Stumbled on this by mistake, and thought a few Kubrick fans would love the read. It's obvious that it was published before AI. Enjoy...... Eric LITTLE ROBOT LOST by Joshua Rothkopf Speculations on the best film Kubrick never made. The final scene of the final film of Stanley Kubrick’s career takes place in a toy store: a married couple go Christmas shopping with their young daughter. Given the two-and-a-half hours of Eyes Wide Shut we’ve seen up to this point—psychosexual anxieties thrashed out on a fuzzy terrain that only barely resembles Greenwich Village—it’s comfortingly banal to hear a dopey version of “Jingle Bells” as the family wanders distractedly past all the shiny things to buy. (Would Freud call this a primal scene?) The little girl spots something desirable and runs off. A moment later she’s back, hoisting a giant stuffed teddy bear. Mommy looks at the price tag under the bear’s ear. “We’ll see,” she says, or words to that effect. Too tidy a conclusion, it might be said—and rightly so. After a torrid night of infidelities both dreamed and pursued, husband and wife are reunited with child in tow, doing the thing that young marrieds do best. Go deeper and there’s an echo of the long-distance phone call from 2001: A Space Odyssey: Daddy, orbiting on a space station, asks his daughter what she wants most for her birthday. “A bush baby,” she squeals. (The daughter happens to be Kubrick’s own, Vivian.) “We’ll see,” he says, or words to that effect. What that teddy bear really is, though, is a clue. It happens to be the most enigmatic stuffed animal in the whole of cinema—a hint of things to come had Kubrick not suddenly died—and now, the only remaining vestige of what will forever be a mystery. An early, unpublished version of the Eyes Wide Shut script dated 4 August 1996 has no mention of this teddy bear, no toy store at all. But Kubrick put them there for a reason. Here’s why. Reviewing a film that was never actually made has its advantages: obsessions lurking on the periphery of a director’s work can be seen to mysteriously fulminate and become statements (that is, without having been stated). And, to borrow a bit of dialogue from a movie that did get made, the legend is far more printworthy than the facts—that small fact about the film not existing, for example. Who cares? It seems obvious to me that Kubrick’s highly strategized but finally unrealized sci-fi project, AI (provisional title, short for Artificial Intelligence), would have been the masterly consummation so many critics wanted Eyes Wide Shut to be. The story of AI comes to light only in the wake of its absence; voices emerge from contractual secrecy to speak of the revolution that never happened. In 1974, Kubrick came into contact with British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, who in returning a compliment, sent the director a collection of his short works. One story Kubrick found particularly promising was “Supertoys Last All Summer Long.” It takes place in a overpopulated future when parents must await official approval to have children; in the interim they buy robot children who aren’t given knowledge of their manufactured origin. “Supertoys” follows the story of one such child, David, who yearns in vain for his mother’s love; she can’t feel for him what she would for a real son. Throughout, David seeks the advice of his talking stuffed teddy bear. Here’s a representative exchange: “Teddy, I can’t think of what to say!” Climbing off the bed, the bear walked stiffly over to cling to the boy’s leg. David lifted him and set him on the desk. “What have you said so far?” “I’ve said—“ He picked up his letter and stared hard at it. “I’ve said, Dear Mummy, I hope you’re well just now. I love you...’” There was a long silence, until the bear said, “That sounds fine. Go downstairs and give it to her.” Another long silence. “It isn’t quite right. She won’t understand.” Inside the bear, a small computer worked through its program of possibilities. “Why not do it again in crayon?” “Supertoys,” by all informed accounts, was the touchstone for Kubrick’s AI, particularly in its empathetic view of an artificial lifeform advanced enough to need love. Had the film been made, it would have cast an entirely different light on 2001’s HAL, no longer the murderous automaton but retrospectively imbued with our sympathies: “Stop, Dave—I can feel it.” AI’s talking teddy bear would have also struck emotional resonance with the shopping scene that closes Eyes Wide Shut, adding a dimension of insecurity to the underwritten part of the daughter who may already have started to look for company elsewhere. (Her parents are either dreaming of naval officers or crashing elaborate orgies.) Similarly, there may be a subtle reference to AI—the film that never