Transcendence (2014)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Wally Pfister
Run Time
1 hour and 40 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 6; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 1.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:1-4

You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
on the heights of Zaphon;
I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.’

Isaiah 14:13-14

America’s favorite pirate, Johnny Depp, dons a lab coat to portray computer genius Dr. Will Caster who suggests that his work on Artificial Intelligence makes him God. When shot and poisoned by anti-computer rebels, his collaborator and wife Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) uploads his mind into a server before his body dies, and he is soon absorbing all the knowledge of the Internet and the power that knowledge bestows upon its recipient.

Director Wally Pfister and script writer Jack Paglen’s film is another cautionary tale that joins the long list of such sci-fi films as The Fly, Jurassic Park, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein. The title comes from a presentation Will makes to a large gathering of computer experts, “ For one hundred and thirty thousand years, our capacity to reason has remained unchanged. The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, mathematicians and engineers pales in comparison to the most basic A.I. Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence.”

Someone shouts from the audience, “In other words, you want to create a god.” Will gazes at the heckler, and in his reply we can hear an echo of the Genesis Tower of Babel story, “Isn’t that what man has always wanted?” Will and Evelyn’s colleague and best friend Max (Paul Bettany) at first helps them upload Will’s mind and to build a huge facility in the New Mexico desert, but then, seeing the moral and spiritual problems of their project, raises questions. So does their appalled mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman). Agent Buchanan of the FBI (Cillian Murphy), drawn in because of the terrorist’s attack, also is concerned that Will, with access to all bank records and intelligence information, is now a threat to national security.

Far more opposed to Will is Bree (Kate Mara), one of the anti-technology terrorists who launch an attack on the new facility in the desert. The minds of the locals have all been brought under Will’s control, so he has quite a small army equipped with incredible weapons to defend his project. Evelyn because of her loving devotion has been blind to the arguments of Max that the project must be stopped, so part of the pathos of the tale is her struggle, when she wakens to the moral questions it raises, between her love and her knowledge of what is right.

The story is told by Max after his friend’s project has destroyed the civilized world. He is visiting Will and Evelyn’s weed-overgrown former home, which leads him to the series of flashbacks that constitute the tale. The exact nature of his friends’ scheme is a bit fuzzy, and the climactic battle threatens to derail the intellectual theme of the film by bringing in too much of the action-thriller genre. Still, as a film of ideas, this one belongs aside that of Her and A.I., providing a good opportunity to discuss the moral and ethical issues raised by our ever developing technology.

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