Lucy: a review

Note: As a neuroscientist, I feel compelled to let people know what I think after all the “10% myth” hubbub

In Taiwan for hazy reasons (acting? partying?), Lucy gets caught up in a drug deal being run by some sort of British and/or Korean gang. Through a random act of kicking, Lucy internally ingests a drug that begins to give her supernatural powers, the first of which is becoming a murdering psychopath. The narrative frame is that these powers come from using more than the normal “10% of the cognitive capacity of her brain”, as explained by Morgan Freeman. The less said about this the better – everything Freeman says is in the “not even wrong” category, and the movie would have been more than 10% better had his character not been in it. On the other hand, this does give us delightful ‘facts’ such as dolphins using 20% of their cognitive capacity which is what lets them use sonar. Uh?

So lets pretend that this is just a metaphor for personal technology development and leave it at that.

There’s a great, intellectual movie lurking somewhere in Lucy. But director Luc Besson can’t decide whether he wants to make that movie or a wacky Korean gangster movie. He attempts to split the difference and can’t pull either one off fully.

The first third of the movie lets Besson use his visual skills to highlight the fundamental animal nature of mankind through cuts of nature scenes. In many movies, this type of cutting comes off as cheesy, but Besson’s trademark bizarre humor manages to make this a delightful lesson. Yet this is the theme that underlies the message of his movie: that mankind is an animal like any other, but we’re rapidly approaching the point where our command of biology and technology is so advanced that we may become other. And what happens when we begin to artificially manipulate ourselves to suppress our animal instincts?

For Besson, the only way we can domesticate ourselves to our new habitats is by learning from each other and passing on what we know. Who cares if your next door neighbor has superhuman strength, your best friend echolocation, and you cousin the ability to control electromagnetic waves? We’re all trying to do the same thing: tame the onrush of time, that counter that places a mortal limit on our bodies. So long as we pass on what we’ve learned, turning our torsos into organic computers can only be seen as a good thing.

The big problem here is that Besson spits out potential ideas then moves onto another one, slightly incoherent with the first; there are few real answers and little logical coherence from one point to the next.

This movie could have been a great bubbly cyberpunk thinker – at its heart is the plot of Akira – or it could have been a fun scifi Korean gangster film. It ends up being neither, which is a shame. Either would have been great: instead it showcases its weirdness and its power and its might-have-been charm and leaves you shrugging through an enjoyable hour and a half.

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