American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Stanley Kubrick always referred to the story as "Pinocchio." It mirrored the tale of a puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. And what, after all, is an android but a puppet with a computer program pulling its strings? The project that eventually became Steven Spielberg's "A. I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001) was abandoned by Kubrick because he wasn't satisfied with his approaches to its central character, David, an android who appears to be a real little boy. Believing special effects wouldn't be adequate and a human actor would seem too human, he turned the project over to his friend Spielberg. Legend has it he made that decision after being impressed by Spielberg's special effects in "Jurassic Park," but perhaps "E. T." was also an influence: If Spielberg could create an alien who evoked human emotions, could he do the same with an android?
He could. As David, he cast Haley Joel Osment, who had scored a great success in "The Sixth Sense" (1999). Osment's presence is a crucial element in the film; other androids, including Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) are made to look artificial with makeup and unmoving hair, but not David. He is the most advanced "mecha" of the Cybertronics Corporation -- so human that he can perhaps take the place of a couple's sick child. Spielberg and Osment work together to create David with unblinking eyes and deep naïveté; he seems a real little boy but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. This reality works both for and against the film, at first by making David seem human and later by making him seem a very slow study.
David has been programmed to love. Once he is activated with a code, he fixes on the activator, in this case his Mommy (Frances O'Connor). He exists to love her and be loved by her. Because he is a very sophisticated android indeed, there's a natural tendency for us to believe him on that level. In fact he does not love and does not feel love; he simply reflects his coding. All of the love contained in the film is possessed by humans, and I didn't properly reflected this in my original review of the film.
"We are expert at projecting human emotions into non-human subjects, from animals to clouds to computer games," I wrote in 1991, "but the emotions reside only in our minds. 'A. I.' evades its responsibility to deal rigorously with this trait and goes for an ending that wants us to cry, but had me asking questions just when I should have been finding answers."