I Love ‘Lucy’

September 2nd, 2014

Finally another film from Luc Besson!  Where’s he been? I’ve missed him.  Admittedly, his work is not always easy viewing.  Sometimes I feel Besson is killing me softly with his films, having “found my letters and read each one out loud”. It seems a rarity to watch films where female characters are so deeply integral to the plot line as those of Mr Besson.  Consider his biggest hits: ‘Leon, ‘La Femme Nikita’, ‘The Fifth Element’.  Besson doesn’t treat the female as just eye candy, love interest or quirky goofball in his films, she is most often central to their intense meaning, usually addressing epic existential themes.  In short he is a valiant and properly aspiring feminist.  Not perfect no, but passionate yes.  I do love ‘Lucy’ and see his latest film as a continuum to his great reverence for the female of the species.

Besson seems to mock our expectations in introducing us to university student Lucy, party girl of Taipei, portrayed by 50-million-mile staring Scarlett Johanssen.  He links her to the oldest known hominid of her character’s namesake, via a joke delivered to her by her drug dealer beau.  Besson interjects Discovery Channel-esque clips of fantasy primate, Lucy, into the mix  just to drive the point all the way home.  He then proceeds to detonate our limitations in perceiving her vast human capability.  We watch, and arguably travel with, her great arc of confidence whilst she demonstrates sensorial telepathy, severe human strength and pervasive intelligence.  Her new powers are all attributable to CPH4, a synthesised hormone present in the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy (at least within Besson’s fiction).  The drugs have been unceremoniously inserted into Lucy’s lower abdomen, and she is an unwitting mule for its transport from dealer to distributor.  Stakes are raised when the megadosage 0f drugs bursts into her bloodstream, as a result of the brutality which ensues when she resists rape from her captors.

There are certain contradictions in the film which have inspired a concern for Besson’s attention to continuity and scientific integrity.  Just before her earliest memories are awakened by this drug, during which she professes to feel every kiss ever given to her by her parents and claiming to ….”feel every living thing”; Lucy shoots and kills a patient, still anaesthetised on the operating slab during brain surgery.   The threat of annihilation hangs heavy in the air for the surgeon, who is urged to remove the bag of bright blue, Draino-looking crystals at gunpoint as a matter of serious priority.  She insists he cut into her lower abdomen, to remove them without anaesthesia. It seems that, for all the feeling she can detect and reconjure, it doesn’t translate to love for her fellow human or pain when a knife penetrates her internal organs.  There is a glaring lack of empathy here as she transforms to superhuman, and soon she declaims, “All the things that make me human are fading away”.  Are these contradictions error, or is Besson using poetic device to point the audience in a very specific direction?  Consider her violent, selfish act in the context of her confusion resulting from a lack of self knowledge.  As her brain capacity increases, her perceptible world converts to data, and we see her skywrite, literally expanding the data for better visibility.  It is as though all that she sees can be operated like a touchscreen.  One might confuse her actions with ‘stemming’, to which people with Autism will often resort, in order to make sense of an unfamiliar environment.

Interestingly, when the CPH4 hits Lucy’s system, whilst in captivity, she begins to literally climb the walls.  As late as January 2014, France has been struggling with notions of censorship, involving a court case over a documentary, called ‘Le Mur’ (translation ‘The Wall’ http://www.supportthewall.org ).  Sophie Roberts’s film exposes the controversial process of ‘packing’ or wrapping children with ASD in cold wet blankets as a form of therapy.  It is a treatment  for an outmoded idea about people with ASD as having ‘refrigerator mothers’:  adding insult to the injury of cold blooded old times, two decades into the new Millennium.  This problem in France might contextualise the conversation that Besson’s leading lady has with her mother, whilst she is being cut open to remove the drugs which are converting her to super heroine.  I refer to the conversation whereby she thanks her mother for the memory of having the taste of her breast milk in her mouth….. her refrigerator mother.

Nearly simultaneous to the release of ‘Lucy’, some curious medical findings were published linking Autism (ASD) to a higher volume of synaptic connection in the brain – as compared to neruotypicality.  ( http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(14)00651-5 ).  As a result of a defect in proteins regulating autophagy, or the pruning of so called ‘obsolete’ synaptic connections during childhood development, people with ASD are more likely to use more of their brains. This may account for the short circuitry, which splinters sensory processing, and alters concepts of time.   Authoress with Autism, Donna Williams, describes their experiential manifestation as ‘the mono-channel’ in her groundbreaking book ‘Autism:  An Inside-Out Approach’. ( http://www.donnawilliams.net/autisminsideout.0.html )  She is one of several women with Autism who is making her voice heard  and massively changing perceptions about this condition. Temple Grandin PhD, Dr of Animal Science, revolutionised the cattle industry by designing the architecture of cattle chutes, according to her acknowledged affinity with the animals they serve to benefit.  As a person with Autism, Dr Grandin cites her commonality with them, because she also ‘thinks in pictures’. (“I can feel every living thing”, saith Lucy) http://www.templegrandin.com   Interestingly, both Donna Williams and Dr Grandin have posted their support for this now successful campaign, which has exposed the bizarre practicing of ‘packing’ youth with ASD by therapists ( http://www.supportthewall.org/2011/11/ ).

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about ‘Lucy’ is the overwhelming complexity of the film’s ending, where Lucy becomes the ghost in her own shape shifting, fully capacitated machine.  She is eventually able to scroll backward through time c/o her touchscreen perspective to re-enact Michaelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ with the other Lucy. (If Lucy, the Australopithecus, is Adam’s alter ego, is her consort named Steve?)  Lucy is finally reduced to the ultimate annotation of comprehensive data conversion:  a text reading, “I am everywhere”.  Notably, Carly Fleischman is a non-verbal person with Autism, who has found her voice, focus and global presence via the use of a computer, much like Besson’s Lucy. (‘Carly’s Voice’  http://carlysvoice.com/home/aboutcarly/ ). Though the idea that a human is the ultimate computer seems a dangerous portal for microchipping agitprop (Once top secret, the ‘Eve’ microchip made by Apple can be yours for £5,000) I offer, in place of its horror, a borrowed response:  ‘The future is unknowable, but not unimaginable’ – Ludwig Lachmann

Lucy (rated R)
Director/writer: Luc Besson
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi

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