Why Lucy is a Good Science Fiction Movie

Yesterday Holly gave a spoiler-free review of the movie Lucy, by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson. In the tradition of our Comparative Opinions posts, I thought I would give a different perspective: a post with far more spoilers!

Before I get into spoilers, though, my thought is that Lucy was a few things. It was an artistic film, which Holly compared to The Fountain. It was a science fiction film, rather than an action film. And as a philosophical film, it felt very French.

We linked to the SourceFed Nerd review of the film, and I want to include it here now. They spent 16 minutes talking about this movie, way longer than usual. I think on one hand, it shows that they were paying attention – they point out a lot of the contentious elements of the film, a lot of the reason why it has a mixed response from audiences and reviewers. I think on another hand, it shows that the film got people thinking, and talking about it, and that seems deliberate. And finally, I think it shows, like Holly discussed yesterday, that the marketing for this movie completely failed. It did not set the right expectations for what the film would be or be about.

So these are the topics I want to talk about – spoilers to follow!

The Whole 10% of the Brain Thing

The biggest contention they had on SourceFed Nerd – and the biggest concern we had going into the film – was the whole, basic premise. The line that humans only use 10% of their brain – and Lucy was going to unlock the rest.

I think that the marketing, the trailers and all, set us up for this. It was the expectation. And we were gritting our teeth at this – at the thought that this was going to be the whole explanation, and then all the action would ensue.

However, I would argue this is not what it was. In fact, we don’t even remember the line about 10% of the brain actually making it in the movie. If it was there, it wasn’t the point. Morgan Freeman, as the scientist, isn’t talking about accessing just the brain – but the entire nervous system. The neurons throughout the whole body. He makes an analogy that a single body has more neurons than there are stars in the galaxy – being able to access and use all of that, having consciousness and control of them… that really would be something.

"Okay, maybe I could have explained that better."

“Okay, maybe I could have explained that better.”

They maybe didn’t do this well enough, though. Not well enough to get past the ads, to get past everyone’s expectations. So the idea of the whole 10% thing stuck in a lot of people’s minds, despite the fact that they clearly point out that they mean something more.

They could have shown us better in the movie. I think my imagination filled in some of the gaps. For instance, Lucy should have had control over things like adrenaline, of pain suppression. She says she doesn’t feel pain anymore, but they don’t make this clear. She could have stopped her own heart.

A few throw-away lines explaining these sorts of ideas, to explain how she had full access to her whole body, could have gone a long way in getting past the problems people had with this point in the film. And it’s an important point, since it is the basis of the film!

So What Type of Science Fiction Is It?

I feel like I’ve gotten some new ways to look at Science Fiction films and stories lately, things we’ve talked about on the blog.

One was Jodorowsky’s Dune, the documentary about the little science fiction film that couldn’t. The other was the EMP Museum and their Science Fiction exhibit. They organized the exhibit around the themes and common stories of Science Fiction – and Lucy fits squarely within one of these.

So let me look at these aspects to create a fuller picture!

Tales of the Super Human

One of the uniting themes of Science Fiction, and one of the areas at the EMP Museum, was tales about humans becoming something more than they are now. Scientifically, it flows from a lot of ideas, maybe especially of evolution. At one end, it works in with ideas like eugenics and cloning. At another end, it’s mutants and Heroes and super heroes.

Lucy not only is completely a film in this type of Science Fiction, it is an exploration of this entire genre. Lucy herself moves through the whole genre, becoming more and more a super being, and exploring the idea of human potential throughout this process.

I can compare her to other super characters throughout this genre – so let’s go through the list!

  • Initially, it’s all from a science experiment gone wrong, like so many super heroes. Well, experimental drug and criminal activity and an accident. It’s not quite a radioactive spider bite, but it definitely did the trick. So we definitely had the beginnings of a super powers story.
  • First, she becomes your standard sort of physical super hero. It’s Scarlett Johansson, so let’s say she becomes Black Widow. Perfect accuracy, physical superiority, an understanding of her opponents and how to defeat them easily. Understanding mixed with skill: at this point she was an action heroine. And really, all our expectations were probably that things were going to basically stay here, and she was going to kick butt. Nope.
  • Second, she becomes a psychic, a telepath and telekinetic. She becomes like so many of the X-Men, although my best comparison with them might be Rachel Grey, the psychic Phoenix, and a former mutant hunter. Because that’s what Lucy does with her powers: she hunts. Here she figures out how to shut down the people who did this to her, here’s the revenge figured out. And to avoid what happened to her to happen to anyone else. And to get her hands on more of the drugs that made it happen, in case she needs them…
  • Third, she becomes Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. I think that’s the best comparison, and overall one of the strongest comparison characters. For instance, as she loses emotional connection with the rest of humanity, it is very reminiscent of Dr. Manhattan. Lucy ends up making decisions about human lives, starts looking at her needs as more important. A bit of a Nietzschean ubermensch. You see it in the hospital, and you see it moreso in the car scene, as Lucy’s erratic – but precise – driving ends up in lots of normal people ending up in car accidents. However, I think the connection to Dr. Manhattan is far more strongly shown in the airplane: Lucy literally falls apart, her body comes apart and disintegrates. And her consciousness pulls it back together and she is reformed. Just like Dr. Manhattan.
  • At this point, she is completely unstoppable. At this point, she is manipulating other people, manipulating objects in the world around her. At this point, she is The One, and the world is her Matrix. She has that sort of level of vision and control over it. Again, there’s a moment where, if taken literally, is silly – her manipulating data streams from cell phones. This was meant as a visual sort of thing, it’s how she was interacting with it in her mind. Like Neo, she could see the flow of information, and interact with it and change it.
  • Finally, she ends up as the Kwisatz Haderach. She ends up as Frank Herbert’s super being, the one who can be many places at once. Lucy literally uses powers like this, and also seems to figuratively use them. The scientists clearly react to her making the room they are in stark white. However, does she physically travel to other times and places, or only mentally? Is she on a mental safari through time, as seen through the memory of life in her genes? Is this movie Just Like Dune?

