Saturday, July 26, 2014


I try mightily to stay review-free before seeing a movie (the better to make up my own mind), so I must admit to being puzzled at the mixed reviews for Luc Besson's new release Lucy. Over the last twenty-plus years, Besson has helmed some amazing films that prominently feature strong female characters, including La Femme Nikita (1990), Leon: The Professional (1994), and The Fifth Element (1997) and Lucy fits nicely into that category. Yet some of the reviews have been downright savage (Christopher Orr from The Atlantic really, really, REALLY hates it, for example). Most of the disgust hinges on two items that, quite frankly, didn't bug me at all, so let me get those out of the way and then try to convince you to give this smart, creative film a whirl.

1. Lucy takes as a core premise the idea that "humans only use 10% of their brains." OK, this just isn't true and we know it's not true. It's one of those urban legends that gets repeated over and over until most people believe it, which then irritates beyond belief anyone who knows anything about neuroscience and they've all come out to sputter and pontificate about what they know and what the movie gets wrong. This is where I patiently try to explain the difference between a "movie" and a "documentary." Never get your science from the movies and never get your law from TV. With that in mind, go have fun.
2. Then Lucy uses a plot device to propel the story - in this case, a synthetic form of PCH4, which is supposedly produced by pregnant women and permits the unborn child to rapidly grow a skeleton during normal gestation. Taken by a full-growed human, a tiny bit of PCH4 in Lucy makes you high, lotsandlots of it apparently catapults you to the next stage of consciousness.  (Note: the drug here is not a "MacGuffin" [as is the Maltese Falcon in that film and the "letters of transit" in Casablanca] since in Lucy the drug not only actually does something; it's the engine for the entire film). Guess what? PCH4 is not a thing. For some reason, critics are incensed that PCH4 is made-up, yet I don't see the same level of sniffing condescension at gamma rays being misappropriated in the Hulk movies or the Curie Radiation Association getting all bent out of shape over Spider-Man's improbable origin story. (Psst - there's no "Curie Radiation Association." Don't tell the critics!)

Other criticisms involve Lucy's use of stock footage and an ongoing "percentage count" screen. I'm not even going there. Some things are a matter of taste and reasonable people can disagree about any piece of art (although someone who doesn't think Blazing Saddles is funny is a person best avoided. I'm just saying and the advice is free).

You got me. Maybe Lucy asks a little too much of a summer audience, but I don't think so. Very occasionally, I think other critics saw a different movie than the one I saw, or maybe they just had a fight with their boss before they went to the movie. At any rate, I thought Lucy was smart, fast-paced (it weighs in just under 90 minutes, which means I could almost watch it twice in the time it took me to suffer through The Movie Which Shall Not Be Named. And I'd cheerfully watch Lucy twice) and features some wonderful performances, especially Scarlett Johansson in the title role. Besson is not American and you can tell that - he's willing to slow things down, ask big questions, and use non-American actors. Some of that is to take advantage of growing Asian markets (several actors will be familiar to audiences of South Korean films), but it's also because Besson has a wider worldview than many American directors do.

I've often said that good science fiction is far more willing than "realistic" films to ask the Big Questions, including "What does it mean to be human?" and "What's beyond what we already know?" Lucy asks those questions and comes up with some very interesting answers, although (like many films) Lucy has a few plot holes. (How PCH4 actually works is one of them. If it helps a fetus grow a skeleton, what the heck does that have to do with consciousness? But by the time I thought of that, I was having too much fun to care.) Go see this one - it's good on the big screen, but it could wait until it's a rental. But when you see it, remember (although the film will remind you as well), Johanssen's Lucy is not the first one to serve as a bridge between two kinds of humans. What might humans become? It's an intriguing question and one Besson explores with humor and warning.


LitGal73 said...

I love that you pointed to Lucy of anthropology fame. I had initially assumed her name was in reference to the Beatles' tune, but I like this interpretation much more.

Dale Guffey said...

Actually, the story goes that Leakey and the others on the team named "Lucy" after the Beatles tune. My take is that the character "Lucy" was named that in order to close that circle with our long-ago ancestor, whose name was already known. Thoughts?

Being Now said...

I always believed that "only using 10 percent" stuff. In most lives, I see so much more potential than what is ever brought to fruition. That includes my own life. I have often pondered what it is... the stress of making a living, the distraction of a world with a lot of fear in it, or something else unnamable, that keeps so much of humanity in that space the Dana Blog mentioned in the quote from William James. I'm not entirely convinced that this isn't a true statement, given the many 10 percent measurements we know about at this point in time. In any case, suffice to say that the idea of being more intriques so I wanted to see Lucy. Thanks for the review!

oldinvestor said...

Anyone who has a fair amount of experience with Ayahuasca will slot right in to this movie.

Rommel John Miller said...

The connection between pch4 and fetal development in Lucy the film.
You asked what the connection was between a fetal development drug and one which opens the mind to enlightenment. Think of how a Skelton and human body develops in the womb. Spine and brain stem remain connected through life and for them to be disjointed well death. Now from the brain stem the cranium and brain tissue form. Hence the interconnectedness between the two in the story.

I found your critique well written and erudite.

I like this film because entertainment should be willing to engage the audience in thought. So often we think of movies and the need to suspend reality. In thinking films we are invited to view them and to form our own thoughtful conclusion. At 100% was Lucy kidding when she announced she was everywhere?

To me that is what God is all about. Being there. Another great movie and one that makes you think.

Thank you.