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Steven Spielberg:
Nietzschean or Human Self Hater?

By J. Neil Schulman 07.11.01


I once wrote a book in which I suggested that a celebrity might have been framed for murder by his biggest fan. Another of my books contains an interview with, and is a tribute to, an author who's been a major influence on my own writing. So, when I tell you that I have been Steven Spielberg's biggest fan, it's with an understanding that the relationship between a fan and the object of his adoration contains the possibility of love turning to hate.

I thought that Steven Spielberg had individualist, romantic, and even libertarian tendencies buried beneath the lip service he was always paying to Hollywood's liberal causes. Sure, he was a supporter of gun-control causes, but his friend John Milius told me once, while we were strolling through the Great Western Gun Show, that Spielberg's personal arsenal contained just about every gun the organizations he was funding wanted to ban, and when Milius confronted Spielberg with the contradiction, Spielberg replied, "John, gun control is strictly for them." That's not the response of a liberal who believes that crap, I thought; and even though it was hypocrisy in practice, it also had a flavor to me of a Stirnerist anarchist who considered himself above ordinary law. I can dig that.

I also didn't mind as much as my compatriots in the Second Amendment movement that in his masterful film adaptation of Schindler's List, Spielberg left out the part where Oskar Schindler armed his factory Jews with assault rifles he'd bought for them on the black market. After all, I reasoned, Spielberg isn't an historian but a dramatist, and one of the oldest rules of playwriting is that you don't bring out a gun unless the plot intends for it to be fired. ("Don't show a gun in the first act unless you intend to fire it in the third.") The Jews that Oskar Schindler armed never had to use their guns to fight the Nazis. Spielberg, as a dramatist, had a choice between falsifying history by leaving out Schindler's guns, or falsifying history by having the Jews that Schindler armed get into a fire-fight with the Nazis.

I didn't mind so much the choice Spielberg made since, after all, there was no chance he would get his first Oscar if he had Oskar giving guns to Jews. Look how Hollywood ignored The Patriot at Oscar time; half the best picture Academy Awards have gone to historical epics of lesser quality, but The Patriot wasn't even nominated because it portrays a man giving his boys guns which they use, under his supervision, to shoot the Redcoats whom a few minutes earlier murdered their brother and torched their home.

Can't have that in Hollywood, can we?

Before A.I. Artificial Intelligence, I had always thought of Spielberg's movies as pro-individualist in the best sense of American movies. A lone man, reviled by his neighbors, saves them from a vicious shark in Jaws. A lone man, at the cost of his family, follows his inner vision, which leads him to become the first human ambassador to aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Who is more of a classic American individualist than Indiana Jones, whom Spielberg brought to cinematic life in collaboration with Star Wars creator, George Lucas?

Then there has certainly been no shortage of anti-government imagery in Steven Spielberg's movies, from the US army general who comes up with an "escaped nerve gas" cover story to keep people like Roy Neary away from the Devil's Tower alien landing site in Close Encounters to the ominous NASA bureaucrats who chase and eventually capture E.T., with the intent of autopsying him after he dies from their HMO quality medical care.

Most importantly, the body of Steven Spielberg's work, until now, always seemed life affirming and pro-humanist. Jaws bites Man, but Man wins. Spielberg's extraterrestrials come to earth not to serve us up for dinner but invite us to dinner. If history has given the Jews a Holocaust, it also has given us a savior of our very own.

What I didn't get about Steven Spielberg, until I saw his latest movie, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, is that the body of his work portrays the heroic individualist as the exception, not the rule, when it comes to our species.

In A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the human race are lemmings, just about at the edge of the abyss. Our industry has given us global warming, which has flooded our coastal cities. We have used our inventiveness to create a race of robot slaves, which, in between using for sexual gratification, we round up in Monster Truck Rally type pogroms and give them even more inventive sorts of lynchings than white racists historically gave to "Niggers, Injuns, and Chinamen."

A human scientist played by William Hurt, creates a prototype of a new sort of robot who is incrementally closer to having a human soul than his previous creations -- this one is a boy of eleven years old (masterfully played by The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment) -- and he's designed to be the ultimate pet, one programmed to love you until death -- your death, unless you decide to return him to the factory to be thrown on the slag heap. His name is David.

Of course the family this pet is given to isn't worthy of him. The father is a company drone, the mother is an emotional basket case, and their real son, returning home after five years in a coma, is a manipulative and duplicitous little bastard. Ultimately the mom finds that she has to choose between her real son and the virtual pet that says he loves her, and instead of even having the courage to shoot her own dog, she abandons David.

The plot from that point on gives us the Disney homage we have come to expect from Steven Spielberg: David's journey is modeled on Pinnochio's -- with a little Wizard of Oz and Uncle Tom's Cabin's Eliza on the ice mixed in for additional flavor. It's not even the first time that a robot in a science-fiction tale has thought of himself as Pinnochio; Star Trek: The Next Generation's Artificial Intelligence, Data, was there, first.

