A relatively incoherent film (in substance), Transcendence (dir. Wally Pfister, 2014) explores the dangers of technology and artificial intelligence. When he is attacked by anti-tech terrorists, scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) suffers a wound from a radioactive bullet and as a result has only a few weeks to live. He and his wife decide to upload his mind to a bank of computers. When he dies, his mind lives on and, once connected to the Internet, has access to computers and databanks all over the world. As the film would have it, this information makes him nearly omniscient, and he and his wife build a huge complex in the California desert where he engages in research and begins to expand his power.
At a certain point, the film substitutes dazzling special effects for logic. It also commits a number of logical fallacies, non sequiturs. Does near omniscience give one the ability to manipulate matter? Does near omniscience mean that he can heal all diseases and control the minds of other human beings?
In addition to its warnings about technology, Transcendence also explores what happens to a romantic relationship when the husband becomes a non-physical mind residing in a computer bank while the wife remains physical. In other words, lovers can’t have sex when one of them is a computer. The film dances around this question without addressing it directly. It also infers that the loss of the body leads to a loss of humanity.
In the end, the showdown between Dr. Caster and those who want to stop him is on the same level as a B-level super hero film.
It’s interesting that when scientists and military men realize what is happening with the complex in the desert, where Caster is moving towards taking over the world, the best they can do is to haul in what appears to be a World War II era cannon to bombard the solar arrays that give energy to the complex.
A far more interesting film was Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland, 2015), which at least maintained control and understanding of its message to the end.