jewishsymbolism v1.7
ai holds many secrets. here's one.
  1. Introduction, Definitions, and Thanks
    1. Version History and Credits
  2. The Flesh Fair - An Allegory
  3. A.I. - A Holocaust Allegory
  4. A.I. - A Biblical Allegory
  5. A.I. and the Kabbalah - Introduction
    1. I Have an Idea - Chochmah, Binah, Daat
    2. The Swinton Home - Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet
    3. The Flesh Fair - Netzach, Hod
    4. Rouge City/Manhattan - Yesod
    5. 2000 Years and Beyond - Malchut
  6. Bibliography

1.0 Document Introduction

Welcome to Jewish Symbolism, version 1.7, where we set out to uncover the truth behind Steven Spielberg's newest film, A.I. Much of the film seems to be an allegory for Judaism - And, as Spielberg himself is a Jew, it seems appropriate. And yet, even though we know the Jewish parallels exist, what are they? Todd Ford sets out to explain, in this in-depth look at Judaism and A.I. in dialog.
A great deal his been written about how the Flesh Fair sequence looks sloppy and feels out of sync with the other parts of AI. I [Todd Ford] am going to demonstrate that not only are these claims unfounded, but that the Flesh Fair is the heart and center of the film.

1.1 Version History and Credits

Version 1.7 Updates
  • Latest Version; Updated July 19, 3:25PM PST
  • Fixed some spelling mistakes, added more information on the various sections.
  • Version 1.7 written and copyrighted by Todd Ford.
Version 1.0 Updates
  • Updated July 16, 8:25PM PST
  • Version 1.0 written and copyrighted by Todd Ford.

2.0 The Flesh Fair - An Allegory

It was always a key aspect of the film's design that the viewer be jerked along from one section to the next with each section taking on a style of its own. This quality of radical shifts in style and tone are actually quite obvious as you think about the film as a whole. This alone shoots down the criticism that the Flesh Fair is out of sync due to style. The sloppiness is another matter.
For the Flesh Fair, Spielberg needed to find a way to dramatize a key conflict between the two conflicting factions in AI: the Orgas and the Mechas. Something organic implies something imprecise. Something organic took its form through a growth process -- a process that is still ongoing and in flux. Something mechanical implies the opposite -- something precise and constructed and unchanging in form.
The Orgas are a rowdy bunch during the Flesh Fair. They pump junk food into their bodies and hoot and holler like the denizens of a monster truck show. Spielberg has been fond of a style of filmmaking known as Dogme 95. It involves a set of rules that force the director to keep his hands off of what he is filming. It is related to the Cinema Verite style where a filmmaker shows up to an event and follows what is happening with his camera without interfering in any way. The whole point is to destroy a sense of artificiality Dogme 95's proponents feel has invaded the movies. What a stroke to allude to this style while filming a scene where its ringleader proclaims: "We're only destroying artificiality!"
The Mechas David and Gigolo Joe represent something of a rupture to this Dogme 95 sloppiness. They are followed about by dollys and steadicams -- both violations of Dogme 95. And they further violate the rules of "director keep your hands off" by being posed quite artfully in shot after shot.
A few points are being hammered home during these scenes: 1. the Orgas take little concern for their bodies (the junk food thing again), 2. the Orgas show very little concern for each other (they are focused on the mayhem), 3. the Mechas are very focused on caring for each other (they comfort each other, one turns off another's pain censors), 4. the Mechas are very calm, even dignified at the center of all this horror -- they are setting an example. Maybe more important than anything, David and Gigolo Joe bond together as a pair. A pair that is stronger than either individually -- Joe would have certainly perished without David, David would have at least been burned if Joe's arm had not protected him from the acid.
I'm going to now ask you to make a leap and view the Flesh Fair and the scenes that lead up to it with different eyes. I would like you to replace Orgas with Nazis and replace Mechas with Jews. Far-fetched? Not really considering both Kubrick was Jewish and Spielberg is Jewish. Not when considering Kubrick had worked for years on a Holocaust drama titled "The Aryan Papers" and Spielberg made the Holocaust drama "Schindler's List." What I'm going to do is offer you a series of observations that will reveal the Flesh Fair to be an allegory of the Holocaust. Later, I'll reveal it to be even more by removing the specific historical context. Then I'll show it to be much more when I put it back into the context of the film as a whole.