Jodorowsky and Dune

Sorry, that seemed like my transition. The philosophical and psychological idea of history being carried through genes – a point that is incredibly important in Lucy – is also incredibly important in Dune. It is the power that makes the Kwisatz Haderach, the combined power of his genetics, everything building to him.

Well, that and an overdose of a consciousness-enhancing drug.

And just like that, we see that Lucy is very much akin to Dune. Given that making a film about Dune is exceedingly difficult, I don’t think that this is a bad thing. Instead, I would say that Lucy is an attempt to show what it would be like to become this sort of super being, to see the past, the future, the universe, and to understand it. It is, for me, an exploration of Dune. Which is one of the best things it could be.

However, with seeing Jodorowsky’s Dune, my understanding of Dune, and the media which are similar to it (which I frequently describe as Just Like Dune), has increased. And there is a direct link from Dune to Lucy.

It starts with Jodorowsky’s failed film, and follows into his graphic novel, The Incal (which I just finished reading). The Incal used a lot of the themes and ideas from Dune, and from the storyboards for the film. From The Incal, we get to Luc Besson’s Science Fiction masterpiece, The Fifth Element. This film is very much like The Incal. So much so that the film was sued for being too much like the graphic novel (without being directly and financially tied to it). The Incal’s artist (and Dune‘s before that), Moebius, worked on The Fifth Element as well. And from there, we get Luc Besson stepping back into science fiction, and we get Lucy.

So of course there are elements of Dune, and it also explains some of the aspects which feel a bit like Jodorowsky’s extra spiritual understanding of the story. In fact, the end of Lucy is basically the ending to Jodorowsky’s Dune film: the super being disassociates and becomes one with the planet, become the consciousness of the planet.

Here again is another aspect, to bring me back to the beginning, that SourceFed Nerd and audiences had a problem with. No, she doesn’t just become a space flash drive. She becomes the consciousness of the planet. Because this is, after all, Just Like Dune.

Final Thoughts

Sorry, that’s a lot of discussion of this film. If you haven’t seen it – and have read to this point – then know that this is a heavy science fiction film, this is an artistic film. Trying to explain an idea like the Kwisatz Haderach on screen is hard – heck, in a book it’s hard. On screen it should be almost impossible.

So Besson uses more than words – he uses images too. There’s a lot of great visuals, and this is one of the things that they liked on SourceFed Nerd as well. Metaphor and visual ideas. Then there were moments where they really just tried to give words to the experience, and Scarlett Johansson was a great choice for this sort of role.

My favorite scene was maybe the one where she calls her mom. Yes, it gets silly at one point, as they point out on SourceFed Nerd as well. She’s trying to tell her mom what she feels, tries to put it in words. Trying to make at least one person understand. Someone she cares about. And tries to explain she now remembers her whole life, in perfect clarity. All the way back to birth. And yes, there are things we’re not meant to remember. But it’s what would happen.

If you like Dune, or philosophical science fiction, I do say, give this movie a go. If you’ve seen it, tell me what you think now in the comments below! And if you’re looking for a Luc Besson-style action movie, a-la The Transporter or Taken, then I’m sorry, this is not that film.

One last comment before I go, something I was discussing in the comments over on We Minored In Film. Is this movie proof of concept for a female super hero movie? No. Is it proof of concept for a Black Widow solo film starring Scarlett Johansson? Absolutely.

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10 responses to “Why Lucy is a Good Science Fiction Movie

  1. I love your review. I must admit I skipped seeing Lucy as it looked as though it would be one of those crappy Hollywood action movies from the trailer. Funnily enough from what you say it has a lot of depth and is a completely different movie from how it seems. Will check it out thanks

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    • Yeah, it was not the movie that the advertising would have you believe. If you go in expecting that, I think you can enjoy it more – because otherwise you feel betrayed by the marketing! And you wonder where the movie you were expecting is.

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      • You are so good to go to the movies like in the olden days. I don’t know many people who support cinema in this way anymore sadly – myself included lol

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        • It’s just gotten so expensive! We tend to stick with matinees (and theaters that actually still do matinee pricing!) and 2D.

          3D just really feels like a bad deal!

          We also like theaters that do good inside, but there isn’t one in our town, sadly…

          But we both love movie theaters and going to movies. I hope this industry doesn’t fall apart!

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          • Me too I love old theatres like Art Deco ones…we have them a lot in New Zealand, they are really romantic. I know what you mean. Need to start going more, you inspired me

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  3. As much as I enjoyed the “artistic” and “heavy sci fi” quality of the film, I’d have to agree with most of the commenters. It is not the film that was advertised. However, I did like it, as I am a big fan of psychological and philosophical thrillers. The 10% myth bugged me a bit, but the film itself was interesting. I described it to my family (who saw it with me in the theater) as “a film made by a bunch of sci fi nerds fulfilling a sci fi dream using a tag-team geek-approved cast (the undeniably gorgeous Johansson, famously known for Black Widow; Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman!) and the wonderful medium of CGI… so basically, a movie made by a bunch of sci fi nerds fulfilling MY dream.” I liked it a lot, I really did. Sort of upset we paid money to see in theaters though.

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    • Agreed, this maybe could have waited for home viewing. But it was great, and it did make me think! Much more than anyone who saw the trailers or who knows Besson was really probably expecting to think. Not meeting viewers’ expectations is by far the biggest problem this movie has!

      Thanks for weighing in!

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