Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.

Elegantly written, visually opulent and thematically challenging and discontented, 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence amounted to one of Steven Spielberg’s finest, most fiercely misread films. (For a coda derided as pap, love sure felt brutally tantamount to knowledge.)

An unsettling sci-fi fairytale mélange of Pinocchio and The Wizard of Oz, A.I. wedded Spielberg’s visual wizardry to Stanley Kubrick’s bitter reality. (The duo developed A.I., and Spielberg prioritized it after Kubrick’s 1999 death.)

Spielberg’s screenwriting and direction worked in perfect concert with Kubrick’s spirit, where the mere choice of pronouns and the presence of trademark symbols pierced the soul. Spielberg collected a hard toll in even the most sentimental journeys of David (Haley Joel Osment), the robot at the forefront of this futuristic story.

A replacement son to two families — conceived and commoditized by one, abandoned by another — David has an insatiable thirst to understand human love. He’ll find it encompasses great fear, jealousy, anger, sadness, evil and death — all that we cannot fully appreciate love without using as points of reference.

That contrast extends to other characters: the curdling of a maternal connection to David in a claustrophobic first act; the hazards of passion and lust from lover robot Gigolo Joe (Jude Law); temporary elation and creator’s remorse of a robot pioneer (William Hurt).

Even when David finally seems to serve his own need for love, he’s still serving someone else. Avoiding Bicentennial Man-style schmaltz, A.I. offered one of the decade’s harshest, heartiest examinations of the human condition.