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LUCY (review)

Written and Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Min-Sik Choi

Lucy: Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?

Luc Besson’s LUCY opens on an ape, presumably the ape that will go on to be the first woman in the course of evolution, known as Lucy. As Scarlett Johansson’s always commanding voiceover asks us what we’ve done with the precious gift that is life in the billion years since we’ve had it, we watch this ape drink from a lake and you pretty much know you’re in for a bizarre trip. Besson makes good on this implicit promise but its a fine line between good, silly fun and just plain ridiculousness, and I’m not sure which side of the line LUCY ultimately falls on. I do know that any movie about someone who can access 100% of her brain capacity shouldn’t be aiming for somewhat silly, no matter how solid.


When we first meet Lucy (Johansson, who continues the most winning year of her career here, following UNDER THE SKIN and HER, despite the shortcomings of the film itself), Besson wants us to know that she is already one smart cookie. As she resists the requests of a man she barely knows to deliver a mysterious and clearly suspect package to a hotel, we see a woman who is self-aware and strong. Little does she know of course that these two particular features are about to be enhanced ten times over. So when she ends up being forced into the situation she struggled to avoid, the audience should instantly be behind her. She isn’t some dumb party girl but rather just an innocent who has been hurled into an extremely dangerous drug mule plot. The drugs she will carry in her intestine on an airplane are an experimental, recreational drug, called CPH4. Only repeated kicks to her stomach break the bag open and the drug begins to seep into her system before she gets on the plane. At first this seems disastrous. Actually, at first, it seemed to me that she should have just died right there on the floor from an extreme drug overdose, but as she soon learns, her world will never be the same.


Up until this point, LUCY is fairly tense. This is a rather dire situation after all, one that I certainly would never want to end up in. Besson cuts the tension though with some bizarre cutaways that make you question how much CPH4 he may have taken himself when writing this film. For instance, as Lucy first realizes she is in danger, Besson cuts back and forth between her mounting predicament and cheetahs readying to pounce on a gazelle. Or once the drugs have entered Lucy’s system, her eyes are opened to a vast pool of knowledge that has been amassing since the dawn of time. To demonstrate just how far man has come since then, Besson gives us a montage of man’s incredible accomplishments, like air travel or skyscrapers, all the while cutting back to a neanderthal discovering fire with rocks. It is practically comical but yet he is clearly interested in making a grand case for both humanity’s potential and its limitations. At times LUCY feels like Besson’s version of Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, reimagined with more ass kicking and less insight.


Once Lucy unlocks her brain capacity, the film’s theoretical elements are made known by Morgan Freeman, as what I assume is the world’s leading authority on the brain. His claim, humans only use 10-15% of their brain, have done great things with that knowledge, but have also not progressed past this point, presumably because we care more about the things we’ve created than creating anything new. As Lucy’s brain barriers are broken down though, she gains the ability to manipulate the world around her, and its inhabitants, with her mind. From here, the film becomes a race for Lucy to somehow download everything she knows to a computer so she can benefit the future of mankind before she is hunted down by the drug lords that put her in this position to begin with. The ensuing action mounts, often culminating in tense excitement, but is at times also somewhat anti-climactic. I guess I prefer watching Johansson actually kick people’s asses instead of just moving them out of the way or putting them to sleep with her mind.


One is left at the end of LUCY wondering what on earth they just finished watching. Besson touches on so many bigger ideas, like how time is the only valid measurement in life and is what gives matter context, but abandons them before he has to really explain them by consistently undermining himself with visuals that are sometimes laughable and plot holes that are far too gaping to be ignored. If not taken too seriously, LUCY can be good fun but its biggest problem is its inherent limitation – it is a film about a woman who can access 100% of her brain capacity written by a man who still can’t get past 20%. So by the time Johansson closes the film in voiceover, reminding us that life has been around for a billion years and that now, supposedly after having watched this uneven picture, we should now know what to do with it, one can’t help but be more lost than they were to begin with.

3 sheep

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How many sheep would you give Lucy?



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