The Hollywood Medical Reporter – Review of “Lucy”




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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a hard swing with such a loud miss. Lucy truly deserves an A for effort; and in the world of this film, effort probably does start with the letter A. After all, in the world of this movie, 1 plus 1 does not equal 2, life did not begin 3.5 billion years ago (only 1 billion), and dolphins use twice as much of their brains as humans. Oh, and cerebral metastasis (otherwise known as cancer) gets you high and gives you superpowers.

Now, despite what you may think, I highly recommend this film. For any of you who have not seen it, I promise, you are missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is a brilliant, postmodernist masterpiece that subverts any presumed universalities, through an incongruous combination of speculation, suppositions and searing bullshit.

Luc Benson’s Lucy (starring Scarlet Johansson in the title role) follows an American student in Taiwan. She quickly gets kidnapped by Korean gangsters who place an experimental, synthetic hormone inside her stomach, with the intent of making her a “drug mule.” The drug, called CPH4, winds up leaking into her bloodstream, allowing her to access 100% of her brain.

I went into this film expecting to experience a basic summer blockbuster fantasy film. Such films are not intended to provide an accurate science lesson. It would be silly to condemn Superman for not being realistic. Such films are supposed to live in a reality of their own creation and rules.

Lucy on the other hand, argues that Superman – or, rather, Super Lucy – does, or at least can, exist. Really. It makes a demonstrable effort to convince its audience that it is based on fact. Not inspired by or stemming from fact and not just within the rules of the film’s reality. This narrative decision paints Lucy not as a unique chosen hero endowed with fantastical abilities, but, rather, as a representation of the fully evolved human. We, the audience, are the un-evolved apes, meant to gaze in awe at what we actually are capable of. Lucy implies that real science would lead us to believe that its super-human lead character is absolutely possible. This irresponsible (not to mention ridiculous) approach, not only allows, but encourages viewers to believe that what they are watching is fact.

Fantasy/superhero/sci-fi movies are often set in our reality, to make the story appear more grounded. This is largely done only to contrast and heighten the awesome yet unreal elements of the fiction. Clark Kent is introduced as having been raised in Kansas, but once we transition to Superman, the story is set in the fictional American city of Metrolopis. Moreover, the character is clearly defined as an alien from the fictional planet Krypton. Unlike Lucy, Superman is not a representation of humanity’s untapped potential and true abilities. As such, it does not attempt to deceive the audience into really believing that what they see on the screen is scientifically accurate.

Sure, you can speculate freely in a sci-fi film. However, that speculation must at least have a basis in rationality. Take Star Wars, for example. Their reality has “midichlorians”, which are intelligent microscopic life forms that live symbiotically within cells. The more cells a person has that contain midicholorians, the more ability they have to sense the ubiquitous energy field known as “The Force”. Obviously, midichlorians do not actually exist. But that does not matter: they serve the purpose of helping to define and justify the fantasy world that makes up the film.

Lucy, however, uses real data from the real world to support fallacies. The manner in which it depicts futuristic speculations is not only inaccurate, but defies rationality.

Let me be clear, I do not mean Lucy is irrational. Rationality can typically be relative. Rational is when someone gives something meaning. Without personal understanding, someone can label a behavior meaningless and therefore irrational, while another person does see meaning, thus sees it as rational.

A psychological experiment known as the “ultimatum game” demonstrates the difference well. One person, labeled the Proposer, is given an amount of money – let’s say $10 – which he or she offers some portion of it to the other participant labeled the Responder. The Responder has two options: either accept the offer, allowing the Proposer to keep the rest of the total amount, or reject the offer and neither person gets anything. Experiments reveal that low offers (less than 20% of the total monetary sum) are regularly rejected.

Rationally speaking, the person should always take the offer. Regardless of how small the offer may be, it will always be more than the alternative of getting nothing. And yet, people commonly choose to take an indignant stance. Their actions are made out of spite towards the Proposer offering them less than what they want. Even though the Responder gets no money they take satisfaction in that the Proposer at least didn’t get more than they would have. This behavior is irrational, but does not defy rationality as it still has meaning. The meaning just happens to be fueled by emotion as opposed to logic.