3.0 A.I. - A Holocaust Allegory

When David enters the Swinton home, he is bathed in light and dressed in white. A religious moment and, given the importance of light to the Jewish people, a spiritual moment in a Jewish sense -- with their mission to be "a light unto the nations." (Isaiah 42:6).
The scene where Monica imprints on David has two Jewish echoes. The first is with the legend of the Golem -- an artificial person who is brought to life by walking around an inanimate mockup of a person (often made of clay) seven times while chanting a specific sequence of words. (Another version of the story has Kabbalist Rabbi Judah Loew arranging the secret names of God in such a manner that he was able to create a golem. Hmmm, "cirrus socrates particle decibel hurricane dolphin tulip?") The second is that the final seven sefirot of the Kabbalah are considered the seven steps to creation.
Martin is in a wheelchair and gradually learns to walk. The last character in a Kubrick film to do this was Dr. Strangelove. "Mein Furher, I can walk!"
There is a great deal of emphasis placed on David not eating anything. He shorts himself out while eating spinach. Has he broken a mitzvah about only eating kosher foods? Remember, the over-riding rule of whether a food is kosher is: "If it isn't healthy for you, it isn't kosher."
In the scene around the poolside, the boys are very aggressive towards David. They show an interest in viewing his penis (to check if he has been circumcised?). One of the boys jokes, "Das ist gut!" It can all be read as a bunch of Nazi boys tormenting a little Jewish boy. And earlier, Martin has already show an interest in David's penis: "Say Peacock... Say Pea... Say it twice fast."
In Gigolo Joe's first scene, while he is seducing a client, she expresses a desire to see his penis before they continue. About to enter the apartment of his second client, he makes his hair turn blond -- makes it more Aryan. After leaving the apartment in fearful haste, he cuts the Mecha identifying marking from his chest (similar to the numbers tattooed on Jews arms during WWII?). In fact, his every action during these early scenes is directed toward hiding his identity from authorities.
The nightmarish quality of the scene of the truck dumping Mecha body parts in the woods is frighteningly similar to Holocaust mass graves. The way all the Mechas run and hide from the Orgas as they try to round them up is very reminiscent of scenes of Jews hiding to save their lives in "Schindler's List." And I found this bit about WWII Nazi wolf imagery (the motorcycles chasing the Mechas are made up like wolves):
A fascist sign, used in for instance Sweden in the 1990s, meaning werewolf. According to ancient superstitions men were sometimes transformed into beings, half men, half wolves, extremely blood-thirsty and ferocious. These beings were called werewolves. Werwolf, German for "werewolves", was the name chosen for the guerilla fighters Hitler and the Nazi top had planned should continue the fight against the invading Allies when Germany’s Wehrmacht was defeated and the German territory was occupied.
And now, the Flesh Fair itself:
This scene plays like a thinly veiled analogy of the ways Nazis tortured and killed Jews during WWII. I'll repeat the four main points about this scene now and show how they illustrate this Jewish subtext.
  1. The Orgas take little concern for their bodies (the junk food thing again). This relates to their unconcern for kosher cuisine. Their disregard for their own spiritual health.
  2. The Orgas show very little concern for each other (they are focused on the mayhem). This takes on its interest in contrast with the next two points.
  3. The Mechas are very focused on caring for each other (they comfort each other, one turns off another's pain censors). And:
  4. The Mechas are very calm, even dignified at the center of all this horror -- they are setting an example.
This passage from the "Complete Idiots Guide to Understanding Judaism" shows the significance of this:
People must help each other. "All Jews are responsible for one another" isn't just a powerful United Jewish Appeal slogan. It's a law from the Talmud. And it means exactly what it says -- not only that Jews are obligated to help each other but are also responsible one for another. Other people's failings are partly my fault if I could have done something to correct them and didn't.
And this "setting of an example" worked. After being dragged into the Flesh Fair, David and Joe are able to merrily stroll out through the turnstiles -- and at least one Orga inside now views Mechas differently.

