Indie spotlight: Transcendent Man

March 30, 2011

For a very important reason, Transcendent Man begins with death. It’s a theme that pervades the entire discussion of technology, the future, and the direction that humanity might be headed in. After all, it’s that fear of death that propels us forward to delaying it, and, if Ray Kurzweil has his way, defeating it.

If the idea of scientifically-created immortality (as opposed to the philosophical or Pearly Gate variety) seems outlandish, it’s only one of several put forth by Kurzweil in the film. Fortunately, it’s a movie about much more than just his predictions. It would be the dullest mind-blowing experience if it were, but instead of focusing too much on the science, the documentary creates a portrait of the man making the claims — complete with his failings and warmth.

One version is a genius inventor who created a way for the blind to read. The other is a man haunted by the spectre of his father and debilitated by the thought of his own end.

Having read Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines, the detail gaps were filled in a bit, but knowing his work seems markedly unnecessary to following the movie. At a certain point, the information is meaningless. The list of hopes and prophesies for the future are a pure distillation of humanity, but it’s far more interesting to watch Kurzweil standing over his father’s grave or perusing the storage unit of his father’s effects to see the true personal anchor to that ever-elongating list.

As far as objectivity, this is firmly Kurzweil’s movie. He’s the main talking head, and his words are even blown up as kinetic typography to drive home the point (and to make the talking head element a bit more dynamic). There are counterpoints offered from brilliant minds, but not quite enough to bring things back to an even keel. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as one-sided as documentaries seem to have been since Michael Moore proved you could make money from sensationalism. […]