Artificial intelligence has been present in science-fiction for many years now coming from writers like Isaac Asimov to Brian Aldiss to Phillip K. Dick and are present not only in literature, but every form of media. The concept is not a new one and has sparked many a story, movie and debate about whether intelligence can or should be created as well as the after-effects of doing so. What if it were to run amuck? What if the human race was to become extinct or brought to the brink like in the Terminator? What if we were to be enslaved like in the Matrix? What if this intelligence just wanted to live beside us in peace like in I, Robot? Could we control it or would it control us? There are endless questions dealing with the subject and will continue to be so, but as technology advances further and further those questions become more pertinent by the day.
Transcendence looks at some of those questions and shares with the audience a possible outcome of what could happen. Starring Johnny Depp as the fairly uncharismatic lead, though to be fair he sort of has to be for at least most of the film, and the artificial intelligence, his consciousness is uploaded to a computer as he is dying. He needs more though, he needs to be free and not simply limited to one system and thus he is unleashed upon the world and the internet to do as he wishes. But as the intelligence is based upon his brainwaves, his memories and his conscious, he does not go the killer robot direction, nor does he go the route to become the all-encompassing Skynet. He actually tries to do some good.
As his consciousness expands, so too does his understanding of everything as he has limitless resources and no need for anything that the human condition calls for. Sleeping, eating and anything else that he used to do is no longer a worry and he is now able to focus his attention on things that matter. So he discovers a way to resuscitate plant life and forests, he can purify water and pollution and his breakthroughs in the medical field are true marvels. He only wants to better mankind and does so on a round the clock basis. But his wife played by Rebecca Hall notices that all is not right with her digital husband. With his increasing discoveries, so too do his morals increasingly disappear. She knows something is wrong and when she is confronted by her friend portrayed by Paul Bettany and fellow scientist Joseph played by Morgan Freeman, she finally has to accept the truth that he is gone.
The cast is exceptionally good and features a lot of strong actors filling up the supporting roles from Cillian Murphy who plays the FBI agent to Kate Mara who is a little creepy at times as she stalks her victims, but is exceptionally good as the terrorist/freedom fighter/activist. Morgan Freeman is great in everything he does and lends that little bit of extra class that a film might need whether it knows it or not. Paul Bettany is one of the real highlights of the film as the scientist and friend who is the opposite of Depp’s character in the movie. He is the voice of reason who knows that Depp, once online is no longer the man he once was and knows that if he goes worldwide, there would be no stopping him. Rebecca Hall stands out as the tortured wife, the woman who cannot let go of the man she loved even after everything that happens. Her performance is understated and her actions very nuanced at times as she goes from complete trust in her husband to slight uneasiness at what he is doing to full out discomfort.
The special effects are incredible and the visuals quite striking. Everything from the nano-bots in the sand to the mechanical arms working in the medical bays to the simple image of the sunflowers, the film is full of imagery and dramatic allusion. The best bit, which a lot of good science-fiction features, is the white room or hallway. If there is a white hallway, you know nothing good will come of it. Why the colour white can be so ominous when it usually represents things good and pure is a mystery. Case in point, Resident Evil, Doctor Who, Angel, the comic Invincible and more. In the matter of this film, it starts out representing a fresh start, a new life and a look toward the future. But as the film moves forward, it starts to take on a sinister tone. Every time Rebecca Hall would make her way down that long, white corridor, you never knew if it would be for the last time.
There was a little bad to go with the good, namely the character turns. Usually a good thriller keeps you guessing, but it was hard to pick out a hero or anyone to root for as Depp was a good guy, then got a little corrupt and then ended being fairly decent. The RIFT people were villains and then ultimately the heroes, though with the world tech-free they would most likely be seen as villains again. Bettany was fairly unchanged though you never knew which side he would go with and so was Hall, as it looked as if she would change her mind at the end of the film in one of the pivotal scenes. The only rock so to speak, was Freeman and Murphy who remained constant throughout the picture.
At the end of the film, we are still left with questions, namely, could this happen? It could of course, as anything is possible. But perhaps because we can think of these questions in the first place, we might be able to avoid the terrible outcomes that some of them seem to envision. Technology is limitless in its developments and applications. It never stops and there is something new each and every day. Artificial intelligence is not just a perhaps or a maybe, it is a when, and hopefully when that day comes, we as a people will be prepared for it.