The name Steven Spielberg is synonymous with Hollywood blockbusters. Films like "Close Encounters," "E.T.," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and, more recently, "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," have become part of our national psyche. With his latest film, "A.I.," Spielberg offers a penetrating critique of the modern view of children. It is one of his most important and culturally incisive films yet.

Like all Spielberg films, "A.I." was heralded by a blitz of media hype. The film is the product of Spielberg's collaboration with the late Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker, had worked on the concept for years, but died before filming began.

Set in a somewhat distant future--after global warming has sent coastal metropolises like New York the way of Atlantis--"A.I." depicts a world in which human civilization is forever altered. Notably, the global flood mandates strict population controls.

The story develops around David--a sort of cybernetic Pinocchio. Created in the image of a scientist's own lost son, David ushers in a new technological era. Like other androids, he can think, but unlike other mechanical beings--or "mechas"--David can also feel. Most remarkably, he's programmed to love.

David is given to a couple whose own son is comatose and whose recovery is uncertain. The mother is distraught at the loss of her child. When her husband brings David home, she at first resists. But after her initial hesitation, she decides to initiate the program to make David love her. They enjoy a brief and joyful time as mother and son.

But while David's love is hardwired, her own love comes with no such guarantees. When the couple's real son recovers from his coma and returns from the hospital, David finds himself without a home. And, like Pinocchio, he sets out to become a real boy-- in the hope that his mother will love him.

"A.I." paints a disturbing picture of a world in which others are seen as merely instruments to satisfy our desires. Interestingly, response to this collaboration of two of Hollywood's greatest geniuses has been cool, to say the least. Critics discuss the problem of conflicting visions between Spielberg and Kubrick, or the issues raised by creating artificial intelligence. But I suspect audiences also find that "A.I." hits a little too close to home.

This movie debunks the claim that when children are fewer they will be treasured. When the only children society makes room for are "wanted children," then all children are, by definition, reduced to an extension of their parents desires.

And "A.I."'s critique extends beyond parenting. The impulse to create children for the parent's fulfillment also animates the drive for human cloning and stem cell research. Conspicuously forgotten in today's lust for scientific breakthroughs is the humanity of the children being manufactured and destroyed.

Scripture teaches that parenting is a sacred trust. Yes, children are delightful and bring us great joy, but they're a weighty responsibility. And every child exists for his own sake, with dignity in his or her own right, simply by virtue of being human.

"A.I." is a film people will be talking about for a long time--and that's good. Let's pray that its lessons are learned before the film becomes reality.

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