Reviewed by: David Simpson
A member of the movie’s advanced artificial intelligence symposium audience asks if Will is creating a god. Will replies by asking isn’t that what man has always done.
human consciousness and intelliegence versus artificial machine intelligence
fast rise of computing power in our world
possibilities of nanotechnology
|Featuring:||Kate Mara … Bree
Johnny Depp … Will Caster
Rebecca Hall … Evelyn Caster
Morgan Freeman … Joseph Tagger
Paul Bettany … Max Waters
Cillian Murphy … Agent Buchanan
Cole Hauser … Colonel Stevens
Clifton Collins Jr. … Martin
Lukas Haas … James Thomas
Xander Berkeley … Dr. Thomas Casey
Josh Stewart … Paul
|Director:||Wally Pfister—“Inception” (cinematographer)|
|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures|
“Yesterday Dr. Will Caster was only human.”
Transcendence: existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level; going beyond the limits of ordinary experience.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a computer genius. Along with his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), they are exploring the dynamics and continued research into artificial intelligence. Their plan is to create an A.I. machine, complete with personality and the ability to be self-aware. Their experiment has gone so far as to connect a monkey up to the machine, and digitize his being, and hopefully, his spirit, into the computer.
After a presentation, Caster is shot by an anti-technology protester, one of a series of coordinated attacks. Despite it not being a fatal shot, the radiation-laced bullet takes its toll, and Caster is given a few weeks to live. As Evelyn comes to grip with the fact she will lose him, she has the idea to plug him into their A.I. system, uploading his entire conscious and sub-conscious in a hope that he can continue living in a computerized state. After his death, their invention is a success, but goes haywire once he’s connected to the Internet, as he can control far too much. Despite his ability to create world-changing healing mechanisms, it is too much for the authorities to handle.
Violence: Heavy. There are numerous explosions, where people are injured and killed. A woman is hit by shrapnel and is injured badly with a lot of blood shown. Will Caster is shot, and the gunman kills himself right after (offscreen). A man is beaten by abductors. Another man is beaten by two assailants. His injuries are seen in detail. Men are shot, their bloody wounds seen, but are almost instantly healed.
Sex/Nudity: Moderate. There are a couple of kisses between Will and Evelyn, and a reference to Will being able to “touch” Evelyn, because he has become a part of another human being.
Language: Moderate. Twice “My G*d” is uttered, and one OMG, plus an “Oh J*sus” and “Jesus Christ. Hell is used twice. There are a couple s-words, and other mild language—mostly reactionary.
Transcendence is a complex concept, especially within this A.I. genre. It’s difficult to understand exactly what the message is within this story. On the one hand, it establishes that humans are too dedicated to technology, and at some point, it will backfire, or be used against us. Will Caster, in his computerized digital state, has no emotion, no empathy—part of what makes a human a human. Emotions, feelings, private thoughts are not valued or prioritized, and everything becomes part of his overall plan. His dream, that follows what his wife wanted, unnerves her because of the inhumanity of the whole situation. It’s not cruelty, or murder, but the unbelievable “other-worldliness” of things that forces her to back off. That, then, gives us an insight into why it’s called “Transcendence.”
Director Wally Pfister is best known for being the Oscar-winning Director of Photography for Christopher Nolan (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight”). This is his first attempt at feature film directing, so there are bound to be flaws. I cannot fault the visual aspects of this film. Those are what you would expect to blow you away. The script isn’t, perhaps, quite what it needs to be to attract a greater audience. The science isn’t explained to the level I needed, and if it wasn’t for the obvious visuals, I wouldn’t have understood how this is possible.
This is not an easily explainable movie. Will Caster desires to do good, but not to change the world. His wife has those lofty dreams. Once Caster is digitized, the question is, “Is this Will, the real Will?” Despite the seemingly dictatorial decisions he makes , he is never fully painted as a bad guy. His healing of any injury or physical affliction is wonderful. The question hovers over these actions along with another one. “How will the greater world react to these actions?” The closest thing to a “god” on Earth, with the ability to work towards ending sickness, cancer, Earthly defects, water impurity, etc, is a wonderfully rich sounding idea, but is it safe?
We serve a God who is perfect, beyond question, and makes every decision with the knowledge and understanding of what is best for us. No matter how appealing an Earth-created “god” may seem, it will still be imperfect, with major consequences for those affected. It does bring home the fact that we must think about our attachment to (and dependence on) technology. Not only has it affected our social lives, but also our spiritual. We can’t pretend to connect as easily or regularly to our Creator, when we can be entertained 24/7 by a screen and social media. Ultimately, we must be forever grateful, that our God is omnipotent, perfect, and transcendent.
I do not discourage people from viewing this film. I think Wally Pfister has a future in directing movies. There is little in “Transcendence” to turn viewers away. It’s a fascinating, albeit somewhat incomprehensible story. Enjoy it, if you can.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.