4.0 A.I. - A Biblical Allegory

I am going to turn back the clock now and take a look at these scenes from a different historical perspective: the biblical book of "Joshua."
In the book of "Joshua," the Jews were at a critical juncture. It was time to claim the promised land. They were to ask the immoral, idolatrous Canaanites to leave and if they refused they were to kick them out.
This took them to Jericho where they had been instructed by God to conquer the city but take no bounty. They took the city by marching around the walls until they crumbled by an earthquake (divine intervention). Then they moved on to the next city.
At the next city, things didn't go smoothly. The Jews were devastated actually. By asking God why he had forsaken them, they learned that one of them, Achan, had broken the commandment to not take bounty. One person out of 3 million didn't listen to God so everyone suffered. This taught the Jews that it was one for all and all for one -- every Jew is responsible for every other Jew.
They went on to lay claim to the Promised Land but their life as a people has been far from pleasant ever since.
My point in telling all this? The city where the Jews learned this lesson and were almost wiped out was named Ai. Yes, even the title of the film refers to the allegorical content of the Flesh Fair sequence. The Flesh Fair is the devastation at Ai. David and Gigolo Joe became a pair during this sequence. Joe is no longer all for himself, himself for none. It is now one for all and all for one. And it is interesting that, later in the film, Joe and David are only able to get out of Rouge City by working together. David creates a distraction -- by accident -- that frees Joe from the police and Joe has the know-how to fly the aircraft.

5.0 A.I. and the Kabbalah - Introduction

Kabbalah is an esoteric tradition passed on among Jewish mystics that deals with the secrets of the universe. Think of it as a way God provided for man (who exists in the realm of the finite) to contemplate the infinite. God is like a point of bright light so intense that we can't look at Him. Kabbalah runs that light through a prism that spreads it out into ten colors (I know, the analogy breaks down here a little) and each of these colors can be gazed at individually. By getting to know each, one comes to know God better.

The ten views of God's power (Sefirot) that Kabbalah reveals to us are:

  1. Chochmah - wisdom
  2. Binah - understanding
  3. Daat - knowledge
  4. Chesed - kindness
  5. Gevura - strength
  6. Tiferet - beauty
  7. Netzach - victory
  8. Hod - awe
  9. Yesod - foundation
  10. Malchut - monarchy
Don't take these one word definitions too literally though. I will explain each a bit more as I go. What I aim to show is that the entire structure of AI moves right down the list by dramatizing each sefirot from Chochmah to Malchut.

5.1 I Have an Idea - Chochmah, Binah, Daat

Chochmah, "wisdom," is the "input" into the mind. It is a flash of inspiration -- when an idea pops into our head. It is raw unshaped data. Kabbalah compares Chochmah to a father who sows a seed that contains undeveloped code full of potential.
If an idea -- from Chochmah -- is left in its raw form, it isn't good for much. Questions need to be asked of it. What are its parameters and axioms? What are the ramifications? This process of shaping and cultivating the idea is the role played by Binah. Kabbalah compares Binah to a mother's womb nurturing and growing a child from a father's seed.
The end result of Daat is the idea made flesh -- the child of wisdom and understanding. Daat is the process or bridge or birth canal that the idea has to pass through to become flesh. You can also think of it this way: you can have an idea and decide after thinking about it that it is a good idea, but you still have to do some more thinking before you actually follow through and implement the idea.
AI begins with Professor Hobby (the father) announcing to a room full of scientists that he has an idea. He wants to make a robot child that is capable of loving its parent. This is a dramatization of Chochmah.
Immediately, a women (the mother) in the audience begins to ask questions about the idea and begins to think about possible ramifications. This is a demonstration of Binah at work.
The scene ends and focus shifts to Henry and Monica. Henry brings David (the idea) home to Monica. She has to go through a period of adjustment and indecision before she is ready to imprint David onto herself. This process she goes through is an example of Daat and the product of this Daat is a robot boy who loves his mother. The idea made flesh.

