Berkreviews Tribeca 2022 @home – Sophia (2022)

Sophia (2022) is a documentary from directors Jon Kasbe (When Lambs Become Lions, Tribeca 2018) and Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack, Tribeca 2015) about inventor David Hanson and the struggles he has encountered while crafting “Sophia” – the most realistic humanoid robot in the world. The robot works well…most of the time…and David spends his days managing his investors, troubleshooting with his team, or traveling and speaking at conferences. Then, there is his personal life, where he tries to be around for his wife and son while also helping to take care of his ailing mother. It’s not an easy life – and then there’s COVID-19 to make things all the more complicated.

The movie is able to give a pretty “fly on the wall” look at David Hanson’s life and struggles. Moselle and Kasbe manage to capture some moments that are truly candid and feel like things we probably shouldn’t be there for. There are times when investors are basically telling David it doesn’t matter how smart “Sophia” is, or that she’s creepy, or that she’s not really functional in a way that will make money. Over and over, we see David trying to explain how revolutionary “Sophia” is, followed by demonstrating it. We’ll see her working perfectly when no one is watching, only to malfunction in front of a crowded room of spectators. David is constantly defending AI, and trying to convince people why it is not creepy while telling “Sophia” that he loves her…it…the robot. In this, the documentary is quite impressive and open to who this man is and what he’s helped create. 

However, that’s really all the documentary offers up. It feels like it wants to say something profound about AI, or the way a visionary can be stifled by money or corporations not backing their ideas. Yet, it doesn’t really say anything at all. The film seems to take David’s side that this technology is meaningful, and deserves to be given whatever funding is necessary to achieve its full potential. Or, that could just be me feeling empathetic for this man, who is pouring everything he has into this project – even having his mother cast the skin for all of the versions of “Sophia”, despite the fact that she is sick and dying. He literally has given everything for this project and funding, then COVID-19 threatened to take it all away from him. Still, that’s all it really offers. The narrative isn’t over, but the film is – and thus, we don’t really have much at the end of it. We can ponder our own feelings regarding AI and technology, but we’ll just vaguely remember David and his ambitions. 

There was nothing wrong with Sophia…the movie, not the robot…but it just never felt impactful. I was disappointed, as I’m a big fan of the Wolfpack and Skate Kitchen – so I’d come to this for the Moselle of it all. While the New York moment definitely felt like Moselle, the movie as a whole felt undistinct in that way. An interesting story of a real person, but despite the candidness of his life, it still felt unrelatable for the most part. Sophia earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.

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