Dir. Luc Besson
No matter how one responds to Lucy, it's better to meet her knowing she's eccentric and quite ridiculous. Yet it cannot be ignored for me how refreshing it is to see her try for something different in a multiplex. I went into my nearest for the first time in a long while hearing she was very peculiar but had takes on certain ideas no one else was having in that building, turning a present day action film, which Luc Besson has been as much responsible for in his production studio and legion of directors, and turn it into Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). Dinosaurs and gun fights exist in her words. Violent action scenes with science fiction straight from anime and archival footage from documentaries she's seen. Ideas of how the mind doesn't use its full capacity, which she knows is a myth but springs from it ideas of the expansion of human consciousness while still bringing in a car chase and policemen against Asian gangsters. There's even an archival image of warthogs fucking brought into the ideas, which I never would presume to see on an Odeon cinema screen, and altogether the film made from all this, the tangents in the thoughts, with plot and logic gaps, is compelling despite of them. Usually you're forced to listen to someone whose monotonous and predictable when you go to a multiplex, going through the same tedious good guys/superheroes shooting/fighting bad guys scenario with no eccentricity or clever concepts behind them. With Lucy, moments in her speech are legitimately inspired.
Inadvertently caught up with a criminal organisation in Asia, American party girl Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) has a bag of an experimental narcotic sewn into her stomach area as a forced upon drug mule for the criminal head Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). When the bag is broken open accidentally inside her, the drug causes Lucy's mind to awaken, able to use far more of her brain's potential than the ten percent explained, in Paris on the other side of the world, by Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) that human beings usually use. As she slowly gets to using a full hundred percent of her mind, transforming her into a demigod like figure of unknown power, she gets into contact with the professor and a French police detective Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), while trying to acquire the remaining bags of drugs sewn up in three other drug mules from Jang and his henchmen. With Lucy able to manipulate her body, access vast intelligence and transform her environment and other people in abstract ways, the result is a mad melding of profundity, of the meaning of life and the concept of mind expansion in a sci-fi action film where the female titular protagonist can just pin goons to the ceiling or knock a whole corridor of people unconscious with her mind. The film discards the plot holes it will have or a logical set of rules around what the protagonist can and cannot do. There is no clear threat to Lucy when she becomes superhuman at all, as her powers progress, more of what she can do and what happens when she reaches a full hundred percent mental capacity when just a small boost higher turns her in a gun welding killing machine. The scenario is allowed to play out, past rational plotting, literally to prehistoric history. A lot of the film is ridiculous, but it's clear the film knew this, as Lucy becomes a cold, logical being able to connect to others through any machine, reaching a stage of feeling every sensation and every conscious force possible as she ploughs through people in her way. It's loud, juggling musings of life in the same breath as people being shot in the head, and it's trying to have its cake and eat it in being philosophical and violently dumb. A person in my screening, at the start of the final credits, called it the worst film they ever saw, and compared to other mainstream films in the multiplex, someone will pick it to pieces in comparison to them....
....but people are not willingly to take such a risk in directing and writing a film like this as Besson did. In any other circumstance, Lucy could've been merely a fascinating failure, one of the peculiarities that I obsess over, but the director does so much right. The film reminds me less of a blockbuster than the gene pool of genre films from decades ago, in the seventies and eighties, from countries like Japan, an ungodly breeding of unconnected ideas and types of cinema created from trying to make films different from each other, less interested in a conventional, cohesive plot but in a plot that acted as a skeleton just to house the content and the effect the content causes on the viewer. Besson's willingness to experiment is seen in the beginning, as Lucy is coerced into meeting Jang in the first place by her boyfriend, the film cutting to a mouse, against a black screen out of narrative time, tentatively getting closer to a mousetrap. Never intended to be a subtle technique to begin with, the Montage of Attractions theory of Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet filmmaker and film theorist, is brought into an action film, something you rarely see know even in art films. It immediately won me over, and showed that for all the silly content that would take place onscreen, the film was going to be spectacular in playing with the form and content just by going back to a concept of film's past and using it in an inspired way that had dramatic effect.