5.2 The Swinton Home - Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet

Chesed, "kindness," is the gentle, forgiving, loving hand of a mother. It has so much to give and just wants to keep on giving.
Gevura, "strength," is a father's stern hand placing boundaries and necessary punishments on a child. It's the voice that says, "Enough is enough. Take care of yourself."
It would be most unhealthy to raise a child purely on Chesed. It would be just as unproductive to employ only Gevura. A balance between the two extremes is needed. This balance is Tiferet -- a beautiful synthesis.
Examples of Tiferet abound in any parent/child relationship. Occasionally, an extreme example is chosen under the name of "tough love" where a child has become too much for his parents to cope with and is forced to leave the home -- to be placed in foster care as an example.
Throughout David's time in the Swinton home, Monica is a virtual bottomless pit of gentleness, forgiveness, and love. David wastes her precious perfume; she forgives him. She embraces him and reads him stories. He cuts her face with scissors and she defends him.
Henry, on the other hand, always seems to have a guard up concerning David. He is impatient with Monica as she forgives David for the perfume incident and rewards him with Teddy. He plays no part in bedtime stories and is dramatically angered by the scissor incident -- his reaction is to shake David. The near drowning of Martin is the last straw. Time for tough love. When David shows Monica the notes he has written, she is clearly moved and would probably forgive David once again if Henry wasn't standing at the door.
Monica and Henry's roles here are examples of the mother/father relationship between Chesed and Gevura. The balance between the two -- Tiferet -- has started out a beautiful synthesis. But, it has drifted toward more and more stern measures of discipline. The wrenching scene where Monica abandons David in the woods is the tough love that has finally prevailed. It is interesting though that Monica is still trying to be caring and loving in little ways even as she leaves him. She lets him bring Teddy along. She won't allow David to be destroyed. She gives him survival advice ("Stay away from Orga! Only trust Mecha!"). And, in her most desperate moment, gives him the money in her pocket (which helps him later by buying questions from Doctor Know).

5.3 The Flesh Fair - Netzach, Hod

Chochmah, Binah, Daat, Chesed, Gevura, and Tiferet have shown us six fairly isolated and abstract qualities of God. Each is illustrated for us in Kabbalah using a metaphor we can hold onto and roll around in our hands -- i.e., the process of conceiving and giving birth to a child and the process of raising a child. Whenever God creates anything -- the world, the first man, a fruit fly -- He goes through the same process of thought and planning as Chochmah, Binah, and Daat. Everything has a purpose and design. In God's relationship to man -- his favorite creation -- He is constantly striking the perfect balance for each of us between filling us with his infinite love and guidance and holding back to give us a reason for personal initiative.
In the real world though, things are not so cut and dried. In the book of Job, Job is a righteous Jew who lives by the letter of God's law. And yet, one terrible thing happens to him after another. This led him to ask one of the two key questions of faith in God: "why do the righteous that suffer?" During the era of the kings, King David observes as one wicked King after another seems to live well and asks the other key question: "why do the wicked prosper?"
In Kabbalah the quality of God's way that allows the righteous to suffer is characterized by the attribute of Netzach. Wicked prosper due to the attribute of Hod. Bottom line, God's plan is so complex and beyond our comprehension that we can't know if a pleasant event in our life is really good (Chesed) or good as a prelude to a punishment (Hod). We don't know if something bad is really something bad (Gevura) or a cloud with a silver lining (Netzach). We can't take anything at face value. All we can do is live our life as best as we can as He has instructed us through the Torah and leave everything else in His hands.
I've demonstrated earlier how the Flesh Fair is an allegory for the Holocaust. Whether you take the scene literally as bad things happening to good Mechas while the wicked Orgas have a grand old time, or allegorically as the righteous Jewish people being tortured and slaughtered by the evil Nazis who are sitting pretty as the German elite, the scene stings of Netzach and Hod.
One only has to remind oneself that the Nazi party has been wiped out and left to decay in infamy while the Jewish people are tighter and stronger than ever to realize God indeed had a plan amidst all the horror. This parallels the fates of the Orgas and Mechas as well. We see at film's end that the Orgas are long extinct while the Mechas rule the earth.

