Sundance 2024 Review: Eternal You

by Andrew Parker

Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block’s cautionary documentary Eternal You takes a look at “death capitalism” in the age of AI, bringing up thoughtful questions about ethical and moral responsibility, while simultaneously remaining empathetic towards difficult emotions surrounding loss, grief, and acceptance.

In the age of digital avatars and ChatGPT, it’s not surprising that many tech entrepreneurs would want to cash in on a chance to give people and their loved ones a shot at digital immortality that will last long after someone has died. Riesewieck and Block travel the world to examine users of programs like YOV, Project December, and HereAfter, which use artificial intelligence and predictive programming to try and recreate conversations and virtual interactions with departed loved ones, while also examining this new technology from the perspective of grieving family members who use these services.

Eternal You is a very skeptical, up-to-the-moment, and of its time documentary that acknowledges how much things are rapidly changing in the tech sector and important questions that human beings need to ask themselves when engaging with artificial intelligence. It’s not long into Eternal You where some of the tech gurus in charge of these start ups bluntly and all too candidly show that they’re simply doing these things because they can make a few bucks off of it, and not because they genuinely care about the implications. Riesewieck and Block never expressly come out and say it, but there’s a clear bias towards painting these companies as delivering the same kind of empty promises that people normally turn to religion and psychics to conjure up. How does one replicate consciousness when science barely understands the building blocks that make up such a phenomenon in the first place?

But just as important as the moral and ethical implications is the larger questions posed in Eternal You about the grieving process. Does it ever really end, and will these programs help bring closure or leave users in a state of blissful, emotionally suspended animation? Riesewieck and Block (The Cleaners) might be wary of the technology, but they’re certainly empathetic to those using it for a sense of comfort. Viewers will find themselves engaged, frightened, torn, and ultimately moved by what they see in Eternal You, which is an almost impossible blend of an emotional journey to achieve in a single volume documentary.

Eternal You screened as part of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

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