This month I had the opportunity to watch both Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, and Lucy, starring Scarlett Johnansson. As I was watching, I noticed some striking similarities, which I’m going to go into here.
SPOILER ALERT FOR BOTH MOVIES.
In Transcendence, Johnny Depp uploads his brain into a computer just before he dies of radiation poisoning. He becomes an artificial intelligence and, with his new resources, instantly becomes smarter than everyone else on the planet put together. He uses his intelligence to invent new technologies, including nanotechnology. He infects human beings with his technology, allowing him to control them, and he spreads nanites all over the planet, giving him vision and control over everything that happens on the planet.
Lucy takes a different path to get to a similar place. According to the movie, human beings only use 10% of our brains at a time. Scarlett Johansson is accidentally dosed with a new drug that allows her to utilize more than that. As she gradually increases her brainpower, she gains new abilities, including control over gravity and magnetics, the ability to read and manipulate electronic signals, the ability to read minds and control people, and eventually, total knowledge of everything that ever happened in the universe. In the end, she abandons her body and is “everywhere.”
As I was watching Lucy, the first thing that struck me (and it hit me pretty hard) was that both God-beings totally lose all visible emotion as soon as they are upgraded. They are totally stonefaced from their moment of transcendence until the end of the movie, and this in spite of being emotional beings beforehand. Scarlett Johansson in particular is highly emotional during the first part of the movie, in which she is kidnapped and assaulted. Johnny Depp’s loss of visible emotion seems more understandable, since he was uploaded into a computer, except he is still capable of emotion, as evidenced by his decision to die for love. He just… goes blank.
From what I can tell, the idea is that anyone who is superhumanly intelligent will become disconnected from their feelings. This doesn’t seem right to me! In the real world, smart people are just as emotional as dumb people! In my mind, both movies lost a few points for that one.
In this case, Lucy and Transcendence took totally different paths. In Lucy, Johansson becomes indestructible as soon as she gains her powers. She is impossible to surprise because she knows everything; she seems immune to injury and feels no pain; and she can manipulate the things and people around her as easily as thought. She wins utter victory in every battle, every time, regardless of the odds against her. In the end, she learns everything, abandons her body, and becomes everywhere at once.
Depp gains similar powers, though they are not as pronounced. He is pitted against a small group of radicals who fear his artificial intelligence. At first they seem to win small victories against him; for example, they kidnap one of Depp’s nanite-controlled people, cut him off from the signal that lets Depp control him, and execute him. Later on, as Depp’s powers and nanonet spread, it becomes clear that physical force is totally useless against him. Faced with a bombardment, he instantly repairs all damage to his facilities, then uses his nanites to melt the weaponry and restrain his attackers. That is, until the end of the movie. The radicals injure Depp’s wife; to heal her, he must assimilate her; and upon assimilation, he will absorb a virus that will destroy him. He knowingly accepts his own death in order to save his wife. The transcendent man is utterly destroyed by a single weakness in the name of love.
I’m going to step aside here for a moment to complain about this one. This is a BIG Death-Star-exhaust-port moment, and it just doesn’t work. The idea is that the man who programmed Depp’s AI included a weakness, a self-destruct if you will, deep inside the code. Come on. The very first thing AI-Depp does upon waking is improve his code. You’re telling that in the years that followed, he never noticed a self-destruct button inside himself? And he knew that his wife had a virus, and that assimilating her would kill him! Why didn’t he put some simple firewall in place before absorbing her?
This is the last point that I’ll touch on. Goodness. In both movies, these transcendent people are good. They bend their entire effort to helping people, to improving humanity.
Depp invents immortality and offers it to everyone. He spreads nanite all over the world to fix the pollution damage that people had caused! He never once hurts a single human being, even when they attack him. The mind control that he invented looks scary, but then he never misuses it. Nobody is ever forced to do anything against their will. In fact, they hardly seem to notice him most of the time.
Lucy instantly devotes herself to giving knowledge to the human race, culminating in a single flash drive containing knowledge of everything, which she gladly gives to human scientists. It seems to be her purpose in life. Whereas she could have used her powers for wealth or dominance, she instead chose to improve the human race. I need to mention something here, though: she seems to lose all interest in individual human lives. She (completely unnecessarily) shoots someone on the operating table, saying that he “wasn’t going to make it anyways.” In one car scene, she is in a hurry, so she causes dozens of cars around her to crash spectacularly, leading, I am sure, to the injury and death of many people.
But I like the overall idea of both movies: that a person, given vast knowledge and power, will choose to use it for good.
I’m happy with both of these movies, although I preferred Transcendence. Lucy’s casual treatment of human life was a bit too strong for my taste.
One day, we human beings will transcend. We all have godliness inside of us. I look forward to that day.