“What About Us?” by Ministry from A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
There have been numerous pieces over the years since the 2001 release of A.I., debating whether or not Steven Spielberg’s direction was inappropriate for the work begun by Stanley Kubrick. Based on Brian Aldiss’ story, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” the film is about a boy robot, David, who is the replacement child for a couple whose young son is in suspended animation due to a disease without a cure.
A cure is found, the “real” child is cured, and David is abandoned in the woods with his robotic companion, Teddy. As he wanders, looking for the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, whom he thinks can turn him into a real boy, he’s captured as part of an anti-robot celebration, wherein robots are destroyed by people who fear that they’re replacing people.
The film continues on after this, culminating in an ending many people — myself included — think is tacked-on and hackneyed, and counteracts the nihilistic vision espoused throughout the majority of A.I.’s run time. It’s especially counter to the aforementioned anti-robot celebration, called the Flesh Fair, featuring music by none other than Ministry.
The Al Jourgensen-fronted industrial metal band performs a song composed specifically for the film, entitled “What About Us?” and it’s a dark one, with lyrics like this verse:
“Wage war on the eye which cannot see
Destroy the temple of emptiness
And what about them in the wake of damnation
And what about us? Do we come from God?”
The story of how Ministry came to be in A.I. is pretty impressive, as was related in a piece from MTV at the time. As the film’s co-producer, Bonnie Curtis told MTV, “she was interested only in the group’s post-apocalyptic appearance, not their talents.” Curtis and Kathleen Kennedy pitched the idea to the band, and a few weeks later — despite having been only contracted to be in the film, not necessarily contributing music — Jourgensen wrote the lyrics to “What About Us?” and sent them over.
The scene in which the band performs took eight days to shoot, and featured 1,000 extras, complete with a stage show by lighting designer Marc Brickman, who’d done work for Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen. Ministry is only in the film for a little bit, but thanks to outtakes from the film shoot, as well as full performance footage, a complete video was created to go with the song.
It’s a bleak-as-hell scene: robots are getting destroyed, Jourgensen’s got this freaky mask that looks lifted from Lamberto Bava’s Demons, and his guitar has a video screen built in. It’s kind of cool, in that it’s more like an extended scene from the film than just a music video. As a music video, it’s basically a performance piece, but given the mass of humanity in front of the stage, it’s as if the performance is being beamed back from a not too distant future.
It’s the darkest part of a very black descent, and given the fact that you have Ministry performing while robots are blown to bits all around them, and Jude Law playing a robotic gigolo, you kind of wonder why A.I. has gotten such a bad rap. It’s usually attributed to Spielberg’s epilogue, which the Telegraph says was considered at the time “as both superfluous and a Spielbergian sop to sentiment: a snuggly, upbeat ending for a film that never courted one.”
I agree with that 100%, but not with the rest of the piece, which concludes by saying that “A.I.‘s ending isn’t twee, but wrenchingly sad,” because I frankly can’t get behind the idea that a flash-forward several thousands of years into the future after a very tight, satisfying conclusion at the bottom of the sea is anything other than unnecessary.
Interestingly enough, “What About Us?” was never released as part of the A.I. soundtrack, although it did see inclusion on their Greatest Fits compilation, released the same year as the film.