Saturday, March 13, 2010

Framing David, Part 1

"Throughout the film, faces become superimposed on top of one another, different characters repeat similar actions, and even the film narrative circles around on itself. In addition, specific characters are repeatedly framed through oval structures or reflected against rounded surfaces. These repetitions of shot choice and composition suggest multiple readings and underlying themes, including an interconnection between humans and machines that spans both desire and destiny.


"All of these motifs throughout A.I. suggest possible readings and interpretations, but the theme of interconnectivity appears most dominant. The superimposing of faces on top of David not only connects him visually to other individuals, but eventually leads to a connection with robot evolution. The repeated images involving mechas and humans not only connect them by behavior, but also by common destiny. Indeed, the circular narrative suggests that while mechas ultimately replace humans, they do not necessarily improve upon them. Both species seem obsessed with the things they lack and both look to the other for modes of fulfillment, represented chiefly in the film by the figure of David. Yet even he is trapped by personal desires, unable to consider anything outside of obtaining Monica’s love, even in the face of total human extinction. The film’s circular framing mimics his circular logic, which in turn mimics the circular logic of everyone else in the film. All sentient creatures, the film argues, become interconnected through chronic dissatisfaction and single-minded self-interest, forced to share a common fate intended for all intelligences, artificial or not."

- Ben Sampson, "Intelligence Doubled: A Visual Study of A.I. Artificial Intelligence"


Ben Sampson's visual essay (and the original essay he wrote, linked directly above) are helpful for us here because they exemplify the epistemological method I tried to lay out for this independent study. Paying attention to visual motifs as Sampson does with A.I.- to the doubling and circular framing techniques used by director Steven Spielberg, for example - Sampson allows the film to speak its peculiar language. This is a language that, like all films, communicates through use of space. Thus, V.F. Perkins says about filmic space in general, "With action, decor, and image in coherent relationship, space itself becomes charged with meaning."1 The visual motifs of A.I. are obvious examples of Spielberg investing the film's space with meaning. Sampson notices the various instances of the motifs in the film, and by asking questions of the relationship between the instances, also notices their connection to broader thematic material.

In the process, Sampson stumbles upon, as Perkins says, "an organization of details whose relationships simultaneously complicate and clarify the movie's viewpoint."2 Perkins states that the outcome of the film viewer's listening to the film is "a way of seeing; the direct registration and embodiment, in a 'secondary world,' of a point of view."3 In coming into contact with, listening to, and even embodying the film's worldview, Sampson opens himself up to the truths the film has to speak about such matters that concern this independent study: "What does it mean to be human?" and "How shall we relate to our technology?"

My next post will take Sampson's cue and look to examples of some visual motifs to do my own work with the film concerning these questions (while keeping Sampson's contributions in mind).

1V.F. Perkins, Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 94.
2Ibid., p. 119.
3Ibid., pp. 119-120.

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