Epistemology Movie Analysis

The Secret Message In Steven Spielberg’s/Stanley Kubrick’s AI

“Do not be fooled by the artificiality of this creation. No doubt there was talent in the crafting of this simulator. Yet with the very first strike you will see the big lie come apart before your VERY EYES!” Flesh Fair Robot Gatherer, A.I. (2001)

Stanley Kubrick’s films work as visual, verbal, musical, and intellectual provocations to the mind and emotions. They work against expectations, “thinking” through cinematic conventions to address fundamental questions.

Philip Kuberski, Kubrick’s Total Cinema (2012)

Movie Synopsis

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (also known as A.I.) is the film I will be discussing in this post. It came out in 2001 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay by Spielberg and screen story by Ian Watson were loosely based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It takes place in a futuristic society and tells the story of David, an android uniquely programmed with the ability to love.

A.I. is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick.

I found it to be a fascinating film though I have never seen it ranked among the top ten on anyone’s list of top movies.

It did make it into the top 100 in one list I know of. In 2016, fifteen years after it came out, a BBC poll of critics around the world voted Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence the eighty-third-greatest film since 2000.

Three Decades In The Making

Development of A.I. originally started when producer-director Stanley Kubrick acquired the rights to Aldiss’ story in the early 1970s. Kubrick hired a series of writers until the mid-1990s, including Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland. The film languished in protracted development for years, partly because Kubrick felt computer-generated imagery was not advanced enough to create the David character, whom he believed no child actor would convincingly portray. In 1995, Kubrick handed A.I. to Spielberg, but the film did not gain momentum until Kubrick’s death in 1999.

Spielberg remained close to the film screenplay and storyboard as set out by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick.

The film received positive reviews, and grossed approximately $235 million. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 74th Academy Awards, for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score by John Williams.

My Analysis of The Symbolism in AI

Ian Watson, one of the film’s writers, says that Kubrick obsessed on the details of this film for nearly two decades.

With that in mind I watched the movie and made some notes.

If every detail was so important to Stanley Kubrick surely there would be some way to interpret what he was trying to say, assuming he was trying to say anything at all.

I was intrigued by what I found.

A Modern Day Pinocchio

Monica reads The Adventures Of Pinocchio To David and Martin

The film is essentially the story of Pinocchio with a lot of lunar themes.

One of the themes in the story of Pinocchio is that of a person who works hard but still needs a bit of magic for his dreams to come true.

Ok, so that’s the story line of countless Disney/Hollywood movies.

Pinocchio shown with long nose, meaning he’s been lying.

I think this is a common theme because there’s something very appealing about this story format.

I think it appeals to a deep subconscious awe of the world we live in and the vestiges of attributing the unexplained to supernatural forces. Maybe this theme works so well because it gives viewers hope when hard work on its own doesn’t seem to cut it.

Imagery near the end of the film expressing a very tender, caring effort by the puppet-maker, Geppetto. Back lit scenes are a recurring motif in the film.

Magical thinking still plays a prominent role in today’s world in spite of all attempts to advance scientific thinking. There are simply too many things yet to be understood for us to be able to scientifically describe every event in our universe, or more specifically, in our lives.

Slightly veiled allusion to Pinocchio: Strings attached to David.

But could it be that the story of Pinocchio appealed to Stanley Kubric because he had been involved in something that required both hard work and a touch of magic to make a dream come true?

The film clearly brings out the Pinocchio allusion throughout the film.

Lies Will Be Found Out

The story of Pinocchio is strongly tied to the theme of lying.

Specifically in Pinocchio’s case, if you knew what the sign was, you would know Pinocchio had been lying.

In AI there are several scenes where Pinocchio is shown with a long nose indicating that he was in the middle of a lie.

The Emperor Has No Clothes takes up half the screen in this shot.

Another well known tale that features deception is “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. Is Kubrick alluding to a deception that fooled a ruler or president?

A Secret Mission

When looking through my AI notes which I had taken in 2016, I saw that I had taken a particular screenshot but couldn’t remember what had struck me as being significant about that scene.

Shown here:

“It has to be a secret mission.”

Martin, A.I. (2001)

The scene is of Martin, the second son who has recovered from the same debilitating disease that had killed David. He plays some mischievous pranks on David the android showing that he has not fully accepted the artificial version of David.

