It’s a safe bet, judging from its title alone, that Transcendence will sharply contrast the density of matter with the non-corporeal energy that exists beyond the realm of the physical. Directed by Wally Pfister, the movie does explore archetypal Neptunian themes involving divinity, compassion, saving what one loves, and heavily blurring the lines between concrete reality and digital space. It’s a sizable agenda. Nevertheless, Transcendence chooses to go beyond it.
The film further addresses the benefits and perils of artificial intelligence and technology, both the domains of Uranus. It also exposes the multiple layers of the Pluto archetype, which is tied to healing, transformation, death-to-life regeneration and, at its most negative, absolute power and deadly control.
Transcendence’s big sci-fi themes are tightly woven into the story, which centers on the scientific research conducted by Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife and research partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), who are based in San Francisco. At a fund-raiser, Will underscores that, in the future, AI, the couple’s specialty, will have evolved to the point where it can save human as well as planetary life. However, the encroaching takeover of humanity by technology doesn’t sit well with an organization called RIFT.
Through its well organized members, RIFT, led locally by Bree (Kate Mara), destroy prominent AI labs and also critically shoot Will with a toxin-loaded bullet. However, before he shuffles off this mortal coil, Will – his key supporters include fellow researchers Max (Paul Bettany) and Joseph (Morgan Freeman) – opts to execute a seemingly impossible task. He’ll have his consciousness uploaded onto the technology he has developed called PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network), thereby becoming his own singular AI.
Through this new arrangement, Will can continue, via his own branded form of transcendence, to evolve his AI-is-good-for-mankind philosophy from a place way beyond the Bay Area. He starts conversing and interacting with Evelyn, just like in the good old days. And then, things really start to get complicated.
From here on in, the dual face of technology – what it gives and what it takes away – begins to dominate the movie. People begin to switch sides of allegiance or start questioning the validity of their previously held beliefs.
Meanwhile, the lab flourishes. Will sports his ubiquitous, unbounded (Neptune) presence wherever there’s a computer monitor (Uranus). And he continues more radical life-and-death (Pluto) experiments involving nanotechnology (Uranus), resulting in people’s becoming preternaturally strong “hybrids” merged (Neptune) with Will’s controlling (Pluto) brain power. Or, maybe all Will wants to do, evoking Wim Wenders’ Angels of Desire, is return to earth in his physical body to reunite with Evelyn.
Transcendence doesn’t stint on the big archetypal issues whose scary implications for the real world are valid. The “soul” in this PINN machine has something relevant to say. And Dr. Will Caster’s name? The doctor’s casting his will for both romantic and universal love sounds more like it.
Finally, bonus points for the movie’s inclusion of the sole and spot-on tune: Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis,” which contains the prescient – okay, transcendent – movie-in-a-nutshell, double-edged caveat: “The time has come for us to pause, and think of living as it was, into the future we must cross (must cross)…” Transcendence somehow manages to create a character who does exactly that.
Astrology Film Rating: ♅♆♇ (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)