The emotional spine of the film is Kurzweil's love for his father, a composer whose "genius was thwarted" in life, he says, and who died at 58 of heart disease. The film weds Kurzweil's refusal to accept death's inevitability to his quest for immortality, which he believes advances in medicine and technology will achieve before he himself dies. In effect, the film dares viewers to draw the pop psychology conclusion that Kurzweil's faith in techno-immortality is really a fantasy he's projected to avoid confronting his fears of death—an opinion that Kurzweil would surely dispute.
Therein lies the biggest flaw in the movie: it refuses to ask that question and challenge Kurzweil's own narrative about his beliefs. Kurzweil acknowledges that his father's death was momentous for him (and credits the film with helping him realize it), but he never concedes or even addresses on camera whether that fact might bear on his certainty that the Singularity will arrive during his lifetime.
The film is evenhanded enough to give some of Kurzweil's more respectful critics a chance to air their disagreements with him, but it never shows anyone arguing directly with Kurzweil, so viewers are left with no sense of who might have the better-reasoned perspective. The film seems dedicated to this hands-off approach. Ptolemy followed Kurzweil for two years and was clearly immersed in those ideas; surely he must have his own opinion of them. But if so, he keeps it under wraps.
As a result, the film fails to show that resistance to his ideas is often based on more than uninformed incredulity and that the science on which Kurzweil stands is sometimes rather flimsy. For example, Kurzweil states that biological evolution shows the same exponential rate of change that technology does—a claim that many biologists consider nonsensical. He confidently foresees uploading human consciousness and memories into computers but doesn't engage with extensive objections to that possibility raised by neuroscientists. He talks about "reprogramming [his] biochemistry" with pills and supplements but doesn't note that the science behind that regimen sometimes relies on a selective reading of the research literature. He speaks assuredly about genes as "software" but glosses over the problems with that metaphor.
The absence of a challenge in the film is sorely missed everywhere, but especially in Kurzweil's poignant, bizarre belief that technology will someday help him resurrect his father. With degraded DNA scavenged from his father's grave, memories plucked from the brains of those who knew him, and information in the man's papers and music (which Kurzweil has scrupulously warehoused), post-Singularity technology will supposedly be able to whip up a replica of the man.
It is hard to know where to begin in pointing out the problems with that plan. But technical and philosophical reservations aside, what does it say about Kurzweil's personality that he would consider such a thin simulacrum to be his father, or even an appealing proxy for him? A more incisive documentary would want to know.
Kurzweil and Transcendent Man want to evangelize that technology will help human beings rise above the limitations of their biology and become something literally more divine. Yet Kurzweil comes across as naively uninterested in the philosophical and practical implications of that possibility—not unaware of them, but blithely optimistic that the problems will work out. And paradoxically, in a film about an expansion of what it could mean to be human the protagonist sometimes seems so emotionally off-kilter that his own humanity feels unrealized.