SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS: SELF-ASSEMBLY BOYS
This is the twenty-sixth chapter of Special Friendships, Steven Freeman's unpublished book about the depiction of close friendships between men and boys in film, which is introduced here.
What to do when you’re a lonesome old fellow with a knack at carpentry? Hammer together a do-it-yourself boy of course, and with a bit of luck it will metamorphose into the real thing. What Freud would have made of “PINOCCHIO”s telescopic nose I leave tactfully to one side, but this is one of those fairy tales the cinema never tires of revisiting, at its heart a message about loneliness and the primal need to belong. Martin Landau went to work with his chisel in 1996, and was rewarded with a flesh-and-blood Jonathan Taylor Thomas in the final reel, proving that carpentry skills are never wasted.
That film was, inevitably, a loud and garish trampling of a simple tale, but Spielberg went one worse in 2001 with “A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”, a bloated sci-fi extravaganza theoretically from a Brian Aldiss story, but in fact a nauseous reworking of “PINOCCHIO” with Gepetto done away with altogether so that the artificial boy (Haley Joel Osment again) could lavish his love entirely on Mom — who had selfishly waited until hubbie was out of the house before activating the boy android’s emotion registers, so that he would imprint on her and her alone (read the subtext in that one!). The central problem with “A.I.” is that it has too much which is artificial and too little which is intelligent. It plays exactly like a 20-minute instalment from “The Twilight Zone” unfeasibly extended to two and a half hours. Excessive length was one of Kubrick’s failings. Excessive sentimentality is Spielberg’s. This marriage between their two prodigious talents has brought out the weaknesses of both and the strengths of neither.
Spielberg always at his worst — as in “HOOK” (91) — when mawkishness floods to the surface, “A.I.” was a thundering disappointment, but it still contained a man/boy pact of sorts, between the abandoned David (11) and android gigolo Joe (Jude Law). This reading doubtless wasn’t intended, but both man and boy are indeed toys built to amuse and “satisfy” women (the original short story was “SuperToys Last All Summer Long”). Osment is a sex doll, in other words, for mom, one which she trashes the moment she gets her real live son back. Gepetto never treated his creation so shabbily. But then the original story was not written for a use-and-discard culture like the USA. In “A.I.” Spielberg (whose work I frequently admire) took a gentle male/male love fable and mauled it into a parable of mother worship bordering at times on emotional pornography, come-shots and all.
Continue to the next chapter: Amoral friendship — the vicissitudes of war
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