holds many secrets. here's one.
Definitions, and Thanks
History and Credits
Flesh Fair - An Allegory
- A Holocaust Allegory
- A Biblical Allegory
and the Kabbalah - Introduction
Have an Idea - Chochmah, Binah, Daat
Swinton Home - Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet
Flesh Fair - Netzach, Hod
City/Manhattan - Yesod
Years and Beyond - Malchut
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.
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.
Version History and Credits
Version; Updated July 19, 3:25PM PST
some spelling mistakes, added more information on the various
1.7 written and copyrighted by Todd Ford.
July 16, 8:25PM PST
1.0 written and copyrighted by Todd Ford.
The Flesh Fair - An Allegory
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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
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.
A.I. - A Holocaust Allegory
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."
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.
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!"
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."
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
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.
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):
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
Germanys Wehrmacht was defeated and the German territory
now, the Flesh Fair itself:
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
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.
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.
Mechas are very focused on caring for each other (they comfort
each other, one turns off another's pain censors). And:
Mechas are very calm, even dignified at the center of all this
horror -- they are setting an example.
passage from the "Complete Idiots Guide to Understanding
Judaism" shows the significance of this:
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.
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.
A.I. - A Biblical Allegory
am going to turn back the clock now and take a look at these scenes
from a different historical perspective: the biblical book of
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.
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.
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.
went on to lay claim to the Promised Land but their life as a
people has been far from pleasant ever since.
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.
A.I. and the Kabbalah - Introduction
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.
ten views of God's power (Sefirot) that Kabbalah reveals to
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.
I Have an Idea - Chochmah, Binah, Daat
"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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
The Swinton Home - Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet
"kindness," is the gentle, forgiving, loving hand of
a mother. It has so much to give and just wants to keep on giving.
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
The Flesh Fair - Netzach, Hod
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
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?"
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.
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.
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.
Rouge City/Manhattan - 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.
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
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!")
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.
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:
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.
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.
2000 Years and Beyond - Malchut
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)
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?
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.
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]
above quotes from a series of articles on the website aish.com 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.)
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?
Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism by Benjamin Blech
series of articles from aish.com -
- The Official DOGME 95 Website