Scientist Dr Will Caster has been working to create an artificially intelligent, sentient machine called ‘PINN’ – the first of its kind in the world. When he is shot by anti-technology terrorists with a bullet laced with radioactive material, he is given only a few short weeks to live. Believing that it’s possible, his wife, Evelyn, hatches a plan to upload his consciousness into the sentient machine. However, the science may not be sound and despite Will being the face of the machine, his friends suspect that he may not actually be in control when he starts to behave less human and more machine.

Transcendence (2014) – Director: Wally Pfister

Is Transcendence appropriate for kids

Rating: 12

Running Length: 119 mins

Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller


Previously one of Hollywood’s ‘Black List’ (a set of screenplays which are popular but unproduced), ‘Transcendence’ is Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. Following the lives of the very likeable couple, Will and Evelyn Caster, ‘Transcendence’ is a very intelligent, original science fiction film. Known as a cinematographer (‘Inception’, ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ to name but a few), it is no surprise that the visuals in ‘Transcendence’ are equally as impressive.

While all the elements are there to make a great movie, its inability to break away from dry intellectualism and pretentiousness ensures that whatever interest is piqued soon starts to fall away. Johnny Depp’s usual charismatic persona is quickly removed to make way for a deliberately flat and computerised one which is barely anything more than a face on a screen. Also, although the cast perform their roles well, the characters that have been written for them do not come across as real (apart from Max, played by Paul Bettany, who genuinely cares for Will and Evelyn).

‘Transcendence’ isn’t overly long or badly done, the pacing is good and the concept is great but it’s also very flat and dull. It is likely that the audience will be split into those who love the film and those that don’t but even those who do enjoy it will probably come away disappointed.


Just before the Luddite terrorist group attack Will, several members of his team are killed. This includes a number of people being blown up, one being strangled and the bodies of others being discovered on the floor of an office. One character hears a news report which says that ‘at least five people are dead’. As this is near the beginning of the movie and no violence has been suggested up until this point, these very realistic murders could be quite distressing for younger children.

When it is decided that Will’s consciousness will be uploaded into the machine, the procedure will involve several wires being implanted into his brain. There is a close up of a drill whirring but the next thing seen is Will with the wires connected all over his head; while the idea of this may be unpleasant, the actual visual is not gory.

There are several mentions throughout the movie about a monkey’s consciousness being uploaded to the machine during the experimental stages. However, one of the characters explains that they were there when this happened and although they were happy that the experiment worked, they soon realised that they monkey was in great distress – ‘it just screamed, it was begging us to stop’.

There are a few violent moments in the movie, in one scene, a character who has previously been established as a nice person is beaten by two men, he is punched hard in the face and kicked in the stomach, his attackers then leave him lying on the ground and walk away laughing. This character is brought into a medical room by a man whose clothes are covered in blood, there is then a graphic close-up of the man’s bloody face. Later in the movie, another man is shot in the hand and several others are shot and killed; there are then close up shots of their bloody wounds.

One character is hurt when a mortar explodes near them. There is a lot of blood and a while later, there is a brief but close-up shot of a large gash on their stomach. This is quite gory but as there have been a lot of graphic wounds throughout the movie, anyone who has been ok up until this point, should not be too distressed by this image. Another character has a needle injected into their eye, again this is in close-up and the shot lasts around 4 – 5 seconds.

While Evelyn is asleep, she dreams of an intimate moment with Will. They are both naked but are covered with sheets and blankets and Will is lying on top, kissing her passionately. He suddenly rolls onto his back and arches his back in pain. His body then disintegrates into small particles which fly into the air.



‘Transcendence’ is an ambitious story that treads a fine line between cerebral thriller and pretentious drivel. Falling somewhere in between, it is unlikely to be appealing to kids as it is rather slow and there is little action to keep their attention throughout. Due to this and the rather gory wounds that are inflicted throughout, we feel that this movie is inappropriate for kids under the age of 12.

  • Violence: 3/5 (the violence itself is not over the top but many of the wounds inflicted are shown in close up and are graphic)
  • Emotional Distress: 3/5 (Will’s decline in health after being diagnosed with radiation poisoning is rapid and the people who are close to him are very upset. When he dies, Evelyn sobs inconsolably)
  • Fear Factor: 3/5 (there are a few times when the people working for Will act like zombies. They stop and stare at several characters then advance on them menacingly)
  • Sexual Content: 2/5       
  • Bad Language: 2/5 (some moderate cursing and mild blasphemy)
  • Dialogue: 3/5  
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of love, loss, desperation to keep hold of the people you love, artificial intelligence, the dangers of technology and human nature.

Words by Laura Record

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