Luc Besson’s latest film, Lucy, is like that irritating, bespectacled kid sitting in the first row of class, who keeps asking questions, not because he’s interested in knowing the answers, but because he wants to come across as intelligent. Why does Lucy so desperately want to appear clever? I am not sure I have a definite answer to that question, but I can guess — maybe because it’s a sci-fi film? And if you are Besson, trust me, it’s not an easy job: the poor director is alone in this noble pursuit; he wants to educate, enlighten and entertain us about what human beings are capable of. Besson also believes you should clearly understand every scene of the film because, heck, it’s for your own good. But what if you didn’t get something for the first time? You needn’t worry — Professor Besson will explain everything to you. How? Since it’s is a film that’s so drunk on its intelligence, Professor doesn’t uses clumsy conventional tropes such as voiceovers or expositions; he reiterates his lecture notes using “metaphors”. For instance, in the first five minutes of the film, we quickly understand that Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) has been framed by her boyfriend — he wants her to deliