Robot Heavens and Robot Dreams:
Ultimate Reality in A.I. and Other Recent Films

by Frances Flannery-Dailey
Hendrix College


1. I would like to thank the students in my Religion, Culture and Film classes at Hendrix College in 2000 and 2002 for their many engaged reflections which helped me arrive at the ideas expressed in this article. In particular, Michael Tai and Daniel Foster continued the hard work in Independent Studies with me on Postmodernism, Religion and Film in 2003.

2. In the case of Kate and Leopold (2001), advanced weather technology reveals a time portal into which the characters jump, taking them to a parallel, real, material world of another time.

3. See also Bob Mondello, "The Matrix and Monsters, Inc.: Mirror Movies?" on All Things Considered, National Public Radio (June 13, 2003).

4. Sarah Kerr for Slate Magazine, "The Movie Club" (Dec. 13, 1999), in turn commenting on Daniel Menaker, "Hollywood Tries to Get Real," for Culturebox in Slate Magazine, (June 24, 1999).

5. Descartes and other philosophers are treated on Warner Brothers website for The Matrix . See Christopher Grau, "A. Dream Skepticism; B. Brain-In-A-Vat Skepticism; C. The Experience Machine"; Iakovos Vasiliou, "Reality, What Matters and The Matrix"; Hubert Dreyfus and Stephen Dreyfus, "The Brave New World of The Matrix." Doug Cummings expands on Sarah Kerr's observations in  "The Truth is Out There" (, which was published on the web site, Chiaroscuro: Spirituality in the Cinema.  The web site is no longer publishing, however.

6. See the scholarly collection of essays at the Warner Brothers' website under Mainframe: Philosophy; Glenn Yeffeth, ed. Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix, (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2003); William Irwin, ed. The Matrix and Philosophy (Chicago: Open Court, 2002) and on numerous independent websites.

7. The circular hallway of the convalescent home and the circular law of karma are primary motifs in the film.

8. Susan Schwartz, "I Dream, Therefore I Am" in the Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2000).

9. See Frances Flannery-Dailey and Rachel Wagner, "Wake Up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix," Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 5, No. 2 (October 2001); reprinted with permission on Warner Brothers' website.

10. D. Cummings, " The Truth is Out There."

11. For sustained reflections specifically on the theme of postmodernism in The Matrix films, see Dino Felluga, "The Matrix: Paradigm of post-modernism or intellectual poseur? (Part I)" and Andrew Gordon, "The Matrix: Paradigm of post-modernism or intellectual poseur? (Part II)" in Taking the Red Pill. Works on postmodernism and slightly older films abound. Some good essays on postmodernism, the apocalypse and films in the decade preceding the millennium may be found in Christopher Sharrett, Crisis Cinema: The Apocalyptic Idea in Postmodern Narrative Film (Washington D.C.: Maisonneuve Press, 1993).

12. T. Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), vii; cited in B. Harvey, "Anti-Postmodernism" in A. K. M. Adam, ed., The Handbook of Postmodern Biblical Interpretation (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000), 1-7, 2.

13. An excellent but simple introduction to film semiotics is available by James Monaco, "The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax," in How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia; Language, History, Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 152-227.

14. Interestingly enough, theoretical physicists who work on hyperspace have identified ten dimensions of reality and some posit an infinite number of parallel universes, Michio Kaku, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension (New York: Doubleday, 1994). However, whether filmmakers draw on various religions, philosophies or theoretical physics, I am suggesting that a postmodern rejection of flat reality is the catalyst for the recent pervasiveness of the theme in film.

15. I cannot think of any Hollywood films that do not manipulate time in this sense. Even Warhol's Empire (1964), an eight hour realist static shot of the Empire State Building, was filmed at 24 frames-per-second but projected at 16 frames-per-second. The recent 2002 television sitcom "Watching Ellie" attempted an experiment in real time that failed with viewers - the series left the air after only a few episodes and returned months later after having switched the format back to time condensation.

16. From the mid-1980's until his death in 1999, Kubrick shared the story and collaborated with Steven Spielberg. Kubrick's version was inspired originally by a short story by Brian W. Aldiss, "Supertoys last all Summer Long"; see Supertoys Last All Summer Long, (London: Orbit Books, 2001) and The Official Brian A. Waldiss Web Site. Ian Watson wrote the screen story; after Kubrick's death Spielberg wrote the new screenplay that became A.I.

17. Wendy Doniger coins this phrase in her treatment of dreams in Hinduism; Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Dreams, Illusions and Other Realities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

18. In his review of the film, Ben Forest understands A.I. as "Genesis revisited" with "a complete reversal of the Frankenstein effect." Ben Forest, Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 6, No. 1 (April 2002). In an important scene in the film in which David hears for the first time of Pinocchio becoming "a real boy," he is framed in a head shot with a child's crayon drawing behind him, the visible part of which reads, "instruments, because I could." Humans created mecha simply because they could.