This is one scenario where the juxtaposition between the real and the fake is brought out.

In trying to figure out why I had taken this screenshot I gave some thought to trying to figure out if there was any particular reason this character had been named Martin.

I ran it through an anagram solver and nothing stood out with all the letters.

I did notice that both the words “tin” and “man” can be made using the letters in Martin.

Source: man

My other thought was that the name Martin is only one “a” short of Martian. This avenue, though, didn’t feel like it was one I wanted to go down. Be my guest if you want to pursue that one.

“Martin” also has the same beginning and ending letters as “moon”.

It also has the letters which make up the words “art” and “in” without the need for rearrangement.

None of the above derivatives seem terribly promising when taken on their own.

Looking over my notes I noticed that I had named this image file “it-has-to-be-a-secret-mission.png”.

That’s when I remembered why I had taken this screenshot.

This is the scene where Martin is getting David to do something mischievous but he tells him “It has to be a secret mission.”

Was Stanley Kubrick involved in “a secret mission” and was this his cryptic way of telling us?

The Moon

Teddy bear: “I see the moon”,

David: “Is it real?”

Teddy: “I don’t know, David.”

David: “Is it coming?”

Teddy: “I can’t tell yet.”

A.I. (2001)

The moon features prominently in A.I.

The imagery suggests a strong link between David and the moon.

Lunar crescent above David’s bed.
The moon shaped rug takes up a quarter of the vertical space in this shot.
A child’s drawing in this shot is of a surprised or slightly shocked moon face.
The reflected lamp in the window is very much like a waning moon and is closest to David.
The Cryogenics logo is a crescent, similar to a waning moon.
The moon shows up larger than life once David begins his journey away from home.
Gigolo Joe clearly spells out the direction they are going to take.

“We will have to journey, towards the moon.”

Gigolo Joe Whaddayaknow, A.I. (2001)

“By themselves”, wrote Ian Watson, in his 10,000 word essay on writing the AI screenplay with Stanley Kubrick, “the artificial boy and robo-bear were fairly naïve and incompetent, even if David was obsessive about becoming a real boy.”

“What we need,” Stanley had informed Ian, “is some GI Joe character to help him out.”

“How about a gigolo-robot,” Ian had then suggested, and duly wrote scenes.

It’s interesting to note that the term G.I. has been used as an initialism of “Government Issue”.

So while the gigolo character was Ian’s idea, it was Stanley who wanted there to be a GI Joe in the story. Gigolo Joe is representative of a Government Issue that has taken hold of David who is dragging his Teddy along.

David holding Teddy is guided by Gigolo Joe “Whaddayaknow” through the big bad world.

The Teddy could represent Stanley Kubrick himself, which co-writer Ian Watson alludes to in his essay:

“Jerome Bixby once wrote a story entitled “It’s a Good Life” about a child of paranormal powers whose wishes become reality and who compels adults to carry out any whim.  Sometimes I felt that I was trapped in that child’s nursery, although Stanley was far friendlier than that dreadful little boy.  Cuddly, even – like a shaggy teddy bear himself, though with claws in those paws; and the claws could hook and squeeze till you might turn into a limp rag.  True, this was only because he wanted the best, and more and more of it, and believed that plugging away remorselessly at something about which he had an instinct would eventually bear fruit.” Ian Watson 

Links To 2001 A Space Odyssey

In addition to the release date of A.I. (2001) coinciding nicely with the name of one of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier films, made before man had even set foot on the moon, IMDB links A.I. to 2001 A Space Odyssey through the following points:

  • Teddy sounds like HAL.
  • The future Mechas, like the unseen aliens from 2001, put David (same name) in a house in which to observe his behavior.

Allusions To The Lunar Lander

Looks like the moon, but as it comes into view we see that it’s a floating balloon.
There is an uncanny similarity in the image from AI to Bill Kaysing’s 1976 book “We Never Went To The Moon”. AI’s imagery shows a gnarly tree with sparse foliage over an oversized moon (which we soon discover is not the moon at all) AI shows the more gnarly tree on the right.
The cage below the floating moon balloon has thrusters which remind me of the moon lander module thrusters from Apollo 11.
Unmistakable similarity to the lunar lander thrusters.
close up of thruster in AI (2001)
Lunar lander thruster from Apollo 11

Both shots of the thrusters are shot from below at almost identical angles.