It's for the most part of typical action film around the acquisition of the experimental drug, the police and the criminals around the title character, but its well made as a case to house the more bizarre content. Every action scene is exhilarating and well made, something that has to be emphasised because it's not a rule followed enough. It's brutal, it's nasty, but it's also put together properly for effect. Yet the action content only works fully in that it's the skeleton for the peculiar story around it. The bizarre sci-fi, solidly depicted too with Industrial Light & Magic behind the microscopic and cosmic images brought into the film, gives the work a uniqueness even if it's for the most part another action film in its ilk. The risk taken is what makes it good, and how it's done well. In plotting, despite the holes, and the bold risks. Acting for example. Min-sik Choi is the stereotypical villain, but he's great and allowed to speak in his own language rather than be hindered in trying to speak a second one while acting at the same time, an act of respect from Besson for his abilities even when, interestingly, non-English dialogue is only translated when needed for the story's basics. Morgan Freeman is being Morgan Freeman, but who else would you want to talk about the evolution of life on Earth and its ability to think, profound when it's over images of mankind's construction and even over those images of animals having sex that cause people to chuckle, the actor able to make everything sound as meaningful as it should be regardless of the images onscreen. The there's Johansson. Since Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008), I've found hwe to be one of the most attractive actresses in current American cinema, but it's been wonderful that she is also talented and picks very unconventional films too, seeing two very different faces of her on a cinema screen in this and Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin (2013). I'm not impressed with her being in The Avengers (2012) or any of the Marvel comic book films because she was turned into a lifeless fetish doll for comic book nerds, who didn't get to bare actual teeth within the all-boys club of superheroes. Here thankfully, she can be the action heroine but be in something unconventional for commercial cinema. For the most part, she is a growingly emotionless machine, but there is a charisma to her where nothing she says or is involved in, including a majestic take on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that is yet so unexpected in a multiplex film involving an ancestor, without it coming off as silly. That's not to mention an abrupt scene of real drama, a phone conversation with Lucy's mother where she discusses her memories unlocked of her childhood and sadness in her predicament, which comes out of nowhere and shows how good an actress she is.
That scene as well, on Besson's part as director and writer, is exceptional, the placement and flawless execution of such moments, from this to the strange, going against the sillier moments and bringing the film to a higher quality, taking real risks and succeeding with them. It's a high octane action-for-action's sake movie which yet takes its ideas of the mind's expansion, in a template of a mindless action film, into areas that are actually thoughtful, including those for the sake of the mindless action scenes. It comes off as intriguing as a take on the evolutionary potential of the human species in context of using it for carnage onscreen. What is the exact message being said is vague to be honest, but as a take on the concepts it takes a real shot of trying to explain them. Lucy eventually becomes fully esoteric - if the archival footage from documentaries and Freeman talking about life hadn't already - in the finale alongside a large scale gun battle between groups, throwing in ideas of time, the meaning of existence, and mind bending distortions of reality and form that you'd only get usually, in juxtapositions, in anime and manga. Without any hesitance, bravely, what starts out as an entertaining action film with a likable heroine in a terrible situation and clever visual tricks gets more and more bolder as it goes along, rejecting Christopher Nolan plot logic for more inspired ideas. Mind reading as depicted in a curving, rooming camera viewing around pockets and reflections of sunglasses that may make no sense in a plot continuity but is more rewarding in being exaggerated and playful. An entire timeline passes through onscreen, and the universe as a whole, in a few minutes just for the sake of it. Sincerity that veers close to naivety but worthy for the desire to be so. A finale transformation that definitely evokes anime like Akira (1988) while more aesthetically elegant, rather than disturbing, and obsessed with black and white, ending with a odd, finite ending with no chance of a sequel, no epilogue for any characters, but a clear end, cutting to the chase without padding.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
Lucy is mainly an action sci-fi film, connected to its action narrative, as Johansson's Lucy fights off suited henchman, greatly. It ends up in an odd placement here that its reliance on this structure in tone, unlike other films, is too conventional for it to get to Medium ranking, yet makes the content even more stranger in a rationalised, normal setting. It's a film that left a lot of baffled viewers at the end of the screening I attended regardless of its conventional aspects, encountering a work that deals with the universe and beyond in a ninety or so minute action movie when people went to see another action film like any other at that multiplex. The originality and risks, the smallest to the biggest, are pronounced, making it madder than a box of frogs and exhilarating at the same time.
If more films this bold and unconventional were being made for the multiplex, I would be a better person. Everyone would be a better person, although I want to avoid making that phrase a dead horse I beat repeatedly here. The plot flaws may grow on rewatches, but the first time viewing, seeing Lucy vibrate with a boldness different from other films that was worth viewing on the cinema screen, makes her someone I'll have joyful feelings for in being different.