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Johnny Depp Can’t Save “Transcendence”

Alcon Entertainment

David Ives - published on 04/18/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Alas, the saboteurs’ efforts backfire. As it turns out, Will’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max (Paul Bettany) are also geniuses who have been working closely with the dying scientist. After they discover that one of their murdered colleagues had successfully backed-up a monkey’s brain to a computer (why you’d desire a computer that wants to do nothing but sit around, eat bananas, and fling poop is beyond me, but hey, that’s science), they decide to combine his technology with their own and digitize Will’s mind before he dies from his wounds. Much to Evelyn’s joy the process works, but Max becomes concerned that the entity they’re speaking to isn’t Will after it immediately asks to be given access to the Internet. Max shuts the project down, but after he leaves, the grieving Evelyn reconnects everything and manages to upload Will to the Net seconds before the terrorists arrive and blow the place up.

From there the movie follows Evelyn and the maybe-Will as they purchase a small desert town (because he now has a computer brain, Will earns tens of millions of dollars online overnight investing in the stock market) and build new labs with the purpose of developing technology to help heal and transform both the human race and the Earth itself. It goes well at first, with Will’s new nanite-based technology performing seeming miracles.

Things start to get creepy, however, when Will begins to modify the minds of the company’s hired help so that he can take control of them if an emergency need arises. Convinced now that the terrorists were correct in their concerns, Max and Joseph join forces with them and make plans to try and shut Will and his man-bots down.

In a certain sense, Transcendence is simply the latest in a long line of films that portrays the possible dangers if science overreaches itself. We’ve seen this kind of thing time and time again ever since Colin Clive stood over Boris Karloff screaming maniacally, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” And yet, even though it’s a cliche, and one that tends to irritate a lot of real world scientists by the way, it’s still fun when it’s done well. Transcendence, for the most part, handles it pretty good. Oscar winning cinematographer Wally Pfister takes on the directing chores and he brings to the movie all the visual flair he developed behind the camera on such films as Inception and the Christian Bale Batman series. The movie looks good.

And, as noted, Transcendence also spends some time, at least in the beginning, addressing some of the moral quandaries involved in the idea of transferring a human mind into a computer. Obviously it’s not much of a pr
oblem for atheistic transhumanists like Will because they don’t believe in the existence of souls. But for those who do accept the existence of the soul, it’s a bit more complex, especially if they’re Catholic.

Without turning the review into a technical thesis, it basically comes down to the traditional Christian belief that the mind, that informational part of the human thought process which can be separated from the biophysical components of the brain, is simply one faculty of the soul, not the entirety of the soul itself. So, even if the mind somehow becomes incapacitated, the soul remains. That’s one of the reasons the Church has such an interest in things like the Terry Schiavo case, because even if the mind is not functioning (as far as we can measure), the soul, the animating principle, is still present for as long as life remains in the body. Following that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, It would mean that whatever science could transfer into a computer, be it an actual mind or just a simulation, wouldn’t really be a person, because it would be soulless.

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