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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Transcendence

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany star in a scene from the movie "Transcendence."
Despite its lofty title, the muddled sci-fi drama "Transcendence" (Warner Bros.) sinks rather than rises.

Among the burdens weighing it down are a host of misguided notions—either embedded in the action or expressed in the dialogue—that might be menacing to the impressionable if they were any more coherent.

Consider the premise on which the whole film rests: Fatally wounded in an assassination bid by a band of Luddite extremists called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the world's leading expert on artificial intelligence, manages to upload his entire consciousness to a super-computer before dying.

Will is aided in this project by his devoted wife and respected colleague, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), as well as by his best friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), another esteemed tech guru.

Max begins to have his doubts about the wisdom of what they've done soon after the transfer is complete. But Evelyn is a true believer, grateful that Will survives, if only through his voice and as an image on the screen.

The next step is for cyber-Will to go online and acquire all the factual knowledge available throughout the Internet. His head thus swelled, however—physically deceased but intellectually flourishing—Will begins to veer between benevolence and megalomania.

Since Will's murder was part of a larger conspiracy that claimed several other victims, the FBI is on the case in the person of Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy). Buchanan teams with another of Will's pals, outstanding researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), to hunt RIFT and its leader, disenchanted lab assistant Bree (Kate Mara).

Once the threat to society's future posed by Will's outsized ambition becomes apparent, though, Buchanan and Tagger begin to wonder whom they should really be trying to stop.

Philosophical confusion reigns in director Wally Pfister's meandering movie, beginning with the implicit idea that all human mental functions are purely physical and ending with virtual reality somehow permeating the world of nature. And there's a dollop of irreverently expressed disbelief in the divine to go along with all the other off-kilter concepts.

Early on, an as-yet-unfelled Will is seen giving a lecture to a generally rapt audience. But question time finds him challenged by a RIFT type who's also obviously meant to come across as some kind of religious fanatic. When the latter asks if he isn't trying to create his own God by imparting self-awareness to computers, Will answers smugly: "Isn't that what man has always done?"

Still, mature viewers are likely to be too bored by the slack proceedings to be much misled by the fast-and-loose—or downright nutty—concepts underlying them.

The film contains complex themes, including atheism, some violence and gore, a brief nongraphic marital bedroom scene as well as a couple of uses of profanity and of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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