When scientist Dr. Will Caster is shot by a member of the extremist group ‘Revolutionary Independence from Technology’ for his successful work in artificial intelligence, his wife and fellow researcher Evelyn does everything to save him, but her attempts are futile – until she manages to upload his consciousness to a computer. All calls for a happy ending – or does it, once the artificial Will spreads and increases his power?
A small step for the film industry…
The idea of creating a ‘technological singularity’ has been around since forever, it seems, in both science-fiction works and media theory, but it seems to have taken this long to actually penetrate the film world as well; at least I cannot think of a film dealing with exactly this subject, uploading a human consciousness into a computer. It doesn’t surprise me, though, that it’s being done now, with the current hype of technological dangers or artificial intelligence in general. And I have to admit, I am always quite cautious with those kinds of works because they exaggerate a lot, and way too fast. (And as someone who’s almost been insulted on a train in terms of “Your boyfriend is doing computer science? But they’re doing horrible things, with artificial intelligence and all!”, I’m always taking this with a large grain of salt.) So I went to this movie with mixed expectations, already quite biased because, of course, Johnny Depp is one of my favourite actors, so I was intrigued anyway – and I also know that he doesn’t settle for boring roles.
…one giant leap into the future
Or is it? The beginning of Transcendence is actually the end of the whole story, and it depicts a world without internet that, according to the narrator, feels much smaller than it felt when it was still there. So it immediately grabs your attention: something really big must have gone down to make people ‘abandon’ the internet, and of course everyone who’s seen the trailer or even a poster knows what’s been going on, roughly. Still, it’s the path there that matters, and that is sometimes a bit… questionable. Now, I’m definitely one of those people who criticize movies heavily for their scientific inaccuracy, I have other people who point that out, and I suppose that this is one of the reasons the film industry hasn’t really touched upon the topic extensively before; because it’s freaking difficult to present it in a plausible way. And generally, I was quite happy with the way the movie went; I know a lot of people weren’t, and I don’t blame them. But mainly, the way the development was presented seemed logical to me, until I started talking about it. Although parts of the research sound logical within the framework they’re presented in, the movie does make some extremely far stretches, and it temporarily lost me when Evelyn claimed that she had tried everything – “language processing, coding!” So of course, they were presented as the stereotypical computer scientist techno-wizard, and in such a way that it was almost laughable. However, once that barrier was passed, the story development was, while not surprising, quite interesting. Yes, the computer mind of Will wants to expand, continue research, understand the universe, more, more, more – and while Evelyn just rolls with it, infatuated with him and the idea of keeping him after all, the other characters are horrified, and rightly so once we see what really goes on. Then again, the movie makes a point of showing that it’s not all bad, and some of the research he does, while it may be questionable ethically, is most certainly quite practical. But of course all this fades into the background when the story escalates.
Slow, yet captivating
One of the things that I’ve noticed about the movie both times that I watched it so far is that it feels incredibly slow, which is funny when you consider the rapid technological and temporal progress that the movie shows. For some reason, I was expecting ‘more’, yet I cannot point out what ‘more’. And maybe it feels so slow because, when you think about it, there is not too much physical action for the most part. What the movie does amazingly though, I think, is character development – and subtle character development at that. You never really know what to make of Will, and Johnny Depp makes sure you don’t really know what to make of him until the very end. Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is infatuated with the idea of Will, but you do see that there are doubts creeping in. Their relationship, especially at the beginning, is incredibly sweet and romantic, and just makes you happy; it’s very pure, and it is so very clear that Will does everything just for her. They’re perfect. Then there are the great performances by other actors – Paul Bettany portrays a fellow researcher with a moral dilemma, and Morgan Freeman – well, you don’t even have to say more about him, of course, he’s as great as he always is. So from the performance side, the movie definitely receives a plus – and the visual side is quite intriguing, too.
Transcendence certainly isn’t the best movie that has ever been made, but it certainly isn’t the worst either. It is quite entertaining as long as you don’t think too hard about it. And maybe you don’t need to, although you’ll come to a point either way where you go, “Wait, what just happened there in the last five minutes?” And as I said, it just seems to stretch forever – but still, I quite enjoyed it. It is an interesting take on this hotly debated issue, anyway, and I do recommend it, but it’s probably not for everyone indeed.