I remember little fanfare when A.I. Artificial Intelligence hit theaters in June of 2001. It didn't quite enter the radar of my rural community, and received somewhat mixed reviews from critics and audiences.
I'm not even sure when or how I got around to seeing it, but I do remember what I felt during my first viewing, and every viewing since. The heartbreak of unrequited love, the pain of abandonment, the confusion of being alive in the world. Kubrick's vision, Spielberg's direction, Haley Joel Osment's subtle yet stirring performance.... It all worked, and I now consider it one of the most underrated movies of the past two decades. (Where is it on the AFI nominations list? Nowhere.)
It's also a movie full of great food moments. When David arrives at the Swinton home, fresh out of the box, he follows Monica around the house like a curious puppy, observing her daily activities and absorbing information about his world. He seems particularly interested in how she eats and drinks, activities he is hardwired to know don't belong to him, but that he instinctually knows set him apart.
Before long he begins miming the act of eating at mealtimes. It's a sort of shadow puppetry, a cheat that allows him to live out the story of the family meal. And, as we know, stories are real.
But the story takes a dark turn when "the most wonderful thing in the whole world" happens: the Swintons' son, Martin, returns from cryogenic sleep. Monica once again has a breathing, eating, real live boy.
Sibling rivalry ensues, culminating in the the greatest food moment in A.I. David sees that miming at mealtimes will no longer cut it, nor will it make him a real son to Monica. With Martin's goading, he reaches for the spinach and shovels it into his mouth like coal into a train's furnace.
It doesn't end well.
Flash forward to 2014, and I can't help but see the scene as an allegory for the food culture of fear that exists in America today. We tell ourselves that food is a necessary evil, that everything we put in our mouth is a potential danger, that we need only to find the right balance of x, y, and z and--poof!--eternal health will be ours.
We forget that humans are complex and messy and beautiful, that we're omnivores who can turn nearly anything into energy.
But, at the expense of our mental and physical health, we obsess.
We commit to the Paleo diet because our genetics were built on it, we subject ourselves to juice cleanses because our bodies are full of icky toxins, we go gluten-free because grains are the villain du jour, we swear off all GMOs ever in the history of the world, even if we don't fully understand what they are, because our politics demand it.
We obsess over these things. We tell ourselves these stories. But we forget that some stories aren't real.