Making his directorial debut is Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer in masterworks like ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’, ‘Inception’ and ‘Memento’. Even with such a stellar cast and a budding director with Nolan as his mentor ‘Transcendence’ was trashed by critics and abandoned at the box office. Its failure is something of a mystery as ‘Transcendence’ is an excellent film.
Scientist Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) has managed to create a quantum computer capable of sentience. An extremist group R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) believes that Dr. Caster and his team are playing God. They kill most of his colleagues and shoot Caster with an irradiated bullet. With only a month to live Caster’s wife and fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces Caster and his best friend Max (Paul Bettany) that they should upload Will’s consciousness into this highly advanced computer. Max is reluctant and when they succeed he becomes opposed to their actions. Caster seems to have been successfully reawakened in the computer but is it the real Will Caster and is he a threat?
Critics site major plot holes as reasons to dismiss the film but there are no major narrative plot holes. It has some minor incongruence’s but which sci-fi film does not have a plot hole here and there? ‘Transcendence’ is not interested in being accurate in its depiction of technology rather it posits ideas, concepts and themes about technology and man’s reach through technology. Asking thought provoking questions about science, free will, philosophy and theology is where the fascinating elements of ‘Transcendence’ lie. It succeeds wonderfully in exploring mankind’s search for, well… transcendence. These themes have been explored in films like, ‘I Robot’ ‘Lawnmower Man’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell’. ‘Transcendence’ successfully does the same. ‘Frankenstein’ is another major parallel and like Shelly’s work, ‘Transcendence’ asks if it is morally and ethically right to give sentience to a machine or any man made creation. Is it even possible for a machine to achieve true self-awareness?
Depp gives a subdued but apt performance, don’t look for Sparrow here. Will and Evelyn’s supposed lack of chemistry as a married couple has been used as another grenade against the film. This is false as their emotional connection is interwoven throughout the film expressed in their actions rather than through physical intimacy or playful banter. The action in the film while not minimal is not a main feature. Perhaps the trailer and Pfister’s connection to Nolan might have fooled many into thinking it would have more. If you are looking for an intelligent sci-fi film that explores a fascinating subject then see this film.