For many, many, many years, we have heard that if we are not careful machines will take over. We saw it in the Terminator franchise, iRobot, and War of the Worlds (sorta, kinda). And, these movies came along before phones and television sets became smart. Back in the day – ahem, 1990s and before – it was unheard of to have a phone that could do everything except make you coffee in the morning; I’m sure that’s somewhere on Apple’s To Do List, though.
These days, when someone tries to warn us that the machines could take over our world, it’s not so far-fetched. What is a little far-fetched is the premise of the latest Johnny Depp movie: Transcendence. Depp plays Dr. Will Castor, a super-genius who has created a super-duper computer that can tap into any system and make miracles happen. Just as he’s on the precipice of his masterwork, Will is shot and later dies at the hands of a radical, “un-plugged” group called Revolutionary Independence From Technology.
But RIFT’s operatives, while trying to prevent Dr. Will’s super computer from becoming a worldwide abomination of nano technology, in essence brought about the very thing they sought to destroy. As Will lies dying, his wife, Evelyn Castor (Rebecca Hall), gets together with Dr. Max (Paul Bettany) to link Will’s brain to his masterwork, simply titled PINN. It would not be a full movie if Evelyn’s effort did not work famously.
In director Wally Pfister’s film, the new Will 2.0 becomes almost unstoppable in healing the lame, creating a super network of synapses and electrodes that can go anywhere and infiltrate anything, and even does something that only God and Jesus have been able to do historically: bring a dead man back to life.
What screenwriter Jack Paglen is trying to do is showcase both sides of the machine vs. human debate. The scientists who create the machines have their hearts in the right place. They’re trying to cure cancer and bring about a rebirth of our depleted natural resources. These things are good in theory. Who wouldn’t want a radiation-free cure for cancer? Or a replenishment of our natural resources like trees, plants and the polar ice caps? All of those things sound really good. What’s not good is that this machine becomes a self-made God, using Will’s brain.
Socrates would agree that there is no way for an individual to know everything there is to know about everything and that no man can become a god. But, a machine with rich code and the false self-awareness of a human might be able to do that. Thankfully, Paglen had a literary ram in the bush to help stop Will 2.0: Dr. Max.
Depp as Will makes a convincing story of how awesome it would be to do all of these great things to better the world in which we live. But, Will forgot something: if man screwed up the world in the past, what’s to stop humankind from doing it again? Even God tried to give humans a reset with the flood that made Noah build an ark. After giving us a clean slate, we still managed to start wars, be cruel to our fellow human beings and deplete our resources.
That said, Hall and Bettany give great performances as the two sides locked in a cold war of trying to begin the Apocalypse. Likewise, Morgan Freeman as Dr. Tagger brings the wise sage to life with his kind demeanor and way of diffusing a tense situation with his sense of humor. Kate Mara as Bree successfully steps out of sister Rooney’s (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) shadow by playing a dark character who orchestrates some dark things for the greater good of mankind. Cillian Murphy, who always looks like a villain of the psychological sort (think: the Joker), plays a good guy; which doesn’t fit his exterior. Lastly, Cole Hauser’s Colonel Stevens is a tactical-rescue-type character who is good at taking charge. Someone please give Hauser his own franchise!
Even though Transcendence is just a point in the debate of man vs. machine, it does bring about another good point: sometimes, in our quest to prevent an event, we inadvertently kick it into overdrive. Sometimes, we should just leave well-enough alone and let the wheat and the tares grow together, because, come the day of harvest, God shall separate them.