Luc Besson’s Lucy dazzles visually and offers up some interesting ideas on the expansion of our brain. It has some impressive action sequences as well. Yes, it is silly at times and the plot falters at the end, but Scarlett Johansson is so commanding as Lucy, the heroine of our sci-fi tale, that we are inclined to take it all in and ask questions later.
Lucy is science fiction to the hilt. Besson channels some of his inner Kubrick to bring a part of the genre to life in an acid trip-like dosage. It is a crisp, exhilarating 90 minutes. From the “dawn of man” sequence, to the intercuts of predators catching their prey, to the flight through space, Besson was clearly influenced by the iconic 2001: A Space Oddyssey and made no attempt to cover it up. The one tweak Besson makes from the dawn of man is subtracting the monolith, which is credited to evolving mankind in 2001, with Lucy, all dressed in black and staring down “Lucy,” the neanderthal. It was a glimpse into the past, a spark for humanity.
But it wasn’t through evolution that Lucy got to the point where she could manipulate time and space. It was merely an accident. An accident that enables Lucy to access 100% of her brain. Now this is where it gets weird–where science and fiction butt heads. Besson’s concept of using 10% of our brains plays off the idea that we only understand how 10% of the human brain works. Brain studies show we can access all of our brain, but there are functions our brain is capable of that we do not yet understand, like clusters of neurons from various regions in our brain that collaborate to form consciousness. It is this scientific theory that Besson uses. The 10% usage is more like a travel guide into Lucy’s consciousness to help the viewers understand her transformation better. Lucy isn’t necessarily building to 100% brain capacity; instead, she is building towards 100% consciousness.
I’m not here to lecture anyone on the science of our brain though, I’m here to talk about the movie, so let’s move forward and agree to disagree with some of the premise, which Besson establishes as a viable scientific theory. It works in his world, so it works for me. As Lucy builds the capacity of her brain, she becomes more tapped into what is real and becomes less and less “human” in the process.
“Pain,” Lucy says to Mr. Jang after she sticks a knife into each of his hands, “pain is all you feel right now.” Pain is an emotion that Lucy is able to block out, making her less human in the process. Her feelings, or lack thereof, are eerily similar the Vulcans, the race of beings in Star Trek that are famously able to “not feel” and read minds (which Lucy is also able to do). Time and again, the distinction is made in Star Trek in the difference between humans and Vulcans. There was a time where Vulcans were prisoners to their emotions, like humans, but were able to evolve past it and pass that on through generations. The idea of “passing it on” is also pivotal to Lucy. Professor Norman, played by Morgan Freeman, tells Lucy just that: she needs to pass on her mutation in the hope of evolving the species further.
Lucy incorporates two conflicts as it hurtles towards a resolution. There is the external conflict of the gangsters tracking down Lucy in hopes of killing her, and then there is the internal conflict of studying her brain and if she can survive the transition to full consciousness. Where one succeeds, the other fails. The plot of her being kidnapped and trafficked for the drugs inside her was hanging on by a thread throughout, but by the final sequence, it snaps. The gangsters are able to infiltrate the university Lucy is at by…simply walking in through the front doors? It is beyond silly, unfortunately.
On the flip side, Lucy’s climb to full consciousness made the story break even. In a room full of professors, she is able to work her way to 100% capability and we, as viewers, are taken on a trip through time in a “time is a flat circle”-like montage of clips. Lucy is able to make herself fly through the past, as time is the true indicator of life existing. And, as a fully-formed being would naturally do, she drops her physical body, as it is obsolete to a being of her ability. I say naturally, because if you’re a consciousness, your physical body is no longer of use. And it’s funny, that’s exactly what happens in a classic episode of Star Trek. I truly enjoy sci-fi parallels.
“Where did she go?” Officer Del Rio asks. In reply he gets a text message: I am everywhere. On her climb, we saw Lucy’s ability to control different sorts of waves and manipulate matter and cells. In the end, she is able to pass it on and does so in the form of a USB flash drive. It is her gift to mankind. Now it is up to us to handle it properly.
As established, there are functions our brain does that we do not yet understand. Those clusters of neurons have functions beyond our understanding. Instead of Lucy accessing 100% of her brain, she is essentially able to manipulate these clusters of neurons en route to becoming a super-being. Now, it may be impossible to ever manipulate those neurons, but who is to say that if it happens, that someone wouldn’t be able to read micro or radio waves and manipulate matter? If we’re dealing in scientific theory, then the world is Besson’s for the choosing. And, if we’re being honest here, Professor Norman does say that everything about the further capacities of the brain is just a theory, that anything more would be purely “science fiction.” Well, that’s exactly what we get. Pure science fiction and there ain’t a damn thing wrong about it.
On the whole, Lucy is entertaining and allows viewers into a world that we aren’t sure even exists or is possible. But that’s the fun part, right? Where would we be without movies that question what is possible? Movies that push the boundaries of what is acceptable? Yes, this movie plays off the idea that we only use 10% of our brains, which is, um, wrong, but it incorporates so many other interesting and known science fiction elements that makes the film pay off.
Also making the film pay off is Johansson’s performance, which is sensational. She has really morphed herself into a talented actress, one who is more than a pretty face. She challenges herself with interesting roles and is proving that she can also kick butt. Her career reminds me of Angelina Jolie, because Jolie had looks that could kill, but was also able to expand her roles into the action genre, something Johansson is proving she can do as well.