Having watched, and enjoyed, Transcendence it is somewhat confusing to see so much vitriol being spewed at the film, treating the cautionary tale of internet AI with the sort of reaction usually reserved for virus spreading spam. Granted the film is more of an intellectual mish mash of several different themes, plots and subplots, and does not contain any nudity or an overabundance of gratuitous gory violence. It also requires the usual suspension of disbelief needed for any fictional film, unfortunately those who have been panning the poor movie to the nth degree, seem incapable of doing that.
Apparently most critics and reviewers are slamming the Christopher Nolan produced science fiction epic tale of man’s attempting to become God and those who try to stop it haven’t been able to suspend any disbelief. The Depp “curse” may have a lot to do with the amount of dissatisfaction with the film’s story and its ambiguous ending. Certainly the actor has had a run of bad luck in his film roles of late. There seems to be a lot of hostility left over from his portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger for instance.
Depp bashing aside, Transcendence does have a lot to offer. From taking the base plot of the 1953 sci-fi/horror film Donovan’s Brain starring Lew Ayres and one of a few versions of the Curt Siodmak novel and making it all about AI and God may have have upset someone. Although the original film was about a rotter, and deceased millionaire, whose brain is kept alive in a tank by an “honest” scientist. It had nothing to do with the Internet either which was not even thought of back in the 1950s.
Transcendence is just so much scientific hokum added to an issue of man’s hubris being responsible for trying to create life in his image. In other words, suffering from a God complex. To cloud this morality tale even further, the man who “becomes” God, is aided, set up and influenced by a woman. Another variation of the Adam and Eve story? Perhaps. This film manages to really look at the issues of man’s doubting the existence of the Almighty and whether man’s attempt to circumvent the myths and truths of a creator should result in failure which results in his being feared and loathed by his fellow denizens. Treating this film like so much cinematic spam makes no real sense.
The initial plot has Will Caster (Depp) and his wife working together on their joint project PINN. For Will, it’s all about artificial intelligence (AI) for his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) it’s about healing the world. Caster doesn’t think much past his project of making a computer self aware, it is the love of his life who develops the “God complex” as she struggles to get her dying husband’s brain uploaded into PINN. For those who’ve seen the film, a lot has been left out in this “opening” of the plot. In a nutshell, the upload works, Will is merged with PINN and becomes omnipresent and, pretty much, all powerful. In other words, a lot like Christians version of God.
As Caster himself points out, people fear what they do not understand, so his AI self, and Evelyn are targeted by the anti-tech terrorist group. Although to be fair, they are trying to save Evelyn. By the time the movie ends, with an ending that smacks of a possible sequel, no one wins, Castel, and his image, are gone and so is the omnipotent AI that was, miraculously, healing the Earth. There should not have been a dry eye in the house.
Taking the film’s multiple plots out of the equation and taking a good look at the cinematography, reveals that the Wally Pfister has probably been Chris Nolan’s best kept secret. Helming his first film, the picture looks beyond great. The CG FX impress on every level. At the risk of sounding like a religious lunatic, even the CG supports the main underlying theme of man attempting to become God. When the people that AI Will makes “super human” are injured by being attacked by the opposite faction, the earth, aka dust, rises up and heals them. Another Adam and Eve allusion if ever there was one.
Perhaps Transcendence seeking to ask a morality question about man’s trying to become God, wrapped in a story about AI, the Internet, a love story, and man’s terrified ignorant reaction to too much technology feels like spam by critics. Reviewers have, for the most part, slammed the film and ignored the obvious things that Pfister, and the talented cast, got right. Possibly the mix of religion and technology has hit a nerve somewhere or it’s all a part of the recent sport of Depp “bashing.” Who knows, but really, the film is not as bad as critics would like everyone to believe.
By Michael Smith
Rock Regal Rock Stadium 16