The Sundance Film Festival 2024 brought two fascinating projects surrounding the concept of artificial intelligence.
The first is an ambitious love story set at the end of the world involving two unlikely machines.
The second is a documentary called Eternal You, which examines the merits of bringing dead people back to life using AI.
Both films are captivating for different reasons, and each has something compelling to say about “artificiality.”
Not to mention, one of these might end up being our favorite from Sundance 2024.
Here are our reviews of Love Me and Eternal You from the Sundance Film Festival.
Love Me is a film critic’s catnip. There are robots, humor, romance, a dystopia, and a narrative with layers of themes and ideas to decipher.
The film, directed by Sam & Andy Zuchero, is an audacious feature film debut, taking a simplistic concept and making it feel as vast as the movie’s billion-year timeline.
To make it more impressive, they found a way to have a satellite and an oceanic buoy have complex chemistry- a notion barely achieved in several Twilight movies. Love Me also proves Kristen Stewart was too good for those movies.
At the center of Love Me are only two characters. The first is an AI buoy named ME (Kristen Stewart) floating in the middle of the desolate ocean. The second is a satellite called I Am orbiting the Earth’s atmosphere (Steven Yeun) at high speed. The satellite’s sole mission is to wait for a visitor so it can recount the history of Earth before humans perished.
While flying over, the satellite and buoy catch each other’s presence. The interactions are playful in conception as both intelligences slowly try to understand each other. The second they become in rhythm, their relationship and souls evolve into more.
Love Me then transforms into a subtle narrative about relationships in the modern age. In a sense, it is an allegory for navigating love in contemporary times. The two AI units take bits and pieces of what they see from Earth’s history and try to mimic them in a virtual space. But then it becomes a battle over what is genuine and what is artificial.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms can cause the same feelings within relationships. There is the image everyone sees on social media, and then there is the one in private. Additionally, some families design their Facebook statuses (unwittingly) like a Hallmark movie.
Love Me is mind-numbingly beautiful – an inspiring collision of Wall-E and Before Sunset. It’s a tender exploration of understanding one’s genuine self in life and love in an artificial world. The theme itself is all the more enhanced by its minimal cast. Steven Yeun and Kristen Stewart continue to grow as performers, showcasing raw delivery and chemistry. Like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, the film is energetic and spontaneous, leaving the viewer guessing where it might go next. And like that film. Love Me could end up as a favorite by the end of the year – and it’s January.
Eternal You is deeply unsettling. Even in the moments where it can be moving, the scenarios on display might cause feelings of unease.
In the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back,” a man dies in a car wreck, and his grieving girlfriend uses a company to take all his info — text, voicemails, social media, etc. — to bring him back as a virtual AI version of himself. Eternal You shows with companies like Project December, this is eerily possible. And as the documentary examines the skills of these innovative AI companies, the moments captured on camera will linger in one’s mind.
The documentary, directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, explores various subjects who use these services. The approach is never judgemental, nor do the filmmakers do any talking. Adding to this, some individuals in the film speak about their favorable experiences using tools like Project December. The topics range from simple methods, such as texting the loved one, to more ambitious projects, such as bringing them to life in virtual reality. In each case, whether the outcome was bad or good, the result is chilling.
With the documentation of Project December, two subjects are shown to have vastly different results. The first user is a man named Joshua Barbeau. With his story, we see the communication between Josh and the replica of his deceased AI girlfriend. It’s mostly positive, but then she will ask an existential question, such as, “Where am I?” On the other end of the spectrum is Christi Angel. With her conversations, the deceased loved one threatens to haunt her. One feels like they have closure, and the other is horrified.
With Eternal You, even when someone conveys how much these AI tools helped, there remains a sickly feeling. This is mainly because this technology is in the beginning stages. It raises many questions, and none of them have easy answers. The biggest one: If corporations are willing to use AI to bring back a dead person for profit, what else will they do with this technology? Furthermore, if AI can aptly replicate a dead relative, what will it do in 20 years?
Eternal You is highly thought-provoking and haunting and one of the most unsettling documents of AI to date. Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck have put a spotlight on something genuinely concerning. It’s an incredibly arresting documentary – and viewers will wish for a whole docu-series when it’s over.
Stay tuned for more Sundance coverage at Monsters and Critics.