Just back from the annual Light family trip to Walt’s place up in the Cairngorms. Following on from our sweded versions of LORD OF THE RINGS (2009) and THE THING (2010) this year we decided to do something original – albeit it brazenly derivative. I think they call it homage. We call it… RISE OF THE DEAD:
Probably worth crediting the involuntary contributors – assorted audio stolen from the original THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD soundtrack (though I believe the movie itself is technically now in the public domain, and can be watched in full on YouTube here) and Iron Butterfly’s IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDDA. Something tells me Iron Butterfly would have been OK with this.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Google-sponsored screening of TRANSCENDENT MAN at the Science Museum last night, a film directed by Barry Ptolemy ‘about the life and ideas’ of renowned futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, followed by a Q&A with both men.
‘Life AND ideas’ is about right. Ideas-wise, nobody could argue that Kurzweil’s beliefs, neatly knitted together in his prophesy of the ‘Singularity’ – a point at which technology has advanced to a state of superintelligence, after which it becomes impossible to predict what happens next – are not compelling or carefully conceived.
It’s also irrefutable that Kurzweil is a sublimely gifted individual. By the age of 17 he had constructed a computer that could compose music, good music, the first of a lifetime of inventions and innovations to make Edison blush.
On the evidence of last night he’s now happiest sharing attention-grabbing observations demarcating his wider future-world-view, typified by his casual reflection that we’re already only years away from extending human life expectancy by more than a year every year.
If Kurzweil’s ideas are transcendent, his life appears anchored firmly in the mortal coil. TRANSCENDENT MAN finds him still struggling with the loss of a father who died aged 58 in 1970 having starved his family of time and attention in pursuit of his own frustrated musical genius: a father Kurzweil now plans to resurrect using a poignant fusion of virtual reality, musical manuscripts and his own fading memories.
There’s something vaguely child-like about Kurzweil’s refusal to accept either his own mortality or that of his father, and his adamance that humanity as a whole will welcome the immortality he anticipates as being a viable prospect for anyone managing to hold out for another decade or two, himself included.
There seems to be a gap in his thinking though, exposed by the penultimate question of the Q&A. Kurzweil is asked what future he envisages for procreation in a world populated by the technologically-abstracted immortals we will all willingly become. Kurzweil seems to take ‘procreation’ as meaning sex, which he is quick to note has already been effectively detached from any necessary biological ramifications.
The questioner has just enough time to mutter “Children?” before the microphone is moved along, leaving the question unanswered. Maybe I missed it, but Kurzweil appears to offer nothing for those of us who draw our greatest sense of purpose and self-worth from the act of raising a family, for those of us who feeling nothing in our lives more keenly than the urge to create life, to love and nurture it.
For us there already exists a perfectly tangible sense of our own immortality, expressed through our persistence in the coded threads of humanity passed down through generations, accompanied by whatever collective insights our better angels manage to share, and underpinned by a sense that mother nature is always refining and improving and perfecting at a pace as slow as it is reassuring.
Maybe that’s what really makes TRANSCENDENT MAN work as a film, this vivid human dimension, a portrait of human frailty juxtaposed against the imperious potential of technology, one that cannot help but draw a powerful emotional response. The technology is fascinating, the notion of its accelerating drive towards omnipotence frankly terrifying, but it is the portrait of familial dysfunction that gives Ptolemy’s film real meaning, allowing it to speak to us about our lives, our values, the things we might not surrender to Kurzweil’s singular utopia quite as readily as he supposes.
POSTSCRIPT: Also worth noting that TRANSCENDENT MAN features a fleeting encounter between Kurzweil and none other than THE TRANSFORMED MAN, who can be found below singing MR TAMBOURINE MAN.