by Lauren Schwabe
In “Transcendence” Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are successful partners in the science world. While they differ slightly in their understanding of how to make the world better, they are happily married and working together with a team of researchers toward creating a human-independent intelligent machine.
Though Will hopes to benefit the world and better understand it by his experiments, his work is viewed as controversial by the public. Will is confronted and shot by a member of an anti-technology terrorist group who hopes to put an end to Will’s research. Though not fatally wounded by the shot, Will and Evelyn soon learn that the bullet was laced with a drug that will, within weeks, shut down his organs and ultimately kill him.
Joined by their best friend and fellow researcher Max Watters (Paul Bettany), Evelyn and Will begin discussing their last weeks together. Suddenly, Evelyn comes up with a solution—using Will’s own method of transcendence to upload his brain to a computer—allowing him to live on as an artificial intelligence after his body fails.
It isn’t until after Will dies that Max and Evelyn realize to what extent their work succeeded. Although there are glitches at first, they are able to make contact with Will on the computer. But as the system advances and evolves, his thirst for knowledge and power seem to overtake any emotional characteristics. Soon Max and Evelyn begin to question whether the intelligent machine they have created truly embodies Will or if the soul of who Will once was truly left with his body.
The unique element of “Transcendence” is the transfer of a dying man’s brain into successful artificial intelligence.
According to director Wally Pfister in an April 15 conference call, “Transcendence” is different because it shows “an actual human consciousness living in this machine rather than something completely artificial.”
“Throughout most of the movie, the idea is to question whether in fact this machine contains the actual soul of this particular person,” he added.
Another strong point in the film is its cinematography. Pfister is a cinematographer turned-director and his past role is definitely apparent in the visuals and graphicsthis film utilizes.
“I really found it extraordinarily fun,” Pfister said. “But there were challenges because you are suddenly playing the role of psychologist for the first time whereas being a cinematographer is really just about telling stories with images. Now you need to get that in performance.”
However, the film lacked character development and the ability to expand on surface-level themes.
Since the problems began so quickly in “Transcendence,” there wasn’t time to really grow to like any of the characters—the focus was put on the events taking place. This downplays the emotional journey Pfister had hoped to bring audience members on.
In the beginning of the film, there is a scene in which an attendee at the benefit asks Will, “By creating an artificial intelligence, aren’t you trying to create a god?” Will replies, “Isn’t that what humanity has always done?” This is one of multiple questions that arise through the course of the film, but all are quickly dropped. Developing these questions as themes could’ve made the film much more enjoyable and given it a larger meaning. Instead, “Transcendence” focused on the action and drama, afraid to explore these questions.
It’s average entertainment, and the acting is decent (who doesn’t love Johnny Depp?); I just expected more from it. If you watch it, don’t think that the themes will deepen or conclude in a way that leaves you satisfied. Instead, know that those controversial questions raised in the beginning about God and science will have to be resolved by the audience members on their own.
Review Rating: 2.5/4
Release Date: April 18
Categorized as Science Fiction, Drama
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality