I think it’s safe to say Steven Spielberg is my favourite film director of all time. Since my tenderest years I’ve been exposed to his work, and I’ve watched his career progress from the traditionally frowned-upon genre of Science Fiction – that is, before del Toro’s aquatic monster received the grandest honour at the Oscars – to more serious cinematic subjects for which his genius was finally universally acclaimed.
Which Spielberg film is my favourite I can’t really say, but one thing I’m sure of is that his 2001 film Artificial Intelligence holds a very special place in my heart. Just the other weekend I rewatched it for the umpteenth time, now that it’s available on Netflix, and although some of the special effects look understandably dated, in my opinion the film hasn’t lost one iota of its emotional potency.
For you Millennials who have been too busy with Mindhunter to bother with a 17-year-old movie, the script was based on a 1969 short story titled Supertoys Last All Summer Long, by Brian Aldiss. The film tells the saga of David – a child robot magnificently portrayed by a young Haley Joel Osment – who was programmed with a special feature no other artificial intelligence is capable of: the capacity to love.
The rights to Aldiss’s story had been acquired by the legendary Stanley Kubrick since the early 70s, and he unsuccessfully attempted to produce a movie out of it for many years. Originally Kubrick approached Spielberg with the intention of giving him the role of director while he remained as film producer; but after a nightmare of hiring and firing numerous writers during pre-production – even Aldiss himself! – Kubrick eventually ceded the total film rights to Spielberg in 1995. The project only got traction after Kubrick’s own death in 1999.
After Schindler’s List helped him lift the stigma of being characterized as a ‘G-rated film maker’, A.I. is another example of Spielberg embarking on ‘darker’ stories than those of his earlier commercial successes, though obviously the movie would have been even darker had it been directed by Kubrick. Yet the film still follows the characteristic fairy-tale tone of Spielberg’s classics like Close Encounters, where he first used the Pinocchio symbology which became an integral part in A.I. – though here it’s important to note that Kubrick was the one who first made the connection between David (the child robot) and Pinocchio (the child wooden marionette).
The movie is a philosophical study in what exactly it is that makes us human: is it our ‘higher’ cognitive functions that have allowed us to construct all the technological marvels we pride ourselves on, or is it the ‘basic’ emotional responses that are caused by our instinctual need to connect to others like us? And if that is the case, could those responses be ‘programmed’ into the operative system of a machine? How could you tell the difference between a simulated emotion, and a real one?
Would you even want to?
But I also find this cybernetic take on Pinocchio interesting because it provides a separate, elegant symbolic take on a phenomenon I’ve been studying for as many years as I’ve watched Spielberg movies: the encounter of human witnesses with non-human entities.
In this essay I want to bring to your attention the scene where David finds himself in some sort of re-creation of his old home developed by super A.I. entities from the distant future, long after humanity has disappeared from our planet; These ‘machines’ – if we can still apply the term to superior beings capable of manipulating matter and memories beyond our wildest dreams – are fascinated by this robotic relic they dug up from the ice, and recognize him as a true missing link between them and the extinct humans. They wish to establish communication with David, yet don’t know how to properly proceed – imagine our predicament if we could re-animate a Homo erectus found frozen after hundreds of thousands of years in some region of the Siberian tundra. After scanning up the child robot’s memories to learn about his many trials and tribulations, they find a possible solution: the ‘Blue Fairy’ he has been seeking on his personal journey in order to become ‘a real live boy’.
The action proceeds with David finding the elusive mystical lady standing right before him, at last! But the fairy is simply an illusion extracted from his own mind, so that the A.I.s can safely interact with David without alarming him – BTW Spielberg based the design of the ultra-slim asexual beings not on his previous creatures of Close Encounters, but on Alberto Giacometti’s modern sculptures, yet to this day many viewers still mistake these futuristic A.I.s for actual extraterrestrial beings!
Aesthetic decisions aside, I believe this scene is a great allegory of the way real aliens might be interacting with the human race, by way of using our own subconscious as a suitable interface.
Is this the answer to why so many DMT experiencers report meeting entities that closely resemble alien beings? Could it be that the aliens choose to take advantage of the human mind’s inherent capacity to ‘unbound’ itself (albeit partially) from its Time & Space-constrictions – via psychotropics or other means – as a way to ‘meet us half-way’?
For how else would an alien intelligence – whose mental processes and rationality are by definition beyond our wildest comprehension – be able to make itself slightly comprehensible to us, if not by hacking our very minds and translating the message to codes and symbols familiar to us?
Wouldn’t we try to do the same in our attempts to communicate with other species that co-habit our planet, like dolphins and whales?
