Johnny Depp’s ‘Transcendence’ Is Hard Sci Fi That’s Hard To Figure Out

Johnny DeppMike Marsland/Getty

It’s a good day for sci-fi fans: we got a trailer for Jupiter Ascending and we finally have a summary of Transcendence, Wally Pfister’s first directorial effort after many years as Christopher Nolan‘s director of photography. Starring Johnny DeppTranscendence sounds like it could be an actual hard sci-fi thriller. 

Here’s what Warner Brothers has given us: 

“Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.”

Good stuff, right? First of all, it’s nice to hear Depp is playing something that can’t easily be turned into a cartoon character. Jack Sparrow was a revelation 10 years ago, but we want to see a Depp character with true depth and intelligence. 

And secondly, wait, what? In all the excitement, there wasn’t actually that much clarity of plot. Of course, we don’t want to get too much too soon (we can wait until the first trailer for that), but as written, you can interpret this little blurb quite a few ways. Here are our best guesses as to what exactly Transcendence is actually about:

Johnny Depp goes into the Internet: Long before we knew this many details, rumors around this movie suggested most of it would take place inside the Internet. It makes sense with Pfister’s visual experience and confidence. After choereographing the gravity bending fights of Inception‘s dream world, which relied heavily on the manipulation of real world physics, a completely theorhetical realm must be simultaneously freeing and challenging. 

Johnny Depp becomes a robot: On initial read, it’s easy to interpret the paragraph as focused on robotics and physical experiments. As Depp figures out ways to improve his brain and consciousness with the aid of computer technology, the film could become a body horror about the biological limitations of reinvention and the strange crossroads between man and machine. 

Johnny Depp meditates into a digital plane: As the title suggests, perhaps robotic sentience and omnipotence is akin to spiritual enlightenment, and Depp figures out ways to essentially get a wi-fi connection into his mind. 

Johnny Depp dies and comes back as a digital consciousness: Now we start getting into strange territory. What if this line: “in [the villains’] attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed” means they kill Depp — but that’s what makes him more poweful. What if the thing holding him back from his titular “transcendence” is his human body? It’s pretty much a direct ripoff of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, but it’s undeniably fascinating. 

Johnny Depp is creating God: This one is really batty. Okay, so the blurb states Depp’s character is “working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions.” So, effectively, an all-knowing, all-powerful being. Humans, of course, can’t possibly hope to hold infinite knowledge. So what if Depp’s effectively creates a god? 

Even if some of our theories go off the rails, the film itself sounds like it it could inspire plenty of discussion about the possibilities of A.I. technology. Now we just have to wait to see which of our theories is right.