Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Love after life

Transcend: to go beyond, to another plane of existence or experience, usually beyond the physical. In meditation, in dreams, we can achieve transcendence. Not quite the same as transfiguration, which usually connotes a more beautiful or spiritual state, such as understood by the Transfiguration of Christ. Let me see if I can express the distinction: transfiguration is permanent; transcendence may be temporary and seems to be a more active state. To transcend, you have to get there, and you have to act to stay there. There's will and choice in the matter.

And so we come to Will Caster (Johnny Depp) brilliant scientist in a quest for the secrets of the universe. He is married to Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) another scientist whose desire is to save the world. They live and work among colleagues as dedicated, noble even, as they: best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) and mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman). Outside, in the real world, there are radical groups agitating to detach from technology, from the omnipresence of the internet.

The film begins in a world where nothing technological works, where a laptop is used as a doorstop. So we perceive the collapse. And then, we enter the story five years before.

There are deep philosophical and ethical questions that attend each sequence in the story. Our human desires, anguish at death, desire for wellbeing - mortality - and thwarted emotions are all revealed. How far to develop artificial intelligence and for what purpose. How do we protect ourselves, our humanness. Is it possible to save the world with knowledge and power. If not, what will save us.

The story seems to be highly technical, in the jargon of enlightened science. Perhaps if the average person understood the science it might make the story so much more meaningful. But it's not necessary to know the language. Is this Frankenstein, creation of a modern day monster? Is this Brave New World, with Big Brother ever watchful. Is this Utopia with a single consciousness.  Through twists and turns, the core of the story reveals itself.

The knowledge and intelligence of the dying Dr Caster are uploaded to a super computer by his wife and best friend, to keep him, to hold on to his spirit, his essential goodness, just so much longer. Released in pure energy on the internet, Will's intelligence grows, learning and assimilating knowledge in leaps and bounds. Together, Will's mind and Evelyn's will, they create a model community. Brightwood in the Arizona desert is transformed from tumbleweed rundown town. It soon attracts the aged and infirm with procedures that heal and enhance. But the opposing forces are gathering.

Even Evelyn begins to doubt. Will's growing power is set to invade the world. His understanding is everywhere A computer virus is developed which Evelyn must deliver. What happens next should be seen in the film. In the end, it is love that redeems. Strip away the jargon, and Transcendence is a love story: not just between two persons, but of what it might take to love the world. It is a state that is spiritual, infinite, and not - yet - of this world.

The movie Transcendence was directed by Wally Pfister, written by Jack Paglen, and produced by Christopher Nolan. Paglen's story remained on Hollywood's Black List for some time - the list of popular but still unproduced screenplays. It was panned by many critics; received at best lukewarm reviews. It is likely that Transcendence is one of those films that gathers a following as understanding of science - and the internet - develops. It is a film that looks at the interactions of mind, body and spirit, and the overriding principle, love.

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