Apollo 11

While we are talking about Apollo 11 it’s interesting to note that the David character played by 13 year old Haley Joel Osmond was 11 years old in the story.

If Apollo 11 is represented by 11 year old David then the story gets very interesting.

The story is telling us that a Government Issue (Gigolo Joe) is directing Apollo 11 (David) to the Moon, while the question as to what is real is explored.

The Silver Arrow

This shot in AI shows a corner fold marking chapter 7 of Robin of Sherwood: The Silver Arrow

The words “The Silver Arrow” are made clearly visible with emphasis added by a page corner folded over. I searched online for the terms “Silver Arrow” and the only thing that turned up which predates the release of AI was, believe it or not, linked to lunar missions. It was a book published by Silver Arrow Books. The book itself is written by astronaut Frank Borman and is called Countdown. There is the number 7, (Gemini 7) being one of the lunar orbiting missions.

Link This book was published during the time that Kubrick was writing AI.

The film also has a closeup of the book cover where “The Silver Arrow” chapter is found.

Close up shot of Robin of Sherwood book title, AI (2001)

In this shot the word “Sherwood” is almost center screen and is not obscured, making it clearly legible. The zipper may be alluding to Kubrick having been told to “zip-it” and never speak about the issue. Notice that the watch also shows the time being past 11.

The “O” in Robin has a line through it giving it a lunar crescent shape, which is why I wondered if there may be a clue in this shot.

I searched for “sherwood” in relation to NASA and found that the Sherwood Park News has an article whose author is reminiscing on how he interviewed Frank Borman in 1968.


So that’s two allusions to Frank Borman in AI.

Make what you will of this but it would appear that this is an indirect reference to lunar orbiting and a direct reference to Frank Borman somehow having a role to play in the cryptic message in AI.

This all seems so improbable though I feel it’s important to point out that this is just as likely to be a freak coincidence. With astronomical odds.

The Grid

The checkerboard or grid pattern is seen throughout the film.

Grid pattern fills one third of the screen.
Strong crosshatch and grid patterning take up the majority the space throughout this scene: the walls, the door and the carpet.
Also of note: The light fixture when photographed at this angle is reminiscent of a lunar crescent.
David often wears check pattern. In this scene however he is laying down a check pattern as a foundation.
David shown in check patterned shirt.
David in check pattern
Father and son both with check patterns.

It is known that Stanley Kubrick loved chess. So there’s that. But in relation to NASA and lunar expeditions check patterns were used to keep track of scale of items in photography and film.

Photo from NASA archive. Arrows and text added by me.

It could be that the repeated use of check patterns in AI are alluding to the cross patterns on the photos from lunar mission photos as well as the grid patterns used in testing and training images.

Backlit scenes

There are a number of scenes in AI where back-lighting is used and several allusions are made to projectors: the lights on the moon balloon, the sub aquatic scenes strong light being projected, and several indoor scenes have strong contrasting backlit imagery.

Kubrick is known to have been very innovative when it came to using projected scenes.


There is a great deal of speculation in regards to the footage from the lunar missions which show identical hills in the background. The similar hills in many shots are supposedly different locations. The suggestion is that a background was projected.

The Hidden Message

Whether or not man walked on the moon this film alludes to the lunar missions.

It makes one wonder if there is some possibility that Kubrick was involved in creating some of the footage. If we want to go along with the moon landing itself being a real event is it possible that the footage from the Apollo 11 expedition was damaged by radiation and NASA then employed Kubrick to recreate the event?

If this is the case it could be that keeping this a secret was too much for a story teller and film maker to not at least allude to it through the medium at which he excelled.

If you read the books shown below you will see that the official story has a lot of holes in it.

Bill Kaysing (see book link below) admits that the whole thing started out as an attempt at pranking the government. He said in a video interview late in life that it was a disgruntled army veteran that wanted to do the government some damage. So the idea to suggest the moon landing was a hoax was put forward. It was only once they got going that they saw that there were so many things that didn’t add up.

However there are some serious consequences to believing the moon landing was a hoax. The idea feeds into other more ludicrous ideas such as the earth being flat or that there is no moon.

If we want to be members of society the only sane option is to accept that man did walk on the moon, just like we need to accept that AI David in the end becomes a real boy.

Watch AI with that in mind and I have no doubt you will understand what I mean.

Sources and further reading

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