From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Summer media: from Stanley Kubrick and Stephen Spielberg to P.D. James

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 2, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

A relative whose adult parents had died in the last three years told me that she feels like an orphan. Stanley Kubrick, who died about two years ago had long been working on a story called A.I. Artificial Intelligence. His friend Stephen Spielberg took up the project after Kubrick’s death.

In A.I. we have the cerebral darkness of Kubrick added to the emotive sentiment of Stephen Spielberg. They join together to try to answer the question: How does an orphan of sorts find love and meaning in this life?

The story begins many years in the future, after much of the world has been flooded by the melting of the Polar Icecap. One area still above water is New Jersey. There the Swinton family live.

Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor) is mother to a very sick child who she feels will die. The child, Martin (Jake Thomas), is so ill that Monica’s husband Henry (Sam Robards) goes to the company he works for and seeks an mechanical child that is one of the first that is programed to love forever his new mother.

The child, David (Haley Joel Osment), comes to his new home where he will do anything to please. Finally Monica repeats the seven code words that causes David to love her forever.

Into this world that appears very happy the sick child Martin returns who slowly each day gets better. The result is a growing sibling rivalry between Martin and David that eventually leads to a tragic event. Monica forces David into the woods; he must never come back. The result is a long — in fact, very very long — journey through darkness and cruelty that eventually leads to a resolution of David’s loneliness.

Along the way David meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a “mecha” designed to pleasure women who seek him out.

Through out his journey with Gigolo Joe through the woods to the Flesh Carnival, where damaged and captured “mechas” are violently destroyed, the two help each other reach the meaning that David seeks. David seeks the Blue Fairy whom he learned of when Monica read Pinocchio to the two boys earlier. In Rouge City, with Joe’s help, he discovers a Groucho Marx Answer Man who sends them to flooded Manhattan to find the Blue Fairy. It is David’s hope that he will be made into a real boy by the Blue Fairy and be able to return to his mother, Monica, who will then love him.

I must admit the ending of A.I. is filled with sentiment. It even connects with a key scene in Our Town, when Emily comes back for one day from the dead to see what life is really like.

At the showing of A.I. that I saw on a Sunday afternoon of Hoopfest at the AMC Theater a fair number of viewers making comments out loud seemed to make fun of the last few minutes of the film. I don’t know how much I was influenced by their reaction, but the ending was disappointing to me also.

Haley Joel Osment is outstanding as the mechanical boy who seeks his soul. Jude Law is incredible as the “mecha” who reaches out to help David find the Blue Fairy.

A.I. is definitely a director’s movie. The actors are there to fit into the director’s vision. A.I. asks serious questions about our lives as it tells the story of people far in the future. How do we remain human in a technological world? How does human life have real meaning?

A.I. is not for children. A.I. is for adults who remember what it was like to be a child

A.I. is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The film includes some violence and sexual innuendo.


Recent readings

  • In mid-May when I was visiting my sister, Patty Caswell, in Hasting, Minn., we were going through her books as she decided what to keep and what to give away. We came across a book I had passed on to her 30 years ago when I was teaching at Mater Cleri Seminary, near Colbert. It was the book titled The Art of Living, edited by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg (Wilshire Book Company, 12015 Sherman Road, No. Hollywood, Ca. 91605; (818) 765-8579). I mentioned I thought it would be a good book to keep because of the thousands of short nuggets of wisdom it contained. I said also I didn’t think this gem of a book was still in print.

    Well, Pat found the number of the publisher and ordered me a new copy, which is now priced at $10.

    When ordering it the person at the other end asked for my prison number. Pat said I wasn’t in prison but was a priest.

    The friendly person at Wilshire Book apologized and said that almost everyone who orders The Art of Living is ordering it for someone in prison. If it is good enough for prisoners who might be seeking hope, it may be good enough for you.

  • A parishioner recently passed on the audio tapes to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book Salt of the Earth — The Church at the End of the Millennium. The book is based on an interview with the reporter Peter Seewald. The tapes are available from St. Joseph Communications, Inc. at P.O. Box 720, West Covina, Ca. 91793. The phone is 800-526-2151.

    I listened to the tapes when driving over a period of several weeks. It basically is question-and-answer format. I found the experience helpful. Cardinal Ratzinger has a brilliant mind. He can surprise because he doesn’t always answer according to the way you might think he should according to press reports.

    For example, he is pretty strong about closing down hospitals and other Catholic institutions in Germany if Germans don’t have vision to continue or have enough committed believers to staff such institutions.

    Four times the questioner restates a question, regarding the possibility of an opening for non-celibate clergy. By the fourth time Cardinal Ratzinger expresses some frustration with the reporter.

  • A recent selection of the Spiritual Book Associates was Francis: A Saint’s Way by James Cowan (Liguori-Triumph Book). Cowan is a novelist from Australia who spends months visiting the various holy places where Francis lived in Umbria. I found it a fascinating account of a giant of a man who pushed the Church ways it wasn’t interested in moving, and yet always stayed within the Church. The sections on St. Francis’s relations with his parents and his environmental concerns are first-rate.

  • I recently finished P. D. James’s mystery novel Death in Holy Orders, the latest in the author’s series featuring protagonist Adam Dalgliesh.

    Death in Holy Orders is about a small Church of England seminary on the bleak coast of East Anglia. The community includes four priests, 20 or so students and six or so staff people who live in nearby cottages. A seminarian suffers a suspicious death along the beach when a cliff of sand falls on him. The result is the beginning of a fascinating adventure filled with twists and turns that always surprise.

    Someone once told me that mysteries are good for anyone suffering from anxiety. The reason is that the ending always has to bring all the strands together and answer all the questions that have developed in the telling of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed Death in Holy Orders.

    At 81 years of age, P.D. James writes with style and wisdom.

    (Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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