Saturday, November 15, 2014
Response to HuffPost Review: Luc Besson's Lucy
Muhammad Rasheed – I did see it. It premiered at the AAFES Theatre right here in my building, and when they found out I was into Luc Besson’s work, my staff treated me for the Eid holiday (my Filipino staff all have crushes on Johansson so they made a big deal out of it).
I liked it. I gave it a ‘B.’ I also read Olivia’s review of it the other day, and although her general point – that the Caucasian Male Dominance mindset of Hollywood treats white folk as “default normal” – and there are absolutely aspects of that concept present in this film as she described, there was more to the movie than that. Olivia even ignored or misinterpreted important aspects of the story so that she could force her point about it, making her review inaccurate in some areas.
First, this is a genre film. Category: science-fiction. Sub-category: superhero. That’s the reason why I wanted to see it. The first time I heard about it was when your mom and I saw the trailer in front of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I was all in. “A superpowerful chick fuckin’ shit up with mental abilities? I’m THERE!” lol I love that shit. It’s the reason why I love Limitless so much, and the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, that Lucy has so much in common with. I LOOOOVE the superpowers, and they gave me all I could handle and more, hence the ‘B.’ Besson’s writing isn’t as smooth as it was in his earlier films, and this one got pretty wonky at times. Often I would find myself wishing they would shut up with the loose, funky pseudo-science talk and flip another car over. The science part wasn’t its strength, it clearly wasn’t Besson’s strong suit despite his obvious enthusiasm for the material. It gave the impression that he JUST discovered this stuff a couple months before he wrote the script and got excited enough to want to make a movie about it, before he finished understanding it.
Hollywood does have a thing with indoctrinating the public with the idea that white folk are 1) humans at their default normal setting 2) that they represent the most evolved version of humanity 3) blond hair and blue eyes represent the BEST human traits of all. But this idea doesn’t belong to them alone, in fact, they didn’t even make it up. It comes from prejudiced mindsets within the science institutions… stuff we were taught in school that radiated out into mainstream pop culture in America, and apparently, all the way to the Philippines. You can’t escape it, unless you just stop watching movies and tv. We can make the decision to only watch movies made by other ethnic groups, but they are colored by those ideas, too and subconsciously those same types of prejudices will surface in their films: all the good guys are light-skinned, all the ratchet villains are dark-skinned, etc. An active and deliberate effort to deprogram ourselves from that mess would have to be a movement all of itself.
In the movie, Lucy’s eyes did flash blue whenever the synthetic super-drug CPH4 did its thing to cause her to mutate up to another power level. Within the context of the story obviously this only happened because the chemical itself was blue, and being aware of that fact, I dismissed it easily enough. But symbolically, it was a different matter. Subliminally it reinforces the “whites are the most evolved humans” baggage and functions as a powerful symbol of that racist concept. It’s not as ugly and blatant as it is in movies such as Dune or Dragonball Z, where there is NO explanation given as to why the superhuman version of a person now has blue eyes other than *koff*racism*koff* . lol In Lucy I saw it, noted it, recognized that it was the same purplish-blue of the drug, and put it away. It wasn’t as big of a deal as Olivia made it in that context. If the drug was YELLOW then, yeah, I would’ve been really irritated. But since the eyes made sense in the context of the tale, and there were other films that were far more obvious in that regard, I was able to push that aside and just enjoy the movie. “Pick my battles.”
Next, this wasn’t a story about evolution, despite all the forced visuals, the play on the titular character’s name, and the influential link up with Arthur C. Clarke’s story. The power came from a synthetic drug, one that was implanted into several people, and through an accident it ended up being absorbed into Lucy’s system. That accident could’ve happened to any of them particularly that Arab-looking dude who bolted from the French police. He could’ve easily had some kind of accident that leaked the trash into his body, too. So it wasn’t like it leaked into everybody’s systems, and only the blond/blue eyed white chick had the evolutionary fortitude to take human kind to the next level or some crazy bullshit like that. It could’ve happened to any of them. As a young, pretty female she was the one in the best position to get abused by their captors-handlers on the way to delivery to cause the accident. If there were other females in the group of mules, she probably wouldn’t have been the only one to have the CPH4 accident, really. Also, there was a lab somewhere where chemists were still in the process of making the stuff. Her blood samples were still in that Taiwan hospital… they could extract the drug from that and recreate it, too. Potentially, any and everybody can take the stuff and max out their mental performance. Like Limitless, this kind of story shows a superhuman who got that way from an invention made by normal humans, that any other human could take part in if they so desired. It really represents the heights of where our technology can go, wrenching our fate away from the cold hands of the random evolutionary process. So because of that aspect of the story, the “evolution” angle never fell on me that way, and all talk of it in the film was more of a distraction to me from what story was really unfolding on the screen.
