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MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.

Reviewed by: David Simpson

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Sci-Fi Mystery Drama IMAX
1 hr. 59 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 18, 2014 (wide—3,400+ theaters)
DVD: July 22, 2014
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

sentient machine

human consciousness and intelliegence versus artificial machine intelligence

fast rise of computing power in our world

possibilities of nanotechnology

Featuring: Kate MaraBree
Johnny DeppWill Caster
Rebecca HallEvelyn Caster
Morgan FreemanJoseph Tagger
Paul BettanyMax Waters
Cillian MurphyAgent Buchanan
Cole Hauser … Colonel Stevens
Clifton Collins Jr. … Martin
Lukas Haas … James Thomas
Xander Berkeley … Dr. Thomas Casey
Josh Stewart … Paul
See all »
Director: Wally Pfister—“Inception” (cinematographer)
Producer: Alcon Entertainment
DMG Entertainment
See all »
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.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—I liked the film because it was very thought provoking. There are a few theories out there on what the Image of the Beast having life and the Mark is in Revelations. Some believe it may be a sentient A.I. given life by Satan. This movie made me think what it would like if this became true and mankind bowed down to this image given “life”… just a theory, but it still gave me chills…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
James, age 40 (USA)
Positive—Can the dying Will Caster be saved by transferring all of his thoughts to computer? Can a computer be human? This has remnants of Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In “Transcendence,” Caster is uploaded to the World Wide Web by his wife who just can’t bear to lose him to keep his essence from being destroyed. The knowledge he gains gives him a power they did not anticipate. Power to heal can be a wonderful thing. What if it is used by one who has no conscience of good or evil, but will do what must be done to save himself? I’m surprised this concept had not been thought of before.

I thought it was very well made, and Johnny Depp does a great job characterizing Caster. The supporting cast is also very good, which is part of the movie’s strength. ***SPOILER*** I also liked the effect of the healing of the killed characters coming from the earth. This is reminiscent to me of God creating man from the dust of the earth. ***END SPOILER***

Though it does get a bit violent, I found it very thought-provoking and worth the rental. It begs the question, if a man can transfer all he is mentally to a computer, what becomes of his soul?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Jeff, age 57 (USA)
Neutral—We saw this movie in the IMAX, and while it was interesting as movies go, it wasn’t worth the ticket price. It was a bit slow in places. It was thought-provoking here and there, but I’d recommend renting it instead of paying ticket prices. The acting was great, but the story line had some holes. It was just too boring.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Trina, age 46 (USA)

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