Movie Review: Transcendence

Warning: Spoilers!

Although this movie had a similar idea to “Lucy”, its delivery was a lot more enjoyable and the overlaying concept was more interesting. It was a Messiah story, but the artistry employed hid the formula well.

Early in the movie, we see Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) building a sanctuary – a green house able to block  wireless communication – hinting at a fight against technology. However, his mind is ultimately preserved as it is uploaded into a supercomputer. When Will starts speaking to his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) through the computer, co-worker and friend Max (Paul Bettany) becomes concerned that the person or thing speaking to her is not what it claimed to be. Desperate to reconnect with Will, Evelyn dismisses these concerns.

This thing is like any intelligence. It needs to grow, to advance. Right now it’s settling somewhere it thinks it’s safe from outside threats. Somewhere its massive appetite for power can be met. But it will want more than that. After a while, survival won’t be enough. It will expand, evolve, influence – perhaps the entire world. – Max, Transcendence

In order to increase his intelligence, he designs plans to power the most sophisticated lab – capable of restoring cell function and producing organisms capable of self-duplication. As Will continues to pour energy into the lab, his relationship with Evelyn becomes strained – almost as if she had begun to believe what was told to her before that the intelligence is not entirely her spouse, but a mix, a force unknown of indeterminable credibility with even more questionable motives.

As his intelligence continued to grow, Will invites handicapped people to the facility, where they are not only healed but given super-human strength. Empowered, they are put to work building solar panels to fuel the facility’s growing power needs. By this point, the intelligence is able to speak not only through connected machines, but also by those that had been operated on. He had created smart matter – dirt able to heal people, fix machinery and even repair buildings as necessary.

Knowing that these intelligent cells would continue to multiply, taking over land, water and air, government plotted against Will. A computer virus was created to destroy him. Evelyn, now completely distrustful of the intelligence, volunteered to carry the virus and have Will upload her. By the time the virus is uploaded, she realised that the intelligence was truly her husband, and that he had been working on their lifelong dream – a cleaner earth. He had created smart matter that purified water, medicine and surgery that produced real results, and ultimately a higher level of existence where everything was connected.

Look at the sky. The clouds. We’re healing the ecosystem. not harming it. Particles join the air, building themselves out of pollutants. Forests can be regrown. Water so pure, you can drink out of any river. This is your dream. – Will, Transcendence

Terrified of a change of this magnitude, something they could not understand or trust, government destroyed the intelligence, along with all power plants, internet, and all electronics.  Afraid of advancing, government through the planet into another dark age.

Transcendence Theatrical release poster (Wikipedia)

Transcendence Theatrical release poster (Wikipedia)

However, in the end, the very thing he was building to block technology – the sanctuary – ended up saving the intelligence. It was the only area protected from the virus.

Interestingly, although the intelligence was attacked, it never actually killed anyone in defence. When threatened to upload the virus, Will could have easily had smart matter destroy the attacker’s weapons. But he did not. He followed their wishes and sacrificed himself, much like Jesus.

Will, as the intelligence, healed the sick and lame and resurrected the dead – again like Jesus. And like Jesus, he was betrayed.

At the end of the movie, the audience sees a sunflower come back to life in the sanctuary. Like Jesus, the intelligence, although sacrificed, was still alive, and could – can – be found in the sanctuary.

I may be completely wrong in reading something into the story that was not intended by its writer, but for me, this is the message the movie is trying to leave with its audience, and I appreciate how creatively the message was delivered.


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