Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Watch Films: Lucy

Until it started I had not realised that Lucy (2014) was a Luc Besson film. When his name came up I adjusted my weirdness expectations upwards to what turned out to be appropriate levels.

In fact here's what I knew about Lucy, from the adverts when it was released last year: Lucy is played by Scarlett Johansson; people only use 10% of their brains (I'll come back to this) but for some reason she's using more and so gets superpowers; Morgan Freeman is the scientist who explains stuff; and there's some kind of link to the early hominid skeleton called Lucy, the oldest ancestor of mankind (I'll come back to this too).

And basically all that stuff IS in the film. There's also a fairly standard drug-mule-double-cross plot which is how Lucy ends up with a drug in her system that allows her to use a greater percentage of her brain, and is also used to create action scenes and tension. This doesn't really work because...

Okay so let's start again.

Most action films are actually pretty childish, with thrillers tending towards the adolescent. This is not a problem; if your film is about spectacle, then why not have a cursory story to hang your action scenes on and rely on the charm of your actors to carry it through? Nevertheless, it can get tiring watching dumb heroes doing dumb things to create big dumb explosions. When a film steps forward into the Sixth Form to look for ideas, I can only applaud.

Like most Sixth Form Common Room debates, the ideas in this film quickly fall apart. Firstly the "We only use 10% of the brain"[1] fact is actually a myth. Although some brain functions are a mystery, most areas of the brain have been observed doing something for various reasons at various times. This, and other bad science, gets ignored because Morgan Freeman is pretty damn convincing. The cutting between his lecture on what might happen if we used more of our brain and the initial events in Lucy's story are an interesting choice, giving us calm moments between the tense scenes of the drug-deal-gone-wrong[2]. (We don't need to liven his lecture because Freeman is the best lecturer as was proved in the series Through The Wormhole)

By the 40 minute mark (the film is a pleasingly brief 89 minutes, so once we remove time for the credits, this is just about the halfway point) Lucy has gained control over 30% of her brain giving her invincible superpowers. This leaches tension from almost all the action scenes from then on, as the question stops being "can she get out of this?[3]" and becomes "what cool special effect will this lead to?" Besson tries to replace this with a more philosophically tense question: "What happens when she reaches 100% brain use?"[4]

The answer to that, or rather the question that she's trying to answer is "time". So as her brain shifts gear into the 90%s she has visions of the past, while also extruding a black-organic-cable looking supercomputer, which at the end offers Morgan Freeman a big USB stick with Total Knowledge on it. I'm dubious.

I'm dubious because in her vision she travels to New York, then goes back in time. When all the buildings are gone and there's just grass and trees, some Plains Indians on horses appear. So 1. No not in New York. 2. The first Native Americans to embrace the horse, the Comanche, did not have enough horses to mount their tribe until 1730. 3 In 1730 New York City had a population of over 10,000.

This is all moot, as she meets Lucy, probably not the oldest known ancestor of humanity, a native of Ethiopia. When she blasts off into space after this meeting, it's clearly from Manhattan, so I guess this isn't a literally true vision, just a bunch of stuff. Which calls into question everything else she sees.

In the end the Sixth Form Common Room philosophical debate is a bit of a flop. "Everything is connected and Time gives existence meaning." Thanks Lucy. Well done. Are you sure that was 100% of your brain you were using?

(That was mean. 7 out of 10, Film of the Year)

[1] "So what do we use the other 10% for?" as I inevitably reply. Sorry.
[2] My favourite part is when she's confronted by Chinese gangsters (in Taipei) and none of them speak English, so the boss gangster calls up a translator on speakerphone. Why hasn't this been used before?
[3] The answer up until then is mostly "Yes, but she ends up in a worse state."
[4] It was possible that she would hit 99% and then the Chinese gangsters would kill her, stopping the Ultimate Revelation and/or Armageddon in it's tracks, but that's not what it seems to be ramping up to.

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