5.4 Rouge City/Manhattan - Yesod

Yesod plays two roles: it is the foundation upon which all of the previous sefirot stand and it is the translator that passes the word of God from God to man without distortion. The foundation is the Torah -- a book of rules, some that are easy to hear and live by and some that are difficult and discouraging. The translator is Moses who received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai and passed it on to the rest of mankind.
Kabbalah characterizes Yesod using loads of phallic symbolism. It is a bridge through which the Torah passes from God to man. While Chochmah, Binah, and Daat are compared by Kabbalah to the human brain; Chesed, Gevura, and Tefiret are compared to the hands and heart; and Netzach and Hod are compared to the feet; Yesod is compared to the male penis.
Most interesting that it is in Rouge City -- especially the car ride across a bridge into a woman's mouth -- that the film engages in some serious phallic symbolism. (Just a side note: Rather than fear God, Judaism would prefer that we be in awe of God. Take note of the word the occupants of the car are saying loudly as they enter the tunnel. "AAAAAAAAWE!")
Key to these scenes though is the two forms that Moses takes. First we have Doctor Know, the translator of good news. It takes some digging through the Torah -- I mean through Doctor Knows knowledge bank -- but David finds the answer to his question and he leaves full of uplift. But, as are the mitzvahs of the Torah, what David learns from the other Moses is most despairing.
The other Moses is Professor Hobby who tells him some distressing facts. To illustrate the distressing impact his news that David is not unique has on the poor little Mecha, I'll quote in full from the Complete Idiots Guide to Understanding Judaism:
"And one man was created first to proclaim the greatness of God. If a human being stamps several coins with the same dye, they all resemble one another. But the King of kings, the Holy One, praise be He, stamps all human beings with the dye of the first man and yet not one of them is identical with another. Therefore, every individual is obligated to say, 'For my sake was the world created!'" Adam was meant to be a symbol of every person in the future. Adam was unique, and so are you. If you wouldn't have something special and distinctive to contribute to the world, you wouldn't have been created. Realize how important you are. Know your own worth. That is the final message Judaism sees in the story of man's creation.
David is thrown into such despair by the news and by seeing the room full of Davids all stamped from the same dye, that his "brain falls out" and he falls out of the world for a while as well sinking to the bottom of the sea. It is the encouragement of seeing the Blue Fairy on the bottom of the sea that keeps him going. It is finally the assurance by the futuristic AI that he is unique and special that restores him.

5.5 2000 Years and Beyond - Malchut

To You, God, is greatness, strength, modesty, victory, awe, for all that is in heavens and earth; to You, God, is the kingdom. (1 Chronicles 29:11)
While a series of sefirot are grouped together in the first part of this passage, the last one, kingdom (Malchut), is separated out by the repeated use of the words "to You, God, is." Why is this?
The first nine sefirot are a continuous stream of God's actions which strike humanity and affect us. When we then absorb these influences of God, find them in ourselves, change and thereby reflect God's glory -- then we evince malchut.
Malchut is the goal that God had in mind when He created the world. All of the other sefirot are only a means to see this final one emerge. It is only when we hear the voice of God echoing from within us -- which is malchut -- that we are truly transformed. [emphasis is mine]
The above quotes from a series of articles on the website entitled "Kabbalah 101" provide the clearest and most encouraging explanation for AI's mysterious final movement that I've found. The gap of 2000 years signifies the distinct separation between Malchut and the other sefirot. (It is also significant considering Jewish history is distinctly divided into 2000 year segments: the first 2000 years being chaos including the creation of the world; the second 2000 years being the years of the Torah including Mount Sinai and man's time spent learning the Torah's teachings; and the third, which is nearing its conclusion as the film takes place, being the Messianic era -- a time of waiting for the Messiah to appear and terminate man's lease on earth.)
I'll end with a few questions: do these future AI finally embody the goal that their creator (Professor Hobby?) had in mind? Could David have finally been transformed into a real boy? Is AI a speculation on the next 2000 years of Jewish history? Am I asking the sort of questions the filmmakers hoped I would be?

6.0 Bibliography

  1. The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism by Benjamin Blech
  2. Two series of articles from -
    1. Kabbalah 101
    2. Jewish History
  3. The Official DOGME 95 Website

The Mysteries of AI. - Copyright 2001 by Jedi Kindergartner