was—in The Shining: when Danny first describes his imaginary friend “Tony” to a concerned psychologist, he leans back against a pillow in bed. The pillow is a teddy bear. Work on The Shining interrupted Kubrick’s collaboration with Aldiss but in 1982 he bought the rights to “Supertoys” and resumed development along more mythical lines. It’s possible that none of the chronology detailed here would have become public knowledge were it not for Kubrick’s untimely death. Like many others, Aldiss has gone on record reminiscing about Kubrick; this summer he told the New York Times that Kubrick was very impressed with Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. The Pinocchio myth came up in their discussions for AI. Another writer attached to the project in later years, Sara Maitland, told The Independent that Kubrick always referred to his gestating film as “Pinocchio.” If a film of AI had come to light, comparisons with Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon would have been instantly apparent along this vein of a son’s dangerous quest for regaining a parent’s love. In that film, Barry is the interloper between the recently widowed Lady Lyndon and her devoted but disapproving son, Lord Bullingdon, who eventually returns home to confront his stepfather in a duel. Bullingdon is not the focus of Barry Lyndon but AI might have suggested a fantasia on Thackeray’s story, freed from its period moorings in the eighteenth century and flung in the far future. At it stands, Barry Lyndon remains—sadly, to my mind—one of Kubrick’s least discussed films, appreciated mainly by cultists but largely dismissed as a minor work. Increasingly then, it appears AI would have been much more than another fascinating entry in a filmography. Aldiss and Kubrick continued revising by expanding their story’s timeline: now, after an initial exposition much like “Supertoys,” David would be found thousands of years later by other impossibly advanced robots who would recharge him in an attempt to better understand their extinct human heritage—long since disappeared from the planet. One wonders how Kubrick would have made that transition over such a vastness of time. Would it have mirrored his famous edit in 2001--that trajectory of white bone flung into blue sky, suddenly becoming a drifting space laser? Kubrick had already connected his vision to a time before recorded history; AI would have telescoped to the opposite bookend. Al was once again put on hold as Kubrick entered into preproduction on Full Metal Jacket but was revived soon after that film’s release—and at this point, one really must wonder if Kubrick himself recognized AI as a summation work worth saving for the very end. In 1990, another sci-fi novelist, Ian Watson, contracted with Kubrick as the principal screenwriter and together they developed aspects of AI’s psychology. David, the robot boy, would be haunted by memories of his mother (now dead for millennia); the later part of the film would feature recreations of their strained domesticity as David’s damaged memory is downloaded and rebuilt. Sara Maitland, the other contract writer on AI, turned the mother into an alcoholic and contributed a scene where David mixes a Bloody Mary for her virtual ghost. So AI would have featured something of an inversion of Lloyd, the bartender from The Shining, who makes drinks for the dead. And the preoccupations of AI’s sad 5-year old protagonist, trapped in his endlessly looping dream memory, would have revealed Eyes Wide Shut to be a transitional film at best, its grainy black-and-white images of sexual jealousy maturing into desperate apparitions of nostalgia and loss. AI would have been visually stunning—a new 2001 for 2001. There are rumors of cities flooded by global warming; digital test footage was solicited by Kubrick after he saw Jurassic Park and became emboldened. A robot laboratory was set up at Kubrick’s ultra-private English estate to explore possibilities. One special effects technician is said to have labored on a working model of David’s head for over a year. And judging from the evidence of this tenacious 25-year history, AI (unlike its creator) would have survived the final interruption of Eyes Wide Shut; studio executives had already been contacted, huge budgets were secured. But we’ll never see the epic that might have been, even if Spielberg assumes control of the project as it’s been whispered. (A final irony that: when technical consultant becomes artistic executor.) There will never be “another Kubrick” but his unfinished legacy invites us into creative speculation—the state of mind he occupied for so long. As we can infer now from that last scene in Eyes Wide Shut, Christmas wishes often go unfulfilled. Joshua Rothkopf’s robot makes a damn fine martini.