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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Sci-fi film ‘Transcendence’ is an emotional downward spiral

    Alcon Entertainment

    The advancement of technology beyond the realm of human knowledge and control has taken the spotlight recently, first with “Her,” and now with “Transcendence,” the directorial debut of established cinematographer Wally Pfister. The concept of a rampant, self-aware artificial intelligence is fairly well-executed, especially in terms of character drama and emotion, but the more ludicrous plot elements break the veil of realism the movie needs.

    Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are on the cusp of creating a self-aware and collective A.I., one that will possess more combined knowledge than every human being that ever walked the planet. After a presentation of the ideas to potential donors, Depp is shot by a member of Revolutionary Independence From Technology, an extremist organization against the creation of self-aware A.I. that is led by Bree (a ridiculously blonde-haired Kate Mara.) The bullet didn’t seem to hit anything vital, as Caster is up and about literally the same night, as if getting shot was just minor hiccup in the day; this is a tell-tale example of some of this film’s jump in narrative logic. The bullet was radioactive, causing Caster to decline rapidly with only a month to live.

    In a last ditch effort to save him, Evelyn, with Will’s blessing, attempts to upload his consciousness to hard drives, a process which has previously been done with a monkey. After his death, and in one of the film’s well-executed, uncanny moments, Will comes online, his voice a crackle of words. Despite protests from family friend and fellow scientist Max (Paul Bettany) that this sentient being cannot possibly be her husband, Evelyn connects “Will” to the Internet.

    From this point, things escalate quickly, and the film explores tantalizing and dark consequences of the fusion of the hyper-intelligence of a computer mixed with the consciousness and will to survive of a living organism. “Will” begins making copies of himself (or is it ‘itself’?) and discovers medical and scientific advancements in two years, which were previously decades away.

    Will’s visage and voice come from every screen in Evelyn’s new living quarters, and she’s happy to be with what she feels is her husband, whatever the capacity. However, as Will goes down paths that are more and more intrusive, Evelyn’s pipe dream becomes an omnipresent, always-on nightmare.

    The space of the movie feels less bright and more claustrophobic. This is where “Transcendence” operates best: On an emotional downward spiral.

    This is Pfister’s first time at the director’s helm. He has previously been the go-to director of photography for Nolan, director of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy. His first foray into directing feels a lot like Nolan-lite. Hall, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman have shown up in Nolan’s previous films and they all make an appearance here. It also comes as no surprise that “Transcendence” looks a lot like a Nolan film. Pfister didn’t shoot the film as director of photography, but he certainly had a big say in how the film looked.

    Where the film stumbles, and where Nolan’s do not, is the ability to accept the concepts. Nolan was able to make audiences go along with the concept that a man, dressing up as a bat, could exist in a society like our own. Pfister, on the other hand, while getting pretty close, isn’t quite able to maintain the realism. Once Will discovers nanobot technology, it pretty much becomes a free pass for the movie to do anything. Some developments seem realistic and extremely unnerving, some really push the limits of suspension of disbelief and some have no basis of realism whatsoever. For example, nanobots completely evaporate into the sky and disperse via rainwater.

    “Transcendence” does pose some bleak, hair-raising questions. However, the narrative trappings of this science-fiction thriller do not hold up, and all the nanobots in the world can’t save it.

    Grade: C

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