frozen and preserved in cryosleep: Martin for Monica, David for his 'offspring' Supermecha.
The humans project their pain on robotic constructs that are built in their image. As Sheila's face splits open, an odious sight in and of itself, a tear drops softly from her lifelike 'human' eye onto her metallic endoskeleton. If love is a uniquely human trait that flourishes into pain then it is seen, paradoxically, as a vector for our virus.
Pain and fear, and a tumorous sense of self make themselves known through exploitation and violation. Oral penetration recurs: Professor Hobby inserting his finger into Sheila's mouth; the amphibicopter soaring through gaudy red neon lips; bridges that thrust deep into the throats of agape tunnels.
One feels that they mistreat Robots because they dislike and mistreat themselves. The flesh fair is not a demolition of artificiality but a genocide as mass suicide once removed. Self-preservation may lead to self-hate when the mechanics of raw survival and the battle for family are laid bare as being instinctive and automatic. We hate the thought of being robotic, soulless, cheap.
We cannot afford to these Mecha the same liberties we afford to our own. Monica abandons David when, given the same circumstances, she would never have abandoned Martin. David disconcerts her. Despite his naive sweetness he bothers us. He is the shell of a human, a carnival mirror that reflects that which is rotten inside. We see and imagine the worst in them. They look too much like us.
How do the makers of these robots perceive us humans? Gigolo Joe, the nanny, David, they are all dry and flimsy pastiches of their human analogues. Yes, we built them in our image. Maybe we fear them because they do not have what we have: Sin. Sheila has no shame and will willingly disrobe for a roomful of scientists. They lack suffering too and we must, with ironic futility, punish them for it.
A chinese whisper evolution of robot generations links humans to supermecha, beings that look, uncannily, like the aliens we have long imagined. We are thus detached from ourselves, aliens in our own midst.
* * *
Love is a form of worship as illusory as faith. It demands a vulnerability. It cannot be fully understood as it may have more to do with the lover than who is perceived to be loved. It may only be a call echoing off the walls of one's own mind. When David encounters the blue fairy beneath the sea his face melds into hers. One's own dreams. "We wish for things that don't exist", says Gigolo Joe.
Blue Fairy as projection of David's self
This love, or something like it, can be flawed (grasping and thirsty or devotedly meek) but it inspires Monica to accept David and David to recreate Monica. It is a powerful force that transcends time and space. The reversal of the relationship between David and Monica invites thoughts of Monica and other adults as being childlike, exactly like David, feeding off of each other. There is no mature figure that can offer emotional stability.
We can throw away the snake's nest of fibre-optic cable but love is not biodegradable.
Monica, Blue Fairy, Mary, they are all visions, objects of an impure and uncertain affection, who may love in return and may not. They are aspects and visages of the same idealised devoted mother. A peaceful blue surrounds these figures whilst the red of Rouge City stands in vivid contrast, the painted faces and lurid stockings is of lust and danger.
We are dreamers who want this fantasy to be flat fact and for us to be more than just bits and pieces. We want ourselves to be the stuff of dreams (it is this very yearning that turns selflessness into selfishness).
In the end isn't it fitting that we search for truth with Dr.Know who resides in a miniature cinema.
*When she has completed the ritual, David mouth opens and he gasps. Genesis says God "Breathed into" Adams "nostrils the breath of life". A beautiful moment that shows love, however imperfect it is throughout the film, as the essence of life.