Transcendence is to the sci-fi genre what Noah is to the Bible. Both are poorly conceived reboots of a literary form into pseudo-visionary garbage. Each film also exemplifies the current trend of agnostic filmmakers playing God.
In Transcendence, Johnny Depp, as the obviously named Will Caster, unleashes his berserk world-dominating ambitions after he dies and is resurrected as an artificially intelligent computer program with the power to “overcome the limits of biology.” In Noah, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky reconceives the Biblical story of the Flood and God’s covenant with man through His servant (played by Russell Crowe) as a smart-ass thrill ride replete with politically correct ecological lessons and, above all, religious skepticism.
These films also exhibit pronounced paranoia. Transcendence distrusts the digital age and man’s dependence on the grid with frightful blather about the soul and “creating your own god”; Noah toys with religious skepticism (depicting Noah’s mission as ancient realism yet with fantasy F/X).There’s no faith or disillusionment undergirding these pictures, just superficial anti-religious attitudes in Aronofsky’s confusion regarding Noah’s inspiration or madness and the de riguer dystopia of Transcendence’s post-apocalypse frame. Between one film’s malign deity and the other’s unpredictable terrorists, the common belief is in a world inevitably gone bad. Theologian David Bentley Hart recently identified a trend of “cogitatively indolent secularism,” and a movie reviewer can just dismiss both these films as half-baked hubris.
Aronofsky continues his paranoid fear of independent thinking (shown in the hysteria of Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan), this time returning to the ethnic quandary of his Orthodox Jewish debut feature Pi. In Noah he has his first coherent storyline yet again attempts to replace ethnic heritage with unthought-out cynicism and, when convenient, tradition: Russell Crowe plays Noah as a dogmatic, kick-ass patriarch subject to hallucinations about the Garden of Eden, who castigates both his family members and barbaric enemies, and who wraps an unexplained snakeskin tefillin around his arm.
Depp’s Will Caster is a Steve Jobs–sstyle whiz embodying digital-age arrogance. Instead of building an ark to save mankind, he creates a Physically Independent Neural Network (PINN) that works like both Hal 9000 and that transference thingamagig in Avatar that endows him with omniscience, gives sight to the blind, and grants super strength and speed to his followers. (He builds his City on the Hill from a dusty ghost town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.) Depp performs mostly as an avatar on a computer screen; his clenched, affected voice might have made him a better Noah than Russell Crowe’s bald, bearded Charlton Heston by way of Williamsburg. (So might pop-messianic Patti Smith who sings the film’s agnostic theme song “Mercy.”)