Mind over Matter
3 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If through some time warp Albert Einstein happened to be in the theater where you were enjoying the thrills, wit and wisdom of auteur Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” chances are you’d hear the physicist pause from his popcorn munching and yell, “That’s what I’m saying.” There is a grand conceit in this finely directed amalgam of action and intelligence, exhilarating on both counts. You leave the cinema thinking that finally you understand the theory of relativity and the very essence and meaning of life. So, that’s good.
More heartening yet, in one scene, after imbibing what is essentially a modern equivalent of the forbidden fruit Eve chomped back in the Garden of Eden, Lucy informs, “We never truly die.” Hmm, this seems promising, too. She also pungently relates that one and one aren’t two, but don’t try that thought on your creditors. Other provocative theories abound in what is essentially a feature length clearing house for a kaleidoscopic array of hypotheses about our existence mixed in with a shoot-em-up gangster/drug saga.
If Mr. Besson’s imaginative grand tour of practically everything under the sun had been produced in the late 1960s, odds are it would have spawned a religion, maybe a cult, or some such group that ate sprouts and granola while spouting the film’s existentialism. But as we’ve pretty much moved away from such faddish adulation, after a respectable amount of mulling, coffee table discussion and perhaps wishing we had matriculated at M.I.T., the only thing we’re sure of is that this is one heck of an entertaining movie.
Meet Lucy, the common woman tossed into extraordinary circumstances, superbly imagined by Scarlett Johansson. Studying in Taipei, she’s fallen in with the wrong kind of dude, a disingenuous, two-bit drug runner who tricks the unsuspecting gal into making one of his deliveries. Hoodwinked, she’s shanghaied and becomes a mule for Mr. Jang, a Korean drug lord venomously played by Min-sik Choi. Gosh, this looks inextricably bad.
However, as one of the film’s many philosophical threads assures, knowledge is everything. In short, even despicable Mr. Jang doesn’t know what this new drug, CPH4, he plans to unload on young folks throughout the world is really capable of wreaking. Unfortunately or fortunately for Lucy, depending on your point of view, we’re about to get an education into the substance’s properties. When a bag of the chemical that’s sewed into her tummy breaks, she becomes the guinea pig-turned-explorer. Hold on to your hat.
Lucy is soon getting smarter by the second. CPH4, you see, derived from the belly of women in their sixth month of pregnancy, is the ultimate teacher…the stuff by which all known information is transferred. Synthesized to an astronomical potency by evil scientists, we’ve no idea where its powers might lead. But a careening roller coaster with our title character at the controls is soon taking us on a scintillating trip…a frightening, enlightening and ultimately satisfying sojourn into the realms of human possibility.
To put things in perspective and eventually supply Lucy with a counselor/mentor, the story introduces Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman, M.D., Ph.D., who, in the opening scene, addresses an august body on the potentiality of the human brain. Stating that we currently only use 10% of our gray matter, he proposes what our abilities might then be at 20%, 30%, and so forth. Lucy becomes unexpected proof of his extrapolations.
I won’t spoil it by outlining just what feats of strength and intellect Lucy is soon capable of performing. But to borrow a mode of comparison from “Annie Get Your Gun,” whatever the superheroes can do, Lucy can do as well…if not better.
Matters get rather complicated. Because words probably don’t yet exist that might describe what heavy changes Lucy is soon going through, a stupendous display of special effects replete with no small amount of psychedelia zooms us up and down the theoretical time continuum. Such is Lucy’s awesomely challenging Wonderland.
Although there are some stated conclusions, matters are generally left open to conjecture…a humanistic plot stratagem that allows both creationists and evolutionists to form their own postulations. It’s all part and parcel of the film’s scientific spiritualism…a devotion to our species that both discounts and celebrates the very idea of us.
It is all achieved in an efficient 90 minutes. This includes oodles of murder and mayhem sure to please bloodthirsty folk who couldn’t care less about cerebral content while simultaneously illustrating why it behooves us to evolve from such proclivities.
Though director Besson deserves kudos for balancing the right and left brain elements of the story with notable aplomb, I’d be hard put to think of an actress who could have mixed the crime yin with the sci-fi yang better than Miss Johansson does. Her award-worthy performance sees to it that “Lucy” improves our minds.
“Lucy,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Luc Besson and stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Min-sik Choi. Running time: 90 minutes