Lucy (2014)

Luc Besson’s fantastical, mad rush of a movie reminds us that the cinema is capable of wonderful things.

lucy-luc-besson-posterFrance/USA
4*

Director:
Luc Besson

Screenwriter:
Luc Besson

Director of Photography:
Thierry Arbogast

Running time: 90 minutes

Effortlessly referencing films as disparate as Nymphomaniac, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Transcendencealthough with a deliberate lack of seriousness, Luc Besson’s Lucy is a breathless combination of visual effects and sympathetic fantasy like only the cinema can deliver. It never strives for anything more than pure entertainment and even sidesteps issues of power in favour of showing us unexpected domination, often by very gentle means, but the result is a thrilling ride you won’t want to miss.

The central (widely debunked) idea is one that most people have heard about at school or at college: Humans use a very small amount of their brain, and there is no telling what deeds we may be capable of if we used more. The screenplay hypothesises what would happen in a scenario where someone absorbed large quantities of CPH4, which is supposedly formed in the bodies of pregnant women to help the fetus grow, thereby rendering the individual almost infinitely brilliant.

Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy, the girlfriend of a smalltime drug dealer in Taiwan, who is kidnapped and forced to be a drug mule carrying CPH4, hidden in a bag stitched into her stomach. But when one of her kidnappers tries to fondle her and she fights back, she also gets kicked in the stomach, and the CPH4 bursts into her veins, filling her with immense power and boosting her mental capacity into the higher double-digits.

The person who gives meaning and a measure of credibility to her rapid development is the brain researcher, Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman, who provides the fantastical plot with the right measure of gravitas it needs while also linking the material with that of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, a similar but far inferior movie in which he played a very similar part). Norman has written volumes on the potential of the human brain, but most of it is pure conjecture. That is, until Lucy contacts him. She has just read all his work in a matter of minutes and tells him he is on the right track. However, she has only about 24 hours left on Earth as her mind will expand to the point where her body cannot contain her any longer.

And so the clock starts ticking while director Luc Besson points us in strange but thoroughly entertaining directions. The first half of the film is unexpectedly closely tied to Lars von Trier’s two-part Nymphomaniac films, as simplistic metaphors are made very vivid, although the effect is at times laughable, such as when Lucy is in danger and there is a sudden cut to an antelope being chased by a cheetah. These references culminate with Besson’s use of Mozart’s “Requiem”, which Von Trier also used in his film.

But while the film’s loose structure enables Besson to incorporate references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, in particular the stargate sequence but also the unforgettable monkey, obviously played by someone in an ape suit, with which both Kubrick’s and Besson’s films open. By the time we meet up with the monkey again towards the end of Lucy, having gone through something of a magical ride on a time machine that conjures up haunting images, we realise that Besson is attracting us on a primal level, through memories and desires to see moments from the past in a way only made possible by the technology of the present.

The film is not entirely successful, however, as it suffers from a few dialogues that don’t come across as particularly believable, such as the overly descriptive telephone conversation between Lucy and her mother, and a faux stargate sequence that simply cannot compete with the one that came 45 years earlier in one of Kubrick’s masterpieces.

A few details are also missing, such as an explanation for her ability to learn languages without any significant exposure to them, or her inability to notice her car being tailed when her level of brain use is nearing 99 percent. But in general, the plot is very easy to follow and while the film never appears to be pretentious, it certainly strikes a very able balance between amusement and intelligence, inasmuch as the one is constrained by the other in a form of mass entertainment like this one.

This may seem at times like a dumbed-down version of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, but while there is enough to keep the popcorn gallery entertained, Lucy also shows us the wonders the cinema can make us a witness to by recreating time in its almost unimaginable richness. Words cannot adequately describe the sense of awe we feel seeing the world going in reverse in fast motion, and while these sequences are also slightly comical, they remind us what movies can make us see and feel that we can never experience in the world outside the theater.