From the domestic struggle we are thrown into a whole new situation we see the nitty gritty of this futuristic world. We encounter Gigolo Joe and here is where perhaps some people lost their ability to identify with the tale because each act is set in a completely new venue and when a story deals with a journey it usually occurs quite quickly but this is not the way Spielberg approaches things. Never has Spielberg gone from one type of story to another so seamlessly. We see Joe a “lover model” as established in the first portion of the film. Two pieces of electronic information about him are given to us right away. We see his Identification Tag and a chain he wears around his neck to receive calls. In this character yet again we get an ironic juxtaposition of time. While we are many years in the future Joe is a throwback he emulates the dance moves of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and wears plasticized Victorian attire and everyone asks him when they see him “Hey Joe, Whattaya know?” In this portion of the film the blending of time through symbol will become more predominant than it was in the beginning.
Almost immediately we see that Joe is very robotic. These are the first qualities he reveals to us. The caller he has been summoned to has been killed he approaches the bed unknowingly and sees blood. He touches it and shows it to us and says “Have you been crying, Samantha, I found a tear?” He is then confronted by his killer and is asked how many seconds it has been since they met (since one of Joe’s catch phrases is “I’ll count the seconds until we meet again.”) and answers literally. His emotion then begins to shine through first he’s warned to show his Operating License because there was a roundup going on then he believes that he will be pinned for the murder so he rips out his license, thus, making it ‘impossible’ for him to be tracked down.
Gigolo Joe emerges from the forest and finds the dump. We then rejoin David he looks at a garbage truck that dumps out a load of old, worthless Mecha. It’s an image that’s oddly haunting. Seeing the mutilated Mecha walking amongst a pile of ‘lifeless’ robots conjures images of holocausts both past and present. Those who are broken are looking for any and all compatible spare parts to get them in working order again. In one of the more remarkable images of the film and one of the most tremendous concepts we see the moon rise above the horizon and then reveal a gondola from which they will pick up antique iron. As the moon rises we see David turn his head. David scrambles for information and finds out that they’re being taken to “The Flesh Fair, they destroy us on stage.” We’re taken inside the gondola beneath the moon where we can now clearly hear what is blaring from the bullhorn we find the man is looking for “any old antique iron.” The distortion in the beginning seems to be by design as we see the moon rise all we know is that it is a threat. It also serves the audience where we find out exactly what is going on as David does, lending a lot of sympathy to him. There is also a symbolic significance to the distortion of the voice whereas this man represents the perversion of the intent that was placed upon these creations who really don’t know any better it’s humans who have created their own worst nightmare. When they are tracking down Joe there is special care taken to see he is truly Mecha. There is mention of a Trenton Incident in which, we assume that a human was picked up by mistake and slaughtered. This may have been an effective scene to add and may have been filmed but cut to avoid an ‘R’ rating. The film being rated PG-13 seems to stem only from the fact that Spielberg wanted people to know that this was a serious film and not another E.T. rather than for any content that was in the film that would have been disturbing to younger viewers.
When they are on the run they are chased down by bikers and dogs shot magnets at them such that they would stick to a metallic wall so they could be more easily rounded up. Here we see the humans abusing the inherent weakness of the robots and using it to their advantage. On the way David drops Teddy as the Blue Nanny sings him a lullaby.
Then we are taken to the Flesh Fair. This sequence of the film is filled with more commentary and irony than any other in the film. In it we see all the nastiness that human nature is capable of. First, we see the outside with a huge marquee reading “Flesh Fair: A Celebration of Life.” The celebration of life being that in essence they kill, maim and humiliate these creatures for their own enjoyment and as one Mecha states also to keep “numerical superiority” in this cavalcade of violence, spectacle and loud music we see scenes that are reminiscent of lynchings, medieval torture, the guillotine and above all this the American flag flies. Defense of national pride has been the justification for ritualistic killing since the dawn of the Napoleonic Era and nothing has changed here, though nationalism and racism have been pushed aside in place of ‘speciesism.’ The framing of the flag is also important we see it as a black Mecha is being flown to a fiery death that will also decapitate him. During the speech there is mention of something called ‘Human Pride’ which eerily echoes the phraseology of certain bigots in the modern day. In the cage we also hear a Mecha close one of his explanations to David by saying that “History repeats itself,” and isn’t that just what we saw happen through the past few images. In the cage is where the Mecha are waiting to be killed in the cage David finds Gigolo Joe and instinctively grabs his hand. This is the first step towards both their friendship and towards Gigolo Joe assuming the role of father figure in David’s life. When the organizer comes in to pull out the next Mecha David clings to Joe and utters the phrase again: “Keep me safe.” For this is a child’s understanding of adults and their parents in particular, to keep them safe and this is why David has been programmed to respond this way in dangerous situations.
A great touch in this sequence is when one of the directors of the Flesh Fair is called down to the cage by his daughter who says there is a boy in the cage. He comes with a scanner and it jams he points it at Teddy and slaps it. When it works we see his wiring and his daughter’s skeleton. This is a great touch because we get that anticipatory fear that David will be discovered and sent out to be destroyed. The director, however, is trying to convince the Lord Johnson-Johnson, the ringmaster of this fiasco, that this Mecha is special and should be spared but he says “originality without purpose is a white elephant.” Certain doom is further instilled when the Blue Nanny is taken out. She and David smile at each other then the bucket of hot liquid above her drips down and melts away her face giving us a sense of impending doom.
In the Pinocchio lexicon that this film has created Lord Johnson-Johnson is a hybrid of Stromboli and Coachman, who is running more demented version of Pleasure Island. However, this character hits home as being above the animation comparison as does most of this film. He strikes us more as a bigoted mob leader with the public at his beck and call. The most redeeming part of this scene is the way the crowd turns on him. He has taken the opportunity of the ultra-realistic new Mecha to step up on a soap box and plead his case again. This isn’t just destruction for him this is a political statement. David pleads “I’m not Pinocchio don’t make me die!” this with other exclamations make a woman stand up and say “Mecha don’t plead for their lives.” He tries to sway them and convince them he only wants to “destroy artificiality.” His words fall on deaf ears and the crowd insists he’s a real boy and finally at his wits end he utters biblical reference: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (Jn 8:7) this is a joke that has been done before but I feel never was it done so tastefully. For the crowd has finally realized this man for what he is and they begin to pelt him allowing Gigolo Joe and David to escape.
Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. This is part five, part one is available here.
Artificial Intelligence: A.I. will be released on Blu-Ray on April 5th, 2011.