For a film produced by Christopher Nolan in 2014, Transcendence feels oddly out of date. Despite the always interesting starting point of the identity attached to a copy, so memorably fleshed out by Andrei Tarkovsky in Solaris in 1972, and the fashionable, timely concept of artificial intelligence, this new film by Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, Wally Pfister, has gaping plot holes and vague assumptions that make it seem more like The Net than Inception.
The main idea is that there is a world not too far into the future, in which technology will have advanced to the point where man and machine can fuse, thus creating a super being that will be able to know everything, solve all problems and make the world a perfect place… in the eye of the creator.
Such dueling natures (in this case, human emotion and the clinical mind of a computer) can create tremendous tension, which in turn can be dramatic and highly entertaining. In the case of Transcendence, however, such tension is absent, and the reason is twofold: The main character, a scientist named Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), whose thoughts get uploaded into an already advanced artificial intelligence (AI) computer system when an anti-AI activist shoots him with radioactive polonium, shows very little sign of being human once he becomes a purely electronic version of himself; and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), a fellow tech wizard, who may just be the least feminist role this year, as she is either weepy and hysterical or blindly follows the advice of a computer system that has her late husband’s voice.
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(Still of Johnny Depp in Transcendence. Photo by Peter Mountain – © 2013 Alcon Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved)