Tony Fyler can barely find a couple of percentage points to rub together.
‘We currently use just ten percent of our brain. Imagine what we could do if we used a hundred percent.’
From the very beginning, it’s a premise that gets geeks salivating, because it invites speculation of the highest, broadest kind – What would we use those extra percentage points for? What would they allow us to do?
In Lucy, the idea is that the power of the mind, once unlocked, would give human beings some hard core science fiction capabilities – immense data retrieval and processing from our senses, control over our own bodies (change our hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, height, weight, presumably even sex, on a whim); control over the minds of others (assuming the others haven’t likewise had their mind-usage expanded); remote control over matter and ultimately, potentially even control over time itself.
Exactly how Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy – a character with a very limited backstory as an American working and studying abroad – begins this journey to superhuman mental ability is both scary and far-fetched: delivering a mysterious briefcase to a Chinese businessman on the insistence of a man she’s met out clubbing, she finds herself embroiled in a gruesome drug smuggling plot, where a pouch full of new narcotic is implanted into her body, to be surgically retrieved once she’s couriered it to a major European city. The drug, it transpires, is an artificial form of the chemical that foetuses use to build and develop their brains. When Lucy has the bejeesus beaten out of her, the pouch ruptures inside her body, the drug goes to town on her adult brain and her journey to explore one of science fiction’s great questions begins.
Enter Morgan Freeman, perennially the voice of God and penguins, here acting as a handy exposition agent in the form of a professor, lecturing students about just such a brain-expansion hypothesis. His section, while played with a performance Freeman could have phoned in from the Antarctic and quite possibly did, is something of a clunky chunk of movie-making – it seems to work on the idea that Lucy is now too advanced and intelligent to waste time having emotions and having to express or explain what’s happening to her to anyone, and so there needs to be someone in authority to fulfill the theatrical role of ‘Prologue’ or narrator so that we understand precisely what’s happening to her, and why her personality and abilities are suddenly so markedly different to what they were before. Freeman carries much of the expository burden here but there’s a sense in which this all feels rather too convenient – he’s giving a lecture on exactly what’s happening to Lucy, at the time it’s happening to her. Hmm.
Meanwhile Lucy herself, now free of such petty moralistic concerns as ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,’ sets about proving that yes, thou really freakin’ shall if thy freedom or thy life depends on it, breaking out of confinement, pointing guns at surgeons in the operating theatre of a local hospital and demanding they operate to remove the remainder of the drug-pouch from her, but give it to her for future medicinal use. In one of the best scenes in the movie, while they operate without anaesthetic, Lucy calls her mother at home in the States, and explains to her that she can remember everything – right back to feeding at her mother’s breast – and thanks her parents for all the good and beautiful things they ever did for her; the smiles, the encouragement, the love and care, all the memories that make her who she is. But the call is also clearly some kind of farewell, both specifically to her family (Lucy has worked out that as the price for her increased brain activity, her lifespan is burning hotter and faster, to the point where she has barely a day left before the cells in her body dissipate), but also to most kinds of conventional human interaction. This is shortly followed by a similar scene where she tells her room mate what she’s suddenly able to see about her – she has damage to her liver and kidneys and needs to make some lifestyle changes and take a particular medicine in order to recover. Again, while this is delivered with brisk, almost android-like efficiency, it’s another farewell to her normal life.
Absorbing massive quantities of data as her brain-usage expands in handy, movie-progressing percentages, Lucy finds Freeman’s Professor Norman by mentally messing with the radio waves and projecting her face onto his hotel TV screen across the world in Paris. As you do. She flies to France, while using a kind of omnipresence to put European cops on standby for the arrival of her fellow couriers, who are promptly picked up. At this point the movie begins to really look like it’s having a crisis of purpose, as much of the speculation about brain power devolves into a bizarre but high octane chase and shoot out between the big boss and his minions and X-man Lucy and her friendly French cop, to see what happens first – Lucy reaching the Professor or Lucy being killed stone dead. Lucy is determined to get all the other packages of the drug that made her the way she is, both to retard cell degradation but more importantly because, stripped of all petty human concern, Lucy’s single aim has become the cellular equivalent of reproduction – to pass on all the knowledge and information to which she now has access, creating, or potentially becoming a whole new generation of computer in the process and achieving not only a kind of omnipresence but ultimately a kind of omnipotence too. The message is clear – if we use a hundred percent of our brains, we become the equivalent of God – a handy parallel to the Garden of Eden story, where the voices of those who are ‘with God’ are heard to say ‘If they eat of the tree of knowledge, and then of the tree of eternal life, will they not be like unto us’.
Turns out, pretty much, yes.
While it would be a movie-ruining spoiler to tell you exactly how it ends (keynote – weeeeeeird), Lucy’s an interesting premise that then suffers from trying to be too many things to too many audiences all at the same time. The blend of sci-fi and Tarrantino-style violence can work. The blend of sci-fi and indie-style reflection can work. The blend of sci-fi, Tarrantino-style violence and indie-style reflection doesn’t quite fit together here. There’s a degree to which this is the fault of the indie reflections – when Freeman is explaining how life protects, adapts or reproduces, there are three separate film stock images to illustrate each type of behavior, each about three seconds long, and it’s uninspired to the point of feeling like its own Simpsons parody. There are also leaps of purest sci-fantasy speculation at work that seem to collapse if you dare to subject them to the slightest scrutiny, mostly at the point where using more of your brain allows you to manipulate matter remotely. Given that the film was both written and directed by Luc Besson, there’s a sense that perhaps one more cook here would not so much spoiled the broth as boiled it down and enriched the flavor somewhat. But Lucy remains one that will stay on your brain for days after you watch it, whether it be to ponder the film’s intended themes, or to ponder how perhaps they could have been rendered and played with in more creative ways than to turn over the last third of the movie to a running gun-versus-mutant battle.
One to watch, then? Yes, certainly, at least once. One you need to run out to buy and keep forever and ever and ever? Not so much.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk