It’s true that Lucy is an aggressively dumb movie masquerading as a thoughtful one, but it’s worse than that because even its pretention feels like a put-on. Here is a film that attempts to answer a philosophical question which Douglas Adams managed to take care of with a few witty lines. While Douglas Adams was joking, Lucy is simply a joke.
In most professions, there are conferences where everyone meets up to talk about various things germane to their industries. In publishing, there are tons, but as all you smart people know, these sorts of conferences exist in various fields; everything from social sciences to bird watching to people who see celebrities in soap suds. I invite you to think of Lucy not as a movie, but a metaphysical form of one of these conferences, and the things who are all meeting up and hanging out together are clichés themselves. These clichés quickly begin to fight each other dominance, which I’m sure is, in it of itself some sort of cliché.
Early in the movie, a hipster drug-smuggler character quips “Did you know the first woman ever was named Lucy?” referencing the famous pre-history hominid. So, if you’re in 5th grade, you’ll be excited to know that the title has a double meaning, insofar as it refers not just to the “character” featured in the “plot,” but also the idea of what it means to be a person. See what Luc Besson did there? Remember when he posited that the 5th element was actually “love?”
Here is a filmmaker who is so good at juxtaposition of cheap nature documentary footage with robotic performances from his actors that I can’t hardly wait for what clever way he’ll think to explore the human condition next. I mean, the notion that our behaviors are no different than those of organized animals is a really, really deep thought experiment, which is why you’ve seen it just about everywhere, including nature documentaries. Here, you get lucky, because that super-profound and brand-new concept is explained in both dialogue and with extremely clever visuals featuring the afore-mentioned footage from actual nature documentaries in which cheetahs are hunting their prey. Cool right? We’re all just soooo primitive! If only we could expand our minds. Maybe this movie will help. Toward the end of the movie, when the character of Lucy (who is probably played by the simulacrum of Scarlett Johansson from Under the Skin) sort of time-travels and meets a dinosaur and later, a monkey, the audience is given one last chance to “get it,” before the film wraps up. Did you get it? Lucy is everything, by which we mean, the universe (plus more!) And the universe is like, you know so infinite, which is why it’s so finite. Anybody want to smoke some grass and listen to Pink Floyd?
Because she gets saddled with a bunch of bad drugs from some Asian mobster characters (who are clearly looking for work in old Quentin Tarantino movies) Lucy ends up developing super-powers akin to what Neo is able to do in the Matrix. The downside is she ends up “losing her humanity,” because what it means to be human is to be limited (remember the nature documentaries?) and what she’s evolving into is way too far out for that, man.
At some point she meets a brilliant scientist played by Morgan Freeman who actually says the words “evolution” and “revolution” right next to each other, moments before dismissing any speculation about how unlocking the potential of the human brain is “science fiction.” In a mainstream cliché conference like Lucy, having a character say “science fiction” out loud is code-speak for “bullshit,” which signals the audience to stop asking questions about why anything is happening. I love science fiction, and I love Morgan Freeman, so I also loved hearing Morgan Freeman’s wonderful voice say the words next to each other. It’s too bad it was in this movie.
I guess the weirdest cliché paradox of all is this: because Luc Besson has created a movie about “expanding our minds,” he thinks he doesn’t have to adhere to any sort of convention. This should, in theory, free him up to not use stock characters, crappy dialogue, or an over reliance on chase-scenes and dumb gun-play to keep the audience entertained. And yet, that’s all that keeps this movie from being totally unwatchable. The Matrix actually committed this crime over a decade ago: a movie about freeing your mind which was really just a series of gun-battles which mainstream dumbed-down pop culture already loves, meaning, hello, your mind is not being freed. The reason The Matrix got away with it is because at least the style of those action sequences were admittedly very new. Lucy can’t say anything like that because visually there’s nothing in these “action” sequences you haven’t already seen before. Further, there’s nothing in the spy intrigue aspect of this movie that Get Smart didn’t make more gripping, and the science fiction concepts being “explored,” are handled better in that episode of The Next Generation where Barclay turns into a jerk and has that blue-light dancing on his head.
In the same scene in which Morgan Freeman says all the stuff about sci-fi and unlocking our brains, he also mentions dolphins, who, as we know, are way smarter than us. (Major Spoiler alert: Scarlett Johansson does NOT turn into a dolphin.) And though Lucy never reveals anything about what mice are up to in this particular reality, we already know what Douglas Adams said about dolphins in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Before departing the Earth, they told the humans “so long and thanks for all the fish!”
So long, Lucy! Thanks for nothing.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.