Best of the Decade #6

by robbiefreeling
December 25, 2009 5:19 AM
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The first decade of the 21st century, even with all the technological changes that have greatly expanded knowledge of our origins and pointed towards our potential futures, holds no monopoly on the great unending debate of what the word “human” means. But this troubled decade may well have produced one of the purest artistic examinations to date of what makes us us. Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence only seemed truly landmark to a few hardy souls back in the naive summer of 2001 (as an aside, if it weren’t for A.I., a true cinematic rallying point for myself, my co-editor, and several other Reverse Shot writers, this journal itself might not exist). Here in 2009 it seems downright prophetic, but not for the obvious reasons. The film’s speculative trappings—the rapid onset of global warming that drowns coastal regions, the walling off of industrialized nations into fortress-islands against human migration, advances in robotic technology approaching what some label “the singularity” (that moment when robots outpace human intelligence)—speak to a holistic prescience that films like The Day After Tomorrow, Terminator Salvation, and An Inconvenient Truth can only bite off in pieces. A.I. skips over the sum total of these films in a few minutes of prologue narration. No, the worth of Spielberg’s greatest achievement to date lies not in its frightening accuracy, but in how it uses its future setting to divert our attention back to those most basic and eternal of existential questions in a manner as emotionally devastating as it is intellectually searching. Read Jeff Reichert on A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

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