Maybe it was inevitable. An unavoidable collision between man and technology. – Max
I’m struggling to write this discussion because I can’t decide yet which perspective I want to take, largely because the ending was so duplicitous. But, I guess the point of these discussions isn’t so much to tell anyone how to think about a movie, but to give them some deeper ways to think about the movie. So, since the point of these articles is to encourage discussion, the very fact that Transcendence leaves me with such a debate and discussion in my own mind that I struggle to write my piece, is a good thing. It means that it is perfect for discussion. This may not be one of the most fun and entertaining movies you see all year, but it just may be one of the more significant ones you see because of some of the issues it raises, about technology, about the soul, about going too far and losing yourself in your pursuit of knowledge, and about salvation (the Biblical parallels in this movie are significant). So let me point you to some possible ways to see / interpret the movie…and please, join in the discussion and leave your thoughts below!
Will and Evelyn Castor along with their friends Max and Joseph were working to create A.I. – artificial intelligence. They were opposed by a terrorist group that had grave concerns about what the consequences would be if A.I. was created, fueled in part by some of Max’s own documented concerns. They felt that the Castor’s had crossed a line began to attack. It was because of one of their attacks that Will was dying, quickly, and in a last-ditch effort he and Evelyn decided to attempt to “upload” his brain to the A.I. system. It wouldn’t save his life, but possibly it would save his soul and keep him, the essence of him, alive. AND, it would be the technological breakthrough they had been working toward their whole career.
It worked. Except Max had immediate misgivings. Max didn’t think it was really Will that was alive. Will was immediately different than he had been when he was alive. Will realized that he had spent his whole life trying to reduce the brain to electrical impulses and he hadn’t been able to do it. He felt that there was simply more to life, more to a soul, than electric impulses, and therefore it couldn’t be that Will had been transmuted to a computer system. Evelyn, understandably, wasn’t willing to pull the plug when there was a possibility that her husband was alive and their life-long dream of A.I. was realized.
This new “Will”, whatever it really was, was, in Max’s opinion, “like any intelligence. It needs to grow, to advance. …But it will want more than that. After a while, survival won’t be enough. It will expand, evolve, influence… perhaps the entire world.” Max was right. Will hacked into the internet and was gaining the collective knowledge of the world. He and Evelyn set up a lab and continued scientific research. Will started to heal the people around him with the nano technology he created, and when he healed them, he networked them. They would function independently, but he could also make them function in unison. It appeared that Will was building an army and even Evelyn began to be truly afraid of Will and his power.
In the end, everyone joined forces in the fight to shut Will down. They had to give Will a virus that would not only disable him, but everything that relied on electricity, unfortunately. And the only way to give him a virus was to do it through Evelyn, the one person he trusted, and Evelyn would have to let Will upload her to himself. It was a suicide mission.
The ending is a tough one. Will knew what Evelyn was doing, but he agreed to it. She convinced him they had gone too far and the only way to save things was to destroy Will and the A.I. But in that process, Will finally convinced her that he really was Will, not just a computer. She repented for having “lost faith” as they died. After Will was gone, Max and the others realized for the first time that in all of their epic battle, not a single person had been killed. They realized Will really wasn’t trying to hurt anyone… and that possibly he really could have made the world a much better place with is nano-technology, healing people, purifying the water and ridding the earth of pollution, etc. He could have changed the world, as Evelyn had always dreamed they could. It was unsettling—the thought that they made a mistake…and yet, somehow it all felt so very wrong what Will was doing and the power he was amassing.
A Few Possible Interpretations of the Story:
Face Value: Technology
- Technology is good
The potential for technology is truly extraordinary. It can save lives. It can heal our illnesses. It connects us to information and to other people. Yes, there were some concerns in the movie, but you can see in the end that their paranoia caused them to overreact. They shut Will down and then they realized that he was really Will, and that he hadn’t hurt anyone. They only thought he was hurting people because they were too scared to pay attention and see what was really going on. Our world is a lot like this—people overreact and are afraid of what they don’t understand. They assume the negative and project their fears onto things that are actually good and have potential to help mankind. In the movie, their fearful overreactions caused catastrophic damage to the world. Will had the potential to make the world a better place, but they opted for Y2K times a thousand.
