Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Film Review: Lucy (2014)

“Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it…?”

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a carefree American millennial taking advantage of living the party life in Taiwan with her new boyfriend Richard.  After clubbing one night Richard convinces her to drop off a suitcase at a hotel for a mysterious Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), which leads her to her being violently kidnapped and forced to smuggle a new synthetic drug back that has been surgically inserted into her abdomen back to Europe along with 3 other hostages.

When the bag breaks inside of her she unknowingly ingests some of the chemical, which slowly begins to radically expand her ‘cerebral activity’ and gives her telepathic and telekinetic powers – something that an American professor (Morgan Freeman) has been suggesting with his life’s research.  As Lucy begins to harness her new powers, she must reach professor Norman and fight of the Korean gangsters as her brain activity rises to 100%. 

As with all Sci-Fi fiction, there is a certain about of suspension of disbelief you must agree to in order to enjoy the story – yet as ‘super hero’ narratives go: this is light-years more fun than anything Marvel or DC could muster.  Mainly this is because the director is Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Transporter [writer], Leon), who manages to combine the best of Hollywood action with an unashamedly European sensibility. 

Throughout the film there are Samsara style documentary-shots of the planet interspersed with action sequences to create playful, Brechtian metaphors that constantly remind you that you are watching a movie.  When Lucy is falling for Richard’s bait, Besson uses fleeting images of a Leopard hunting a gazelle.  As she gains more cerebral ability shots of Rubik’s cubes and light bulbs flash onscreen.  These are obvious metaphors but are boldly used in a fun and sexy way – this is full-throttle style-over-substance but with a loving wink to the audience throughout.

Although the central 10%-of-your-mind myth is patently untrue, there are a number of faux-scientific ideas that are amusing to contemplate during the film:  Are modern humans more concerned with ‘having’ than ‘being’? Does only time give existence to matter?  Have humans invented numbers to make sense of the world where there in fact is no objective mathematics?  These are the kind of vastly simplified stoner-questions that have some basis in quantum mechanics and epistemological philosophy, but are jazzed up to make audiences feel smart.  This might sound like a criticism, but any film that makes audiences think is okay in my books…

I somewhat worry what Asian audiences will think about the representation of exclusively sadistic and brutal Korean gangsters and thugs, but questionable ethnic-politics aside it really is a feminist film.  Lucy (named after the Australopithecus remains of a female found in Ethiopia) ingests this synthetic drug that is made from a molecule developed by pregnant woman to boost child development and gives her special powers, and what is the first thing she does…?  She rings her mum.  Although this could easily be classed as a ‘revenge’ film, it is also defiantly about women transcending themselves.

Without spoiling the ending, Lucy owes a lot to Kubrick’s 2001, and shares a kind of outsider view of the universe that was evident in Aronofsky’s Noah.  I hate to refer to anything as a ‘future classic’ but it could happily play as a double feature with The Matrix and hold its own as a stimulating Sci-Fidentity thriller.

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