Lucy is a lot of things, realistic is not one of them. It carries on in grand Luc Besson fashion by exploding on the scene with high octane action sequences, calmed by semi-nonsensical dialogue, spoken by characters who either know everything or nothing at all, led by a great female hero born into violence. Since the time of Besson’s breakthrough film, La Femme Nikita, his characters have contained all the knowledge essential to the plot. They either know what to do with it, or they don’t. Now Lucy comes around, and its eponymous heroine has all the essential knowledge and knows precisely what to do with it. Oh yes, this movie is somewhat extraordinary.
It has polarised critics and fans alike, with many of them ridiculing Besson’s inane notion about brain capacity and what our minds can really do if we’re able to tap into the uncharted 90%. There’s a character in Lucy, played by Morgan Freeman, who is an expert on the matter. He has spent 20 years researching neurophysics and the limitations of our brain and spends his days now lecturing students who are probably more in love with his voice than with what wisdom his voice has to offer. He says, of course, as a disclaimer, that his research is primarily hypothesis. Conjecture. And so it is with Besson’s screenplay. Who are we to know what our brains are really capable of? Maybe we can teleport. Or fly. Or listen in on conversations several hundred metres away. In the Bible it is said that if our faith was the size of a mustard seed, we would move mountains. In Lucy, the uncharted 90% of our brain is our mustard seed.
Here is a movie that comes alive with its material. It is so preposterous, but because Besson is merely exploring the realms of the unknown, preposterous works wonders. Lucy is the name of the famous Australopithecus (prehistoric human) whose bones represent for all of science a keyhole to Mankind’s past. Lucy, the heroine in this film, also represents a view to the past — she adopts the name Lucy as a reference to the fossil; her real name is unknown.
Lucy opens in medias res, with a scene that is altogether tense and perplexing. We don’t quite know what is going on. There is a briefcase, a hotel, a room full of South Korean gangsters, a possibly deranged prisoner and a scared middle woman, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson). She is supposed to hand the briefcase over to the Korean mob boss (Choi Min-Sik), but when the case is opened to reveal packets of a blue compound drug, she becomes a pawn in the grander scheme of things.
And then something astounding happens to her. We learn that the drug is synthetic CPH4, the same chemical released into human embryos to jolt them into life. The embryos receive the right amount. Too much of it, and who knows what could happen? This is the manifesto of all drug traffickers: We sell drugs because we don’t know what they do.
The drug is accidentally released into Lucy’s body, producing cells at an alarming rate, and voila! She becomes an all-knowing, invincible machine, gifted with telekinesis, telepathy and an array of impossible skills, all of which she hones with little effort to maximum potential. Johansson storms through the plot with these powers, picking up few clues about the Koreans, piecing her solutions together without hesitation.
Much has been debated about her invincibility. How can we empathise with a hero who cannot die? But Lucy is not about whether the hero dies; it’s about what she plans to do before she dies, and what happens to her. All around her are assembled mammoth characters who know their roles within the story and stick to them. Freeman is ever reliable. Johansson is a tour de force. And Min-Sik as the Korean boss shows us why his home country — and indeed much of the Western world now — holds him with such affirmation.
Besson draws from many past masters, including himself. His strong female lead echoes that of Nikita, Aung San Suu Kyi, Matilda from Léon, and Leeloo from The Fifth Element. They find themselves irresistibly drawn to violence, and somewhere along the way lose their sense of humanity. Leeloo was never human to begin with. Suu Kyi was treated as an outcast by her own people. Lucy becomes more robotic the more her brain develops. She loses humour, emotion, love. And yet she can be reached by our inherent understanding of a hero who finds herself locked in a movie full of wondrous energy, imagination and skill. I’d like to believe that our brains are capable of everything Lucy does in this film, but of course, it’s all just hypothesis.
Best Moment | Lucy’s “fight” with a row of Korean gangsters in the hallway of the hospital.
Worst Moment | Nope.