Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Hard Problem is a surprisingly heavy sci-fi film dealing with grief, loss, and philosophical questions about artificial intelligence. Led by a strong performance from charismatic John Berchtold, the writer/director duo hazart weave striking visuals through a grounded, near-future narrative. The script is cerebral and thought-provoking; there’s a sadness to it that aches with emotion.

After his mother passes away peacefully in her sleep, Ian (John Berchtold) contacts his estranged sister, Lisa (Jennifer Hasty) for funeral arrangements. Lisa doesn’t want Ian involved at all, barring him from attending. She tasks him with only one job: pack up the things in their mother’s home. Ian hides something Lisa cares about deeply, forcing her to recruit a stranger, Olivia (Catherine Haena Kim), to help retrieve the item.

It is difficult to discuss the film at length as to avoid spoilers. The sci-fi angle is sketched out just enough to build up a conceivable future mythology. Character struggles and interpersonal relationships are firmly reality-based, with the drama focus avoiding harsh emphasis on sci-fi. Berchtold and Kim, as Ian and Olivia respectively, build up a convincing platonic friendship that’s explored in a fascinating way. These two lead characters form the heart of A Hard Problem. Directing team hazart present flashes of memories that are creatively spun into the story and equally gorgeous visual technique to accompany them.

Several interesting observations are made about death and what it means to grieve a loved one. I adored the lengthy discussion between Ian and Olivia, about how objects we surround ourselves with are destined to outlive us. We imprint on these objects, and they come to represent parts of our personality. Another conversation between Lisa and Olivia describes the feeling when a song, or even tasting a food, can remind you of one you’ve loved. In this way, they come back to life in your mind, whether you believe in afterlife or not. Concluding sequences striking in their sadness close out the film with a giant punctuation mark. A Hard Problem is at its best when it lets these moments breathe and allows us time to absorb meaningful character beats. What does it mean to be human and to suffer through the awful feeling of losing someone? Poignant and timely, A Hard Problem begs you to hold close loved ones while you still have the chance.

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