In the distant future (maybe not too distant now), earth’s climate causes catastrophic events in many cities on the planet; millions die of hunger. Some governments begin strictly restricting human reproduction. As a result, robots become the replacement for children in many homes, and are used for many other functions.
A new model of artificial intelligence or Mecha, as they call it, with almost identical reaction and articulation in speech and limbs to humans, has just been manufactured; it’s even programmed with pain memory response. However, the capacity to feel emotions as humans do hasn’t been accomplished yet. Professor Hobby (William Hurt), the creator, proposes to do this next. Specifically, he wants to create a robot which can feel and reciprocate love to its humans parents.
Questioned by his colleagues about the moral issue regarding the extent of responsibility humans must have with a robot-child that shows genuine love towards them, professor Hobby answers with another question using a religious argument taken from the Bible.
Almost two years later, the project becomes a reality. A couple whose dying son seems beyond any cure, adopts the new robot-child, the first and only of its kind. His name is David (Hailey Joel Osment) and he has a striking resemblance to Martin (Jake Thomas), their son. Henry (Sam Robards) explains to his wife (Frances O’Connor) that if she decides to keep David, it’s imperative for her to follow an irreversible program imprint that will remain in the Mecha forever. The robot has been designed for one set of parents only, is not to be resold or given away if they’re not happy with it. The only other choice is to return it to the designer, who will destroy it.
At first, David observes, mimics, and responds to his human parents in eerie ways, sometimes even startling them. Monica, struggling to make a decision, opens the instructions envelope and finally programs it. Then David begins not only to show affection calling her Mommy and embracing her, but also to ask questions she didn’t expect from a machine. She gives David a super-toy as a companion, a bear called Teddy who belonged to her son.
Everything changes dramatically for David when the couple’s son recovers unexpectedly and is brought back home. For the first time, David has to deal with competition, jealousy, and Machiavellian schemes from his human brother who causes him to end up alone in the outside world to fend for himself. Along with his loyal companion, Teddy and another Mecha they meet in the woods, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), David begins to search for the Blue Fairy (from the Pinnochio story he once heard). She is the only one, he thinks, who could turn him into a real boy and make him lovable and accepted in his mother’s eyes again.
The emotional ending is as spectacular as any of the most popular films from Steven Spielberg. From director Stanley Kubrick‘s last incomplete project, Spielberg’s finesse brings this story to fruition in this long, thoughtful, and very beautiful 2001 film.
See also directed by Steven Spielberg: Bridge of Spies (2015), Lincoln (2012), War Horse (2011), The Color Purple (1985), Duel (1971).