Title: Transcendence (2014)
Director: Wally Pfister
Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman
Funny story with this movie: I went to see it on what Catholics call Holy Friday and on that day, actually that whole weekend, well, theaters where flooded with church religious folks going to see either God is not Dead (2014) or Heaven is for Real (2014). So I felt out of place going to see Transcendence which touches upon the dangers of religious fanaticism, from a more philosophical angle. Transcendence is a movie against religion, not for it. Funny part is that the theater that was playing God is not Dead was right next to the one playing Transcendence and both films were starting at the same time. The interesting part is that I could see people entering in droves to God is not Dead while every once in a while, somebody would go into Transcendence and my first thought how this was all so symbolic of what goes on in the world. So very few people are inclined towards the philosophical, the thought provoking.
I’m of the mind that religion is dying off little by little and that thanks to the help of the internet and social media, people are slowly realizing just how much of a fairy tale religion is. The powers that be know this, which explains the avalanche of religious flicks we’ve being seeing lately. It almost feels like a desperate attempt to inject society with religiosity again. The powers that be also control Hollywood and they know how to use it well. I mean, even Hitler realized the power of cinema to transmit his ideas! So anyhow, this avalanche of Christian movies is to me, the lowest type of religious propaganda, so sleazy, so obvious in its desperation. There could be another explanation for the recent onslaught of religious flicks: money. Religious people don’t need much to get all fired up and Hollywood knows it. This explains why a prejudiced film like God is not Dead is making money. Hollywood knows this is an untapped market, and it seems they now want to exploit it as much as possible. I mean, this month alone we had 3 religious themed films! And they all have these titles that make it obvious they have an agenda. God is not Dead….Heaven is for Real…I'm in Love with a Church Girl….these titles let us see the kind of ideas that they want to infuse into society. God isn’t dead no matter what your university teachers tell ya! Heaven is Real, look at this little kid who went to heaven...and when you marry, make sure she’s a church girl! What the?! What’s next? A film called Science is the Antichrist?
I mean, it’s not like films about ‘not believing’ are so obvious with their titles. Just look at a film like Transcendence; there’s nothing to tell you that it’s a film about religious fanaticism, the themes are not blunt or in your face. The themes are not even implied in the films title! Nope, the films themes are hidden behind meanings and symbolisms; you don’t feel like you’re being preached to. With films like God is not Dead and Heaven is for Real, I feel like am being preached at from seeing the previews alone! So anyways, there I was, doing my part in supporting a philosophical film with interesting themes and intriguing cyberpunk elements which I am a sucker for, unfortunately Transcendence wasn’t a very exciting film. Sure it was philosophical, and sure it had interesting concepts which I was diggin’ for the most part, unfortunately it all builds up to nothing. I wanted a bigger bang for my sci-fi buck! Unfortunately the filmmakers weren’t all that interested in showing us anything amazing or mind blowing.
The thing with this movie is that it had all the appropriate elements to deliver something thought provoking and cool at the same time. The concept of artificial intelligence becoming sentient, fully aware of its existence is incredibly interesting to me. It presents us with the terrifying notion that computers might one day think, like us, or for us. It goes even further and plays with the ideas of transferring our consciousness into an artificial intelligence, so that it might duplicate us in a way, so that we might, in a way, live forever. Of course the logic behind it is a lot of bullshit science, the kind of science that they show us in films where complicated scientific procedures are explained away with a simple sentence. And that’s fine as far as I’m concerned, I don’t need things to be explained to me, this side of the film reminded me of the dream traveling technology in Inception (2010) which is never explained in the film. It’s like the famous ‘McGuffin’ , you don’t really need to know what it is, or how it works. What matters is how we go from point A to point B. Unfortunately point B in Transcendence takes us nowhere. Interesting concepts are presented but never taken to their full potential, I feel they could have pushed things a bit further, they played it too safe in my book.
The film kind of contradicts itself because it presents us with Will Caster, a scientist who has successfully transferred his consciousness into the internet. He follows all the steps that a cult leader follows in order to build his empire. He buys land, he builds a society apart from the rest of humanity, and then he starts attracting parishioners by promising them paradise. I couldn’t help but think about David Koresh and his shenanigans in Waco, Texas, or Jim Jones and his Jonestown in Guyana. The problem is that the character of Will Caster isn’t really evil; he creates technology that actually helps humanity. His creations would make the world a better place, so then why does the film make it a point to portray him as an evil religious leader? So which is it, is he the leader of a zombie religion, or is he the savior of humanity? It’s not just that this character has that duality to it; it’s just that the character contradicts itself. The film is a jumbled mess in my book. It’s one that wanted to play with heavy themes, but ultimately didn’t know how to develop them in the best way possible. I mean, we're even presented with the idea of living in a world where technology has dissapeared from the face of the earth, which would have made an even more interesting film, but alas, they only hint at it.
Ultimately, the biggest sin this film has going for it is that it was not entertaining. The ending is so incredibly dull I was literally fighting to stay awake. I guess a lot can be explained by the fact that this film was directed by cinematographer turned director Wally Pfister. The problem with technical guys becoming directors is that they just don’t have that vision necessary to tell a story in an entertaining or visually interesting fashion. Just because you’ve worked behind the scenes all your life, doesn’t mean you’d make a good director. Sure there are exceptions, but more often than not, technicians and writers don’t always make good directors. Examples of this are Blade Trinity (2004), Virus (1999), Spawn (1997), Eragon (2006), all directed by writers and special effects guys who suddenly wanted to take a stab at directing. I’m not saying that Transcendence is a terrible film because it does offer us interesting concepts and at times interesting visuals, but aside from being dull beyond measure, it even has great actors in roles that go nowhere! Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman are next to useless here. To me, Transcendence feels unfinished or half assed; it didn’t push its concepts all the way. And those are some of the worst cinematic sins in my book; a missed opportunity every step of the way.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5