MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: (3 Reels out of 5)
is a dark, deep, and beautiful film from first-time director Wally
Pfister that highlights his roots as one of Hollywood’s premier
cinematographers (The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises).
There are reoccurring shots of water quietly dropping from leaves and
nanobots slowly rising from the ground creating clouds of metal rain.
It’s a feast for the eyes but, unfortunately, the script cannot match
it. The film suffers from the burdening complexity that often plagues
science fiction (I still can’t figure Primer out), yet the
central message comes through: whenever man attempts to imitate God by
creating something in his image, it will fail. It didn’t work in the
Garden of Eden; it won’t work in Silicon Valley.
The film opens in
the near future as a small group of scientists, including Dr. Will
Caster (Johnny Depp), his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and their friend
Max Waters (Paul Bettany), close in on creating the first artificial
intelligence (AI) computer, called PINN. In a TED-like event, Will
explains that eventually an AI will reach a point of singularity when it
will be smarter than mankind's collective knowledge. He calls this
An audience member challenges him. “Aren’t you
playing God?” Will smirks. “Isn’t that what mankind has always done?”
Soon afterwards, their labs are victims of a terrorist attack by RIFT, a
Luddite organization bent on stopping the project. Will is fatally
wounded in the conflict, so Evelyn copies his brain into PINN. Will
dies, but the computer begins to talk like Will, knowing his most
intimate thoughts and memories. Is it really Will, or just a software
program pretending to be him? Evelyn knows its her husband; Max isn’t so
The ensuing action becomes increasingly fantastical as Will
goes online and, with Evelyn’s help, builds a giant complex in the
desert to work on a number of transhuman projects. Max is kidnapped by
the terrorists but eventually aggrees to help them stop PINN with the
help of the government. Here the film makes its most glaring error. RIFT
has mercilessly killed dozens of innocent people and tortured the
film’s most sympathetic character, yet suddenly the audience must
embrace them as heroes. And this despite RIFT having no more sympathy
for human dignity than the machine they claim to fight.
gains more and more knowledge, energy, and storage capacity, he becomes a
cult leader in the small desert town. Using molecular nanobots, he
cures the town’s sick and disabled people but also puts wireless signals
in their heads, controlling their every move. He speaks constantly
about how his work will help the planet and cure disease, but all
organic material is the ultimate “disease” that must be “cured”. Some
people are willing to follow almost anyone if given bread and circuses.
Like the possessed, they unite themselves to his hive mind and give
their very wills to him
C. S. Lewis observed that technology and
magic act in the same manner. The goal is to conform the outside world
to fit subjective desires; one uses natural means, the other
supernatural. Will is the perfect example of this. He implants nanobots
into the soil, rainwater, and air to reform all matter to his design. As
a machine, he has no conscience and simply reacts to his programming.
“That’s not Will,” a scientist tries to reason with Evelyn, “It never
was.” Machines can imitate human qualities Siri sounds as if she has a
sense of humor but they do not have a personality of their own. When
man plays God, he makes only monsters.
There’s a ghostly fear that
drives Will’s consumption, the duplicity of the poor hybrid humans, and
Evelyn’s delusion. None of them can accept mortality and each are
willing do almost anything even great evil to stay alive and grow.
Will’s desire for ultimate knowledge and control mirrors Adam’s desire
to eat the forbidden fruit. Jesus tells his followers to embrace their
cross, and his death and Resurrection show that death is not the end of
Transcendence ends in vague fashion, seeming
to suggest that even machines can find this peace in a pantheistic sort
of way. True transcendence, however, is theosis, letting go of our childish attachments to the world and jumping into the arms of God.