Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut with Transcendence, a large-scale sci-fi film about the future of artificial intelligence. Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, who runs an AI research lab and seeks to create a sentient
computer with more intelligence than the sum of the minds of everyone who has ever lived. After being shot, Will’s days are numbered, and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) works with a colleague to upload Will’s brain as a series of electric signals into the advanced computer. The most potent sources of tension in Transcendence are Evelyn’s fears of losing Will twice, the difference between a man and a machine, and the threats present when something that wants to better the world becomes too powerful.
Wally Pfister is someone I’ve always admired as a cinematographer – he shot the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012), Inception (2010), and Moneyball (2011) – and although he did not serve as the cinematographer for Transcendence, his visual prowess is evident. During one scene in the film, Evelyn speaks to Will’s computer image displayed on a number of screens. Pfister frames the shot such that, while Evelyn is looking off-camera at one image of Will, the image of Will shown in the frame is behind her, emphasizing the disconnect between her in the physical world and him in the computerized world.
Many have said the film’s scope becomes too large to satisfyingly address all of the themes and moral questions raised over the film’s two hours, but I disagree. Notwithstanding two points of questionable logic, I thought the film was sound in both its narrative progression and its ability to provide fulfilling responses to the quandaries it presents.
When it comes to Transcendence, don’t believe what you hear. See it. Pfister has achieved something original and memorable. And if you don’t like it, that’s okay. You have a right to your own opinion. That’s what being human is all about.