19. The plot is not at all as fantastic as it sounds. The official website for the film contains actual interviews with leading robotics engineers who work on, among other things, problems of consciousness and emotions in artificial life. Featured are Raymond Kurzweil, Cynthia Breazeal and Peter Schwartz. On the Warner Bros. website see "Love and Machines." Also of interest is .

20. Otto Rank, Der Künstler: Ansätze zu einer Sexualpsychologie (Leipzig: Imago-Bücher, 4th ed. 1925), 36.

21. Their interest in David may be partially explained by this motivation to know the Creator, since they remark with awe that he actually knew living humans.

22. From the viewpoint of Teddy, it is difficult to decide which one is the most depressing ending.

23. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (J. Strachey, trans., New York: Discus, 1965, first published in 1900 as Traumdeutung), 433 and 588.

24. In fact, the viewer never sees Teddy actually pick up Monica's hair earlier in the film.

25. See Freud, 588-626.

26. The first time we see this image, David's reflection is apparent in the silver woman. Two silver children dance around her, further evidence of the intentional use of reflective symbolism. See my Ending Nine.

27. Jung went much farther than did Freud in noting the connections between dreams and fairy tales; Freud, 279. In fact, Jung maintained that dreams as well as the thinking of children expressed the ontogenetic recapitulation of phylogenetic psychology, an archaic stage in humanity's psychology. See C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia (New York: Princeton University Press, 2nd ed. 1956; 1st published in 1912 in Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido), 3-33, esp. 23; also relevant are "On the Nature of Dreams," "The Real and the Surreal" in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (New York: Princeton University Press, 1960); and essays in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious and Aion (New York: Princeton University Press, 1959, 1964).

28. Although in the film Monica reads the original Pinocchio story by C. Collodi, A.I. draws more on the 1940 Disney film by the same name.

29. Does this symbolize schizophrenia or some other break with reality?

30. Since in Collodi's story Pinocchio is hung on a peg to be killed, David's remark may mark the beginning of a disassociative state.

31. Jung, 218-219.

32. See for example Freud, pp. 193, 619 on anxiety in dreams.

33. When we first see Martin he is "asleep" since he is cryogenetically frozen, pointing to the fact that his soul and not his brain or body is his true essence. After being released from his cryogenesis we see his body move only via a mechanized wheelchair and robotic leg braces, further likening him to David.

34. Jung, 219.

35. Gigolo Joe is certainly kinder than the fox, but the parallels are evident in their demeanor and in the fact that both characters facilitate David / Pinocchio's traveling to Rouge City / Pleasure Island.

36. Although the film primarily draws on Disney's Pinocchio rather than the original, it is interesting that in Collodi's story the puppet is called "Mr. Know-All" by his schoolmates, recalling the character of Dr. Know in A.I.

37. Freud, 275-280.

38. Jung, 318, 369.

39. I owe some ideas in this section to a perceptive undergraduate in my 2002 Religion, Culture and Film class, Jennifer Kribs, who argued that David and Gigolo Joe are actually killed in the Flesh Fair in a scene recalling the crucifixion of Christ. She maintains that everything that follows is David in heaven.

40. When David's location is pinpointed later by his creators, Dr. Hobby asks if David lived through the Flesh Fair. Another scientist cryptically replies: "He is in one piece."

41. If Teddy is ultimately the dreamer of the film, then David is his humanoid alter-ego or Döppelganger. This makes further sense of Martin's reference to David as "the new Supertoy."

42. Henry's statement about David applies equally to Teddy and to humans in the Genesis story: "If he was created to love then it's reasonable to assume he knows how to hate."

43. This evokes the depiction of the Talking Cricket in Collodi's story. The Cricket is a "wise old philosopher" who is at least one hundred years old - before Pinocchio kills him for giving advice!

44. Robert Sawyer relates this story in his keynote address, AI and Sci-Fi: My, Oh, My!, to the 12th Annual Canadian Conference on Intelligent Systems (May 31, 2002).

45. Freud, 117. The individual rooms may represent parts of the dreamer's body or life, in which case the final scenes showing the lights in the lower storey being turned off may represent the lights being "on" in the dreamer's mind or upper storey.

46. Moreover, one cannot fail to notice that Lord High Keeper of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong itself draws from the mythic referent of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis.

47. Freud, 277.

48. Freud, 388.

49. Freud, 57, 71, 282-4, 275-80, 298, 319, 371.

50. Note that when David finds Dr. Hobby, he informs David that he learned of the Blue Fairy from Monica. Are Dr. Hobby and Monica projections of the same person?

51. Jung, 35.

52. R. Roschke, "Dream/Brain/Text: The Media-Brain Connection in Mental Processing of Texts" in Society of Biblical Literature 1987 Seminar Papers (K. H. Richards, ed.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987) 158-174; see also Colin McGinn, "The Matrix of Dreams."

53. E.g., Freud, 182, 253, 281 n., 297 n., 299, 313, 399, 432, 562.

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