Throughout the history of film, artists have often been intrigued by the future, and how artificial intelligence will one day affect society. From Terminator-like robots that take over the world to household maids reminiscent of The Jetsons, robots and artificial intelligence have seen their fair share of screen time. Sometimes though, these depictions are used as more than just a plot gear, but rather as a dramatic tool to contemplate the everyday emotions we experience. In Spike Jonze’s upcoming film Her, Jonze uses the relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and an artificial intelligence named Samantha to explore the nature of human isolation and the human need to find connection. To mark Her’s February 14th release, we are taking a look at some of the most notable A.I. to appear on the big screen, and how their depictions relate to the human experience.
2001: A space odyssey (1968)
In the wildly heralded masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick created one of the most memorable instances of onscreen A.I. in HAL 9000. As the operating system for an interstellar spaceship, HAL was created to help the ship’s crew reach their destination. When the crew begins to believe he is flawed however, they agree in secret to shut him down. Unbeknownst to them though, HAL has overheard their plan, and sets in motion a deadly plan of his own to stop them. While HAL did not express any outward signs of emotion, his desire to continue operating is one that closely relates to the human desire to escape death.
Star Wars (1977)
In stark contrast to HAL’s role as an antagonist, R2-D2 and C3PO primarily provide comic relief. In the Star Wars films, George Lucas created a rapport between the two similar to that between two police officers in a buddy-cop genre film, and he used their humour to lighten the mood. Today their friendly banter is iconic, and these robots are two of the most recognizable characters from the series.
Blade Runner (1982)
What happens when robots reach the emotional capacity of humans, as well as take on their physical features? Director Ridley Scott attempts to answer just that in the sci-fi thriller Blade Runner. In the not-too-distant future of 2019, Harrison Ford sets out as Rick Deckard, a blade runner brought back into duty to hunt down four rogue artificial intelligences. As Deckard dives deeper into his quest, the lines between humans and robots become more and more blurred, begging the question, “if robots are able to feel emotion and understand death, is there really any difference between them and us?”
The Iron Giant (1999)
The Iron Giant blends sci-fi and comic book lore to tell the story of a retro-superman in robot form, and the boy that he became best friends with. In this Americana fairytale set in 1957, Hogarth Hughes stumbles upon a robot who has fallen from outer space, and quickly befriends the gentle giant. When the government catches wind of the alien however, a series of events unfolds, proving one should never judge an alien giant’s capacity for empathy based on his looks. Climaxing with an emotionally charged ending, the film pulled at both child and adult heart strings alike, with Ted Anthony of the Associated Press calling it “an ideal tale for children that offers a lot to adults as well.”
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
A collaboration of ideas between two of the greatest filmmakers of the last century—Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick— A.I. is an anti-Pinocchio tale of love and abuse. In this anti-fairy tale, Spielberg follows the story of David, an artificially intelligent robot, as he attempts to regain the love of his mother. The movie uses David as a vehicle to explore the nature of human cruelty, and the truth that while David may have been artificially created, his love is hauntingly real.
Leave it to Pixar to take two robots and a plot centred on a dystopian earth and spin it into one of the sweetest animated tales ever told. As the sole trash collecting robot left on the planet earth after a planet-wide exodus, Wall-E spends his days compacting trash and watching a cassette tape of Hello Dolly–fantasizing that he will someday find companionship. When EVE lands in a foreign spaceship one day, Wall-E is immediately love stricken, and sets out on a quest with EVE that quickly evolves into an intergalactic story of environmentalism and robot-romance.
In Spike Jonze’s upcoming film Her, Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha, an operating system designed to meet Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) every need. By questioning what it means to connect, and what it means to love, Her pushes the boundaries of relationships as we know them. Piggy-backing off the magic of Johansson and Phoenix’s on-screen relationship, Her is also a forerunner for best picture, and has been nominated for four other Oscars as well.
HER IS RELEASED IN UK CINEMAS ON 14 FEBRUARY 2014