As with our own, real, world, technology is advancing at an astonishing rate. It feels like that brand new cell phone or computer you saved for and spent big bucks on just went out of style less than an hour after you bought it because the NEXT “latest, greatest thing!” has now been released. The ongoing theme of technology SURPASSING its human creators has been a subject of many a movie and TV series, and now this weekend, a new film enters the genre ring with a slight twist on that whole concept, “Transcendence”.
Brought to life by first time director (and seriously experienced cinematographer) Wally Pfister (along with executive producer Christopher Nolan), the film initially begins by showing us a run down, derelict-looking California town feeling strangely like the world of NBC’s hit drama “Revolution” and narrated by one of the films’ main characters, Max Waters (Paul Bettany) who indicates that things were not always this way before an incident that CAUSED it all. The film jumps back several years and we are introduced to Will & Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) at their home as they are about to head out for a presentation at a local hall along with Max. In the course of this presentation, we ultimately find that while Evelyn and Max are researchers looking to computing advancements as a help to mankind, Will’s idea to create a self-aware system that would give it not only all knowledge, but in ADDITION, a full range of human emotions..an idea he calls “transcendence”. In the midst of the controversy this has already stirred up, a calculated sequence of events occurs at related research labs across the country, including those of co-researchers and friends Dr. Thomas Casey (Xander Berkeley) and Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman). And the culmination of these events ends up bringing harm to Will as well. Recovering from the incident, Will, Evelyn, Tagger, and Max are then approached by an FBI agent, Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) who is advising an anti-tech group, R.I.F.T., look to be responsible for the upheaval. In this, we are introduced to R.I.F.T.’s leader, Bree (Kate Mara) and several members of the group, whom we see are trying their best to prevent seeing the fruition of Will’s vision. Undaunted, Will and his team continue forward until an unexpected circumstance places Will in graver condition, and a decision is made by Evelyn and Max to try a radical process, based on Dr. Casey’s work, that would take them across the line of what is ethical and what it is to save someone you love. At first, it appears NOT to have worked until that proves not to be true and suddenly all of them are finding themselves at risk AND at the mercy of a new technology and sentient being that decides it’s initial world is too small to inhabit. At first, the AI seems perfectly benevolent, even though the entire reality of what is occurring has most freaked out! Evelyn’s feelings for Will, not having even had a chance to dissipate, has her becoming an unwitting pawn to a quickly advancing AI, which on the surface seems to be fine, but then, it becomes a scary fact that is there may not be ANYTHING to actually STOP it from taking over utterly and completely. The morality tale plays out, as enemies become friends, and even friends have to initially betray, in order to fight this new threat, even as it strives to show it is doing good things with the newly found, COMPLETE knowledge it has, yet all while demonstrating a eerie (and flat out creepy) amount of raw power and ability that could easily spin out of control. While there is ultimately some sense of redemption, and love(?) by the end, you still cannot help but feel this lingering, ominous thought that this was just the beginning of something more. Per usual, any more specific details would give away certain plot points, and you all know me by now….I strive NOT to spoil as much as possible.
So….WHEN will we, as the human race, FINALLY realize that creating these super-powerful AI’s is NOT a good decision??? Sure didn’t work out well in the “Terminator” franchise, went south in films ranging from “Eagle Eye“, “I, Robot“, “The Matrix“, “Tron“, “Her” et al. AND…HAS anyone been watching the aforementioned show “Revolution”?? This is obviously for humor’s sake and illustrative purposes, but at the same time it DOES at least bring me to wonder exactly what type of tech we actually ARE researching and trying out there currently. And this film was honestly creepy in its portrayal of AI gone WELL beyond human capability and establishing WHOLE new sets of things it can achieve with a brilliant mind at its center. The story delves into this effectively, and while the initial act is a slow burn, the payoff is well worth it once things get REALLY wild. Visually, it is superb when it comes to showing the AI accomplishing all these new advancements with its power, as well as when defending itself, and that can be attributed to Director Pfister, who did cinematography for films like “Batman Begins“, “Inception“, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” among many others. The cast is suitably solid for this type of film as well, with the performances of Depp, Hall, Bettany, Murphy, and Freeman at the level you would expect with the given material. Supporting turns by Mara, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Cole Hauser also add some additional clout. While overall, the film isn’t AT the quality of something AMAZING like “Inception” for example, that should not take away from the fact that it IS still worth seeing, even if TO marvel and the visual elements that some into play mostly in the films second and final acts. There was a potent message contained here, as again, despite this being fiction, it does make one think about how reliant we actually ARE on tech and to what lengths WOULD (or dare I say..WILL) we go with it in the future? I guess time will tell…assuming our power doesn’t go out or nasty robots don’t get us! LOL
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!