Review by Sean Boelman
Jon Kasbe and Crystal Moselle are already accomplished documentary filmmakers in their own right, so a project teaming the two of them up was sure to be an exciting prospect. Sophia might be a conventional movie in many ways, but the humanity and tenderness with which it approaches its inhuman subject is extraordinary.
The film tells the story of a restless inventor who sets out to perfect the world’s most advanced and lifelike artificial intelligence. It’s a type of story that very easily could have felt overly formal and scientific, but the approach that the filmmakers take is surprisingly grounded for something as scientifically extraordinary as this.
On one hand, the movie is about the eponymous AI as she tries to find her place in the world. It’s an interesting prospect to watch a robotic entity learning about our world, and it would have been nice to see the film go a bit more into this childlike wonder with which she approaches the world.
But perhaps the more dominant force in the movie is Sophia’s inventor David Hanson. He’s portrayed as an almost Byronic hero in this context, a Prometheus of the world of science — but instead of just being punished by his own creators, he is being punished by the people he is giving the gift of knowledge to as well.
Indeed, the film really explores the debate surrounding AI and how the general public is hesitant to embrace the technology because of its potential to be abused. And while it’s clear that Kasbe and Moselle are setting out to present the counter-argument, there is a certain point at which it almost starts to feel like it is letting fear mongering take over.
There is also an interesting father-daughter dynamic in the movie that is really interesting. This is something that we’ve seen discussed in fictional films before — the relationship between creator and creation paralleled to one between parent and child — but the realism of this is brought into question.
On a technical level, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and that is thanks to wonderful direction from Kasbe and Moselle. It’s a film that feels at once warm and intimate yet futuristic. There are certainly several aspects of Sophia that audiences would generally find uncanny, but the style of the movie prevents that from happening.
Sophia is certainly an interesting documentary, and its unorthodox approach to its material is what allows it to stand out. Although it does struggle with a few of its themes, the ideas it brings to the table are more than interesting enough to recommend.
Sophia will air on Showtime later this year.