Getting back to the point, Lucy defies even rational irrationality. It knowingly makes statements that are false, with no emotional or meaningful justification supporting that decision.

In point of fact, it is not the countless scientific inaccuracies that ruin the film. Fantasies of any kind can, and typically do, have a concept inconsistent with science. In order to successfully allow viewers to suspend their disbelief and relate to an alien premise, the story must reflect true human nature and resonate with the viewer. For this to happen, the story cannot rely on its concept alone, especially when that concept is blatantly absurd. As the film progresses, it must explore new narrative veins and develop characters.

Lucy does not evolve past its premise. It remains quite stagnant, for an action movie (adding another layer of nonsense causing you to question if it is all an elaborate prank of some kind.)

The main character of Lucy does not develop. In fact, the premise strips her of the ability to have any defining characteristics at all; it aims to demonstrate that she loses her humanity as she gains more use of her brain’s capabilities. We first learn that this is the cost Lucy must pay for her power in a scene where she talks on the phone with her mother. As a result of her increased cerebral abilities, she realizes that her humanity is fading away and this transformation cannot be reversed and will probably result in her death. This scene was particularly frustrating, because it highlights its wasted potential and poor decisions.

Firstly, we are reminded that we know little to nothing about Lucy the character. We do not even know her last name. Yes, I get the lack of a last name can allow for her to better encapsulate the “average girl.” The universal character who is at an age where she is trying to figure things out, but letting fun get in the way of that. However, we are provided less than a minute of what Lucy’s life is like before the drama begins. As such, we have no connection to her. This scene in particular was the moment to make the viewer relate with Lucy as something other than an empty vessel whose purpose is nothing more than a justification for showing the next shoot-up sequence. Instead, the scene reads like Proust on a very bad acid trip. In fact, the entire script reflects a tragic attempt at poignant postulation.

In addition to the writing, the directing and overall cinematic style revealed an embarrassing effort to shock and appear innovative. At the very beginning of the movie, Lucy waits nervously in a hotel lobby to deliver a package. The scene cuts back and forth to footage of a cheetah stalking, and then killing, an antelope. Cut back to Lucy, helpless and anxious. The bad guys soon enter the screen, kill someone, and kidnap Lucy. See? Lucy’s the antelope and the bad guys are the cheetah. For those of us only capable of accessing 10% of our brains, that is what sophisticated filmmakers call metaphorical imagery. However, in actuality, such gregarious use of this technique reflects the opposite of sophistication. It reveals a filmmaker with little faith in his own work. He does not trust that the audience will get his point without having it shoved in their faces.

While director Luc Besson has a tendency to use international settings for his films, they typically have a rationale behind the chosen location. Lucy is set in Taipei. Sure, we are told (but never really shown), she’s a student there. (Studying what? I couldn’t tell you, except that it could not have anything to do with the location since she does not speak a word of Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese.)

Why, then, are the bad-guy drug-lords Korean with one British business associate of some sort? None of the story requires Taipei, so why was it picked? Simply put, it looks kick-ass! The plethora of neon, bustling, noisy traffic, flashy Chinese signage, and the vibrant, colorful buildings is perfect for a sci-fi action thriller. But the background is not utilized to further the story, characters or theme. Like the pseudo-science splattered so seriously throughout the film, the background is superfluous: it could have just as well been Atlantic City. This is what particularly irked me about Lucy: so much of it, including the science, seemed random and untied to the characters. Overall the film felt sloppy, and, ironically thoughtless.

On the other hand, my complete befuddlement may be proof that I lack the cerebral acuity to appreciate a masterpiece ahead of its time.

Image via r.nagy / Shutterstock.

Daliah Leslie

Daliah Leslie is a professional writer and consultant, specializing in the film and television industry. After graduating from Hampshire College, Daliah worked in project development at Unique Features, a company founded by Oscar winners Michael Lynne and Bob Shaye (The Lord of The Rings). As a screenwriting consultant, Daliah has worked with is Pulitzer Prize Winner Joseph J. Ellis, writing a feature film treatment based on his historical novel, “Founding Brother’s: The Revolutionary Generation”. She has also worked for companies including Film Independent, Salty Features, and RPM Int., along with sharing her expertise with numerous screenwriting competitions.
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