Though divisive and critically overlooked, Luc Besson’s Lucy (2014) will surely satisfy the armchair philosopher, especially those psychedelically inclined. Indebted to the LSD consciousness expansion movement of the 60s counterculture, Lucy is frankly the best visual interpretation of Mind at Large, a theory posited by Aldous Huxley which states that the mind is furnished with a filtration valve in order to render the material world into comprehensible form. Taking off from the writings and research of philosophers, psychologists, and writers of the day, such as Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Richard “Ram Dass” Alpert, William S. Burroughs, and Ralph Metzner, Lucy weaves theories of phenomenology into an instance, a practice, a ‘what-if’ situation.
While the film over zealously aspires to chart mental exercise with stylistic nuance, the special effects serve to provide an uncanny, almost hallucinatory experience—one which ostensibly renders, through affect, the phenomenon it presents. In this respect, Besson may be dismissed for realizing a caricature of reality rather than reality itself, but one must remember that the film attempts to make visible what is immaterial: the mind. This takes artificial means.
Lending sense and context to the visual stimulus is continual philosophical discourse. Scarlett Johannson aptly depicts a woman whose doors of perception are opening, while Morgan Freeman provides academic insight based on actual, yet hardly proven, research. The inter-titles simultaneously convey each jump in cerebral activity while indexing stylistic punches in the action back story. Though Besson’s violent vixen and her drug-ring surface plot under serve the sophisticated conceptual impetus, the high-octane sequences are rather entertaining and should reap merit from the vulgar auteur crowd.
Unlike Neil Burger’s Limitless (2011), which boasted a similar concept, Lucy seriously contemplates the philosophic ramifications of such a phenomenon. This is no more evident in Lucy’s inquiry: “what should I do?”. In Limitless, we saw Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) utilize his new found intelligence to achieve superficial success. The major fault of Limitless is its lack of sincerity, something which is certainly not missing from Lucy. While opinionated and highly arguable, Besson’s concept and execution of such is concise, thoughtful, and consistent. Any argument of this comes from a lack of agreement not from a challenge of competence.
In the film, Lucy’s cerebral activity increases as the drug breaks into the nucleus of each of her cells. Beginning with increased concentration and focus, Lucy quickly evolves as her potential as a life-force becomes realized. We become aware of her psychological state from both her dialogue and her reactions. As time passes, she becomes more attuned to her environment, including her self.
With expansion of consciousness comes greater self recognition, which can be greatly overwhelming. This is not lost on Besson, whose character, Lucy, shows signs of doubt, fatigue, and fear. Until she finally overcomes her cultured instincts to feel and to self-recognize, her increased awareness only does her harm. From crying on the phone with her loving mother to re-experiencing the aches and pains of growing bones to self-denying her own existence on an airplane, Lucy’s awareness only breeds chaos and disintegration.
Once beyond the realms of human experience, Lucy displays a great comfort and confidence, in the vein of Melville’s Samurai and Refn’s Driver. A sense of eternity abounds her as she realizes that death does not really exist and that literacy and mathematics are simply the mechanical and flawed means by which the material world can be made comprehensible to human minds. As she explains that time is the only unit of measure, and that time does not exist in reducible—scientific—form, visual images of fractals and unbounded extension fill the screen.
To increase suspense and provide a narrative, Besson continues the yakuza action story which unfortunately undermines Lucy‘s philosophical value. It reduces the film’s poignancy by adding irrelevant action. While Besson makes efforts to seam the two together, such as the final gunshot signalling the Big Bang, his efforts are in vain; they sensationalize what ought to be taken as a serious conceptual piece.
Foreshadowing its denoument, Lucy shows a car disappear from existence when motion is sped to infinity. So too Lucy’s existence as a human figure ceases to be once she reaches 100% of cerebral activity. At this point, it is assumed that her cerebral activity has reached a level beyond the scope of time; her cells fire at an infinite rate. She is no longer perceptible to material life-forms; she is no longer part of the material world. Though cheesy when her “I am everywhere” text hits the screen, the notion that she has transcended material existence remains high concept, and every bit as sincere as the rest of the film. While the idea could have been presented less overtly, Besson’s intentions to dispel of ambiguity is quite admirable. The only other feature of Mind at Large I would add is that death itself supposedly releases one from the material world. The difference is that Lucy got to know and experience it.
82/100 – Great.