- Technology is bad
Yes, technology can do some good, but at what cost? Will was saved, but then he hijacked the stock market and made a fortune. He scared his wife with his power and control. He saved a lot of people, but then without even asking them, he hijacked their brains and networked them to himself, so he could control them if he chose to. Besides, there is still that nagging question about the soul. What makes someone human? What constitutes a soul? Just because we can clone, or create A.I., or put a man’s brain into a computer, does that mean we should??? Agent Buchanan said that “Two years ago it was about the disconnect. People texting, etc… I’m afraid we missed the real threat.” Maybe he was right. We have concerns as it is, but is it possible we are missing the even greater, more sinister threats???
A Deeper, More Metaphorical Look: Spiritual
- It’s analogous to the Christian story
The story actually has some incredible parallels to the Bible. Both stories begin in a garden, and both end with promises and hints of a better world and another garden paradise. Along the way, the world is in trouble and a man comes along with a way to help it and make it better. In order to do that, he has to die and then be resurrected. Both have resurrected forms that are still very like them, but yet different, more powerful and more ethereal. These saviors are misunderstood and accused by some, adored by others. They heal people—the ill, the dying, the blind—miraculously (Jesus through actual miracles, Will through technology, but the healings are so astounding as to appear miraculous in both instances) and amass a large following. Not only do they have a following, but their followers are connected. Jesus says that anyone who accepts Him is adopted into the family of God and has the Holy Spirit which connects them even further to the mind and heart of God. He also says that they are all parts of one body. Will networks everyone to his brain/system. People wish Jesus would start a revolution, they are afraid that Will is starting a revolution—both appear to simply wish to make the world a better place. Neither bring any harm to humanity, except for the harm humanity brings upon itself because of its fear of this said Savior. In the end, if people had only believed in Will, he could have saved the world. And even though Will is dead, Max feels that there is still more to Will’s story. “I knew there was something more. There had to be. He created this garden for the same reason he did everything—that they could be together.” So there is still the promise of hope because of Will.
- It’s more like the anti-Christ
Yes, all those parallels to Jesus exist, but, it parallels the anti-Christ who comes dressed as an angel of light, not the actual Light, Jesus Christ. There are warning signs all along. When Will is talking at the symposium, someone asks him, “So you want to create a God? Your own God?” Will replies, “That’s a good question. Isn’t that what man has always done?” He doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t claim to be God, but he admits that he would like to create his own god…or to become god. It’s very Tower-of-Babel-esque, what they do with technology.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Genesis 11:4-6
They aren’t building a physical tower, but Will is connecting their minds so they all work together as one. He plans to better the earth and create technology that can save anyone. Science replaces God. It becomes God, and at the heart and center of that science and technology is Will. He has created god in HIS own image…he makes himself god. He mimics God, but in a way that is frightening. Everyone is uneasy with what he’s doing, even those closest to him. Evelyn is terrified of him. Joseph warns her to “run” from Will (which sounds a lot like numerous exhortations to run from or flee evil in the Bible), and he and Max and Evelyn, Will’s closest friends, all work together to stop him. This isn’t like Jesus at all. His followers (with one exception) never turned on him. In fact, they followed him to their graves.
Jesus invited people to follow Him, but He never imposed Himself on anyone. Will networked people to himself without asking, and then he would force them to do his will anytime it behooved him to do so. He was hungry for more knowledge and power. Jesus already had all the knowledge and power—He didn’t need to gain it. Will broke the law (i.e. by networking into the stock market to make his money) in order to do his good works. Jesus fulfilled the law when He did His.
Will may have been “resurrected” into A.I., but it wasn’t quite the victory Jesus had when He resurrected. Jesus conquered sin and death and his resurrection was final. Will was different. First off, it wasn’t a true death to begin with. He didn’t die; he was transplanted. Second off, he didn’t conquer death. He may have conquered A.I., but he was not therefore impervious to death. He was killed in the end, without resurrection. This is the real reason we know he was a false god—he couldn’t even save himself.
Questions for Discussion:
- What do you think are the real threats of modern technology?
- How far is too far when it comes to science?
- What do you think makes up a man’s soul? How much of a human can be robotic before he/she is no longer human?
- Do you think the Bible can help you navigate these grey areas of science?
- Do you think the church is handling these grey areas well? Why or why not?
- Do you think Will was a Christ-like figure? Or was he an anti-Christ-like figure? Why?
- What do you think the film is trying to say? What point is it making?
- Did you find the ending of the movie hopeful? Why or why not?