I was an adult when A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE was released in 2001 but I’m going to write a traumafession about it anyway. Let’s call this a post-childhood kindertrauma. Ya see, there’s this one scene in the movie that really curb-stomped my morbidly empathetic heart to such a degree that it stained the rest of the film with a pungent depressing aura that I could never quite scrape off my shoe. It’s not a scary scene at all; it just feels like an impenetrable wall of dejection. Like that swamp of sadness that claimed Artax the horse in THE NEVERENDING STORY (’84).
Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O’Conner) are mourning a child who was put into suspended animation until his disease can be cured. In the meantime, they adopt a mechanical boy named David (Haley Joel Osment) to ease their loneliness and program him to love them just as if they were his real parents. One day they get the great news that Martin, the son they birthed has miraculously recovered and can return home. Unfortunately, their “real” son is a real brat who is jealous of David and commits to tormenting him. While being teased at a family gathering, David becomes frightened and grabs Martin to protect him and they both fall into the pool. David’s desperate grip is so great that he nearly drowns Martin. Afterward, David is seen as a threat and it is decided that he must be returned to his manufacturer and destroyed (!). Momma Monica can’t go through with the hideous betrayal and instead leaves him in the middle of the woods (!) crying and pleading for a second chance. I find the abandonment of David, horrifically cruel and difficult to process. What the hell is wrong with these people? How can they live with themselves? With only a teddy bear for companionship, David treks on experiencing multiple perils but my mechanical brain glitches and cannot move forward. The rest of the movie will forever be a blur.
Why am I thinking of this now? This past summer I met a cat in my backyard and named her June. She stopped by a couple of times a day for food and I found her company soothing. As we bonded I became worried for her safety but could not bring her in due to the fact that she was clearly nursing kittens somewhere. By some miracle, we eventually found all of her kittens (6!) and were able to bring her inside where she could nurse them until they were old enough for adoption. Cue a montage of glorious days with bouncing kittens everywhere until inevitable reality barges into the room. Well, we were able to find homes for two of the kittens but the experience of choosing who would be separated from their siblings and sent to safe but scary new environments was some SOPHIE’S CHOICE-level torture for me. I couldn’t stand the fear in their eyes and it was like sawing off an invisible appendage. So that’s it, I can’t let another go. We are going to have a lot of cats (8!) now because I can’t stand the idea of them feeling like unwanted robots even for a moment. This is all Steven Spielberg’s fault.