Olivia mentioned that the movie’s “premise rests on the idea of reimagining the past, present and future,” but I really don’t see that. Lucy’s powers enabled her to see MORE, and figure out stuff that our science is already heading towards FASTER. All her abilities were (loosely) based on scientific principles that we already understand about the universe and how it works. The point is that her super-intellect gives her a level of mastery over those principles so great, that she doesn’t need the physical crutch of instrumentation/technology to make the laws of physics bend for her, and she can see the furthest reaches of scientific knowledge that our scientists are verrrrry slowly plodding along to get to. So she was kind enough to create a computer, process everything that she sees/understands, and gave it to Freeman on a mobile USB drive. So the story isn’t “reimagining” anything. Basically it’s like if the full Secrets of the Universe could fit in a ten volume encyclopedia set, and the 21st century scientist had only mastered up to about 1/8th of the first volume. At the end of this story, Lucy gave the rest of the entire 10 volume set to Morgan Freeman’s character on a thumb drive. The movie wasn’t supposed to be revealing anything new, but creating a sci-fi tale from the info we think we already know, as filtered through Luc Besson’s understanding of it.
As far as Olivia’s being tired of seeing yet another white woman on the screen, I understand where she’s coming from, but realistically this is all about money and big business. Scarlett Johansson happens to be the Hollywood “It Girl” right now, and generates a lot of money through her star power, as demonstrated by her film outperforming The Rock’s Hercules movie on its opening weekend as an action vehicle (Hercules could’ve performed a LOT better if it had a fresher script that played up to the superhero fans the way it should have. I don’t know what they were thinking with that garbage).
Another angle from this type of story, that I go into the theater already expecting and braced for, is that it functions on the assumption that there is no afterlife/God/spirit. That after we die then that’s it. You can see it in Limitless, too. The super-drug NZT-48 also gives Eddie Morra superhuman intellect, and how does he use it? To over-indulge his physical senses, and make himself cool. He’s very selfish, all the way to the end. And the script doesn’t mention God and the spirit at all, because it’s just understood that those are a fiction. So you can do whatever you can get away with. It’s okay. There is no Ultimate Consequence for our actions. If the police never catch you then it’s all good. "Use these powers to build up a vast fortune and live like an emperor until you die because that’s all life is about, baby." Lucy is the same, it just takes it to a different level. There also isn’t any spirit in that world, but Lucy’s mind quickly evolves past the base-level materialism that Eddie Morra was focused on. She recognized that the star stuff energy that our physical bodies is made of… even the electric impulses that make up our thoughts and memories… will simply return to the background star stuff energy around us when we die to probably recycle into whole new worlds later on. So in that sense “we never really die” as she said. That’s why, despite her super-evolved mental state and insight, she had such a cavalier attitude about killing people. Without God/afterlife/spirit it’s just not a big deal, and no police force on earth could stop her anyway. The atheist crowd wants to replace religion with a secular-humanist view of our species eventual ‘becoming’ into our ultimate state through technology, instead of through reincarnating into our ‘spirit man’ form after death, and feel that should be a more attractive option to the rational mind. They think to choose it means you are more intelligent than those who choose religion.
I think Olivia was right about Lucy going back through New York’s time in the distant past and finding the Australopithecus Lucy there. She definitely WOULDN’T have been there. Did the director just want to show his special effect of Lucy flipping through the time stream the way we flip through smart phone screens and ignored that fact on purpose for artistic license, or did he simply not know, or forgot?
So other than some minor racism-tainted tropes that inevitably made their way into the script, Lucy wasn’t the poster child for that type of story as Olivia is trying to make it be in her review. Was it perfect? No. Did it tap into that bag? A little. But not enough to ruin the film for me. I got out of it what I went to see it for. Superhero stuff! And it performed it very well. It reminds me of the controversies around the first Star Wars prequel “The Phantom Menace.” The fans went on and on about how bad they thought it was, and how Lucas had dropped the ball, etc., but I gave that one a ‘B,’ too. In a previous article I read about it, creator George Lucas said it was to represent the Golden Age of the franchise’s superheroes the Jedi... warrior monks with psychic powers and laser swords. Honestly, that’s the only part that I’ve EVER cared about in the Star Wars tales, and in The Phantom Menace I got everything I wanted that Lucas had promised me. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi Wan were badasses in that movie, and I was good. They could keep the rest. I wasn’t into raw science fiction stuff anyway. Space ships and aliens and stuff? Meh. I just like the powers.
That’s my bottom line about the Lucy film. I already knew going in that there was going to be SOME of the old Hollywood nonsense. We’re not going to escape that while they are the “mainstream” power, but fortunately I don’t feel that the movie overwhelmed me with it. Certain things I expected were there, and I neatly and easily compartmentalized them out of my way. And they gave me everything that I went to see the movie for. So I liked it. Other than Besson tightening up his writing, I think it was as good as I could reasonably expect it to be.