Yet another great cinematic example of alien beings using our memory landscape in order to build a more suitable atmosphere for the exchange of information between them and humans is the movie Contact (1997). In this film Dr. Ellie Arroway, after traversing thousands of light years through a wormhole portal, finds herself in a dreamlike environment: her idyllic vision of the beach of Pensacola, with her long-dead father beside her.
In these two movie-extracted examples mentioned above – A.I. and Contact – the alien entities are deliberately hijacking the memories of the witness in order to cloak themselves and not reveal their true identity. Yet could it also be the case the witness is unconsciously dressing up the incomprehensible otherness of the alien with customs cut out of the cloth of his or her deeper fantasies – and nightmares – in order to make the impossible a bit more manageable?
As my colleague Greg Bishop asks on his essay for UFOs: Reframing the Debate, how much of a passive observer is the witness? How much of ourselves are we bringing to this dance with the absurd?
And there’s another little detail I want to mention about Spielberg’s A.I., which I’d failed to notice on previous viewings: on their trip to Rouge City – an entire urban complex devoted to sexbot prostitution; amazing this film was given a B rating! – David and his companion Gigolo Joe find a chapel devoted to Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart. David immediately thinks the pious effigy on top of the church’s entrance is his Blue Fairy. “Are you her?” he innocently asks. The scene is an opportunity for Joe to deliver a sardonic statement in regards to the religious views of human beings – “the ones who made us are always looking to the ones who made them” – but it also provides a veiled reference to one of the most famous paranormal events in modern history: the Fatima apparitions.
I will not go through the many parallels between Marian apparitions and the ancient Celtic folklore about fairies, or how blue is so strongly associated with the religious iconography of the Virgin. I simply wish to direct you to the invaluable work of two Portuguese researchers – Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d’Armada – who have provided ample evidence that suggests the original form and message of the apparitions was severely manipulated by the Catholic church once Fatima attained official recognition by Rome. The original testimony of the children gathered by the parochial authorities does not depict the typical appearance of Jesus’s mother we see in chapels all around the world; instead it was described as a small, young female figure, with a bald round head, who did not move her lips in order to communicate with the children – and of the three witnesses, only Lucia capable of hearing her words, whereas other witnesses reported a buzzing sound like that of bees.
Could it be this small entity behind the ‘miraculous’ events observed by thousands of believers and non-believers alike, was also some sort of projected avatar used in order to interact with three illiterate children, born in a culture dominated by Catholicism? And if so, how much of what we know of the apparitions was ‘filtered down’ by Lucia’s own cultural baggage, and how much of it was deliberately distorted by the Jesuit priests who got control of Lucia when she was sent to a convent later in life, and wanted to use the potency of Fatima message as a vehicle to further their own orthodox agenda (including the spread of the veneration of the Blessed Mary’s immaculate heart throughout the world)?
Religious conspiracies aside, Fatima is prime example that, when it comes to communication with non-human entities, Reality will always prove weirder than Fiction…
The ideas suggested in this essay are surely not going to be taken seriously either by the orthodox attempt to communicate with other sentient beings in the Universe –imagine if instead of investing in ginormous radio telescopes, SETI started growing huge crops of mushrooms!– nor by those who seek to validate the UFO reality through more ‘reasonable’ approaches, like the release of vague b/w videos allegedly taken by fighter jets in pursuit of anomalous objects. Yet these hypotheses, however crazy and delusional they may seem, are actually more in tandem with the guidelines the UFO phenomenon itself has been following so far: not behaving like sensible aliens should, by following the rational protocols of meeting with our leaders in order to establish diplomatic relations.
No, as I myself speculated in my contribution for Reframing the Debate, the ‘aliens’ don’t seem to give a damn about our pedestrian political structures, and seem to be busily active in developing a ‘grassroots’ contact with ordinary folks from all walks of life. Furthermore the contact is often heavily charged with meaning of a very intimate nature for the recipient, which makes it highly subjectiv – much to the chagrin of ‘nuts & bolts’ ufologists, we might add…
And, who’s to say the others are not also trying to reach us through other means? Not by traversing the dark space between the planets, but that even darker and more uncharted space between our ears? Not using shiny metal vessels, but our own dreams to establish some sort of rapport between us, and them?
In his book Transformation, Whitley Strieber tells how his little son – or someone else communicating through his son –gave him an enigmatic message:
The unconscious mind is like the universe out beyond the quasars. It’s a place we want to go to find out what’s there
So who knows? You and I might get a chance to meet the Blue Fairy one of these nights, too. A chance to further advance our own evolution, just like David did.
(Originally published in shorter form as a personal blog entry on October 16th 2007)