Lucy: A no-brainer

The premise that underlies director Luc Besson’s philosophical exploration in Lucy is an interesting one. What wondrous achievements would humankind not be capable of if we could use 100 per cent of our mental faculties, rather than just the tenth we do, Besson ponders. And the storyline he rides to flesh out that supposition is, on the surface at least, quite slick.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), an American student in Taiwan, gets horribly mixed up with a vicious Korean drug gang, as a result of which she finds herself implanted with a superdrug in her stomach and forced to become a drug mule. But after a Tarantino-esque torture session by a gang member with the hots for her, the drug enters her blood stream, elevating her mental faculties gradually (a ‘brain-o-meter’ reading on screen tells us precisely what percentage of her brain capacity she is using), and giving her superhuman capabilities. You know: mind-reading, teleportation across time and space, the ability to learn Chinese calligraphy in a jiffy, a useful capacity to disarm a roomful of policemen with a mere flick of a wrist… the works.

Lucy goes about wreaking vengeance on her erstwhile tormentors — and tipping off Interpol about the other drug mules coming ashore. Those bits are thrilling, even if the violence is somewhat gratuitous, and if the film had been centred only around that plotline, we may have willingly suspended disbelief and walked away halfway gratified by the poor man’s Kill Bill.

But Besson’s pseudo-intellectual exploration gets the better of him, causing him to overreach. He uses Morgan Freeman, who plays a neuroscientist similarly preoccupied with the possibilities of the human brain, as a medium to peddle some scientific mumbo-jumbo. Even the narrative treatment falters in these passages, and as Besson channels his inner Jacob Bronowski, you wonder if you’re watching The Ascent of Man documentary.

Lucy (or rather, Besson) agonises that humankind has squandered away the chance to do wonderful things with the gift of its mental capacity — and is determined to fix it. In that endeavour, she travels back in time, past the primate stage, past the dinosaur age, to the very beginning of time. You’re left wondering what potent psychotropic substance the director must have inhaled. Lucy then travels back to the now, where she encapsulates her superior consciousness and learning for the benefit of humanity. Suffice it to say that I’ll never be able to look at a USB dongle the same way again…

We may have enjoyed Lucy — even at 0 per cent brain capacity — if only Besson had reined it in. But it is hard to be forgiving of someone who appears set on lobotomising us with pop philosophy and pseudo-science.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 3:40:30 PM |

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