Don't get me wrong. A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a cinematic masterpiece. After my stomach settled down from the trite liberal narrative that opens the picture, I found myself treated to a feast of good acting, good directing, masterful brushstrokes, spectacular imagery, and even unexpected plot twists.

This would be a good place to stop reading if you haven't seen the movie, because to make my point, I have to give the ending away.

David the artificial boy overhears the story of Pinnochio, and when he is abandoned by his adopted mother, he gets it into his positronic brain that if he can find the Blue Fairy from Pinnochio, and get her to turn him into a real boy, the mother who he's been programmed to love will love him back.

By the way, did I mention that I'm a science-fiction writer, myself? It would be easy for me to have given David a happy ending, if I wanted to. His brain is a virtual reality construct to begin with -- how hard could it be to plug in a module that will give him the virtual reality mother he's been programmed to crave?

But, no happy endings for us, this time. Steven Spielberg is a serious filmmaker now, in his post Schindler/Private Ryan incarnation, and he's moved beyond the happy endings which made him a billionaire. Now Mr. Spielberg is rich enough to tell us what he really thinks of us. He has his Oscar and what Harlan Ellison once called his "f*** you" money. He no longer has to keep his "strictly for them" philosophy in private conversations with his gun-nut friends; he can put it right up on the silver screen -- and his contempt for us is so great that he doesn't even expect us to notice.

Instead of giving David his happy ending -- a virtual happy ending for a virtual boy, that is -- Spielberg has a grander purpose for him. After a spectacular adventure chasing the Blue Fairy, David finds one underwater in a sunken Coney Island, and sets about praying to her to be made a real boy. He is still doing that when he drops into hibernation mode (heck, we even have that option in our Windows power-saving modes), and is still there when, two millennia later, when the human race has self-destructed entirely, evolved robots, looking a whnole lot like Spielberg's Close Encounters aliens, find this little/ boy robot with a fabulously detailed memory of the human race.

For Steven Spielberg, the grand purpose of David the Little Robot is to be the headstone for the human race, and either more robots or his Close Encounter aliens are to be our pallbearers.

Now, mind you, showing the human race coming to a bad end doesn't necessarily make you a hater of our species. George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty Four, sounded a humanistic warning against our species playing around with totalitarian statism. Orwell's dark fairy tale, Animal Farm, may even be more on point here.

Aldous Huxley gave us the same sort of depressing warning in Brave New World. And so did I in my novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, although I made sure to give my heroine the happy ending her virtues had earned her.

The problem is that in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Steven Spielberg is working overtime to make his ending tragic, both for our species, and for his viewpoint character, the little boy robot. He's given us aliens in previous movies so he knows that Earth isn't the only planet that might sustain human life; yet, he never suggests anywhere in this movie that an obvious solution to industry-caused global warming (if we even need to take this junk science seriously) is to move our global-warming industry off the planet. Not even a line of dialogue suggesting that a human race smart enough to make robots is smart enough to make an orbital factory -- and a space colony to run it.

Nor can Mr. Spielberg even allow his robot/aliens to make our little boy robot happy by building him a robot mother that accords to his memory; instead, he (and we) have to be given a ridiculous explanation about how they can clone his mother but she'll only live one day. These robot/aliens are, when all is said and done, just as lousy engineers as we were.

This isn't unintentional. To Steven Spielberg, his previous heroic individualist portrayals, Roy Neary, Elliot, and Oskar Schindler, aren't typical representatives of the human animal. The dumb townspeople of Jaws, the sinister bureaucrats of Close Encounters and E.T., are.

No wonder Steven Spielberg makes so many movies about Nazis. He's as much of a vulgar Nietzsche fan as Hitler was!

Here we get, finally, to the truth at the chewy center of the liberal soul. Having lost their faith in God, they've lost their faith in the possibility of a happy ending for our species. Steven Spielberg would like to believe that his aliens from Close Encounters or E.T. will come along to save us, but when all is said and done, he can't make himself believe in his own fairy tale. Since he doesn't believe we have a creator looking out for the best interests of our species, he thinks we have no future except to be drowned in our own poisons -- industrial pollution, racism, commercialism, suburban narcissism.

It should be noted that A.I. Artificial Intelligence was originally developed by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, who, working with Arthur C. Clarke, gave the human race a future transcendance to superhumanity in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a warning against hubris in Dr. Strangelove, and a warning against depriving human beings of the free will to choose between good and evil in his adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. I wonder if the reason he never completed A.I. Artificial Intelligence before his death is that he couldn't make the ending work.

Steven Spielberg has finally told us what he really thinks of us. He thinks we're doomed by a tragic flaw, and the happiest ending he can realistically come up with for us after he gets past his childish obsession with fairy tales is that something we've created -- one of our toys -- might be made into a memorial for us by some other species, just as tragically flawed as we are.

He has come. Steven Spielberg is the AntiDisney.

 

 


J. Neil Schulman is an award-winning author, a screenwriter, and a pundit ascending to guru.


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Copyright 2000 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

 

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