Luc up in the sky
The most fun you’ll have while your brain overloads at hyperspeed – no, ludicrous speed.
SO, from the spaced-out head trip that occupies a large chunk of Lucy’s running time, you’d think prolific French filmmaker Luc Besson wanted to remake 2001: A Space Odyssey. Only without spaceships or astronauts. But with brain-altering drugs and Korean gangsters, Paris cops, shootouts, heavy collateral damage and a patiently paternal (if forever bemused-looking) Morgan Freeman. And with Scarlett Johansson as the monolith (no, really).
Let’s keep this short and sweet, like the movie. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is the hard-partying new girlfriend of a lying hustler. She is tricked into delivering a mysterious case to a swanky Taiwan hotel, only to become a drug mule for Korean drug kingpin Jang (Choi Min-sik – looking quite mean there, old boy).
The bad guys surgically implant a bag of an experimental new drug in her gut and send her – along with three other mules – to various destinations. Only, for no clear reason other than to advance the plot, she ends up still in Taiwan, chained to a wall by triad types who beat her up so badly that the bag ruptures inside her, getting the drug into her system. And it then proceeds to – are you ready for this? (trust me, you’re not) – unleash the full potential of her brain.
In between scenes of Lucy’s “rebirth” into ... oh, let’s call her Super-Neo, we get a lecture from Morgan Freeman’s Prof Norman about how we humans only use 10% of our brain capacity, dolphins use 20% and ... um, something about how that difference allowed those aquatic mammals to develop a keen sense of echolocation. Terrific – 10% more and all we’ll get to do is keep from stumbling into each other’s path on the sidewalk.
Anyway, Neo-Lucy gets to do really cool stuff like shoot bad guys through doors simply because she can (presumably) echolocate their presence from the other side; diagnose and triage patients in surgery from just looking at their X-rays and MRIs; and have Jang at her mercy but, in a somewhat Zen kind of way, leave him alive just so he can hunt her down later. In a mind-bending sort of way, this apparent lapse turns out to be her way of ensuring an even more frustrating comeuppance for the villain.
Some of the things Lucy does are pretty brutal and coldly logical. Her callousness fits if you buy into the notion offered up by Besson and his co-screenwriters – that the things which make us human are really primitive impulses, our species’ drive to survive writ large; and the more advanced we get, the faster we abandon those “good” basic instincts.
That’s just one of the many thoughts tossed into this nuclear-powered blender of a movie. Existentialism, quantum physics, philosophical questions about what we’ve done with this wonderful gift called life, a whole lot of pseudoscience (including this “only 10% of the brain” bulljazz), The Matrix-style reshaping of reality, all share a scant 80-plus-minutes running time together with violence and pterosaurs. Ooh, pterosaurs!
It’s held together capably by Johansson, super-powered yet vulnerable, increasingly inhuman yet desperately clinging to humanity, unable to feel physical pain but profoundly affected by cellular memory. If there’s one moment that encapsulates all this, it’s the surreal one where she forces a surgeon at gunpoint to remove the remainder of the drugs from her belly while fully awake and talking to her mother on the phone: it’s at once moving, disturbing and even bizarrely amusing.
It gets even crazier as the film barrels toward its conclusion, which will not bring many surprises to anyone who’s read or watched a decent amount of science fiction. Besson & Co are quite audacious to have put this much “head trip” content into a supposedly mainstream SF thriller, and are to be applauded for that.
But after the film is over, it’s over, and most of us would be hard pressed to remember much about it after a couple of days. If only they could have made it all add up to something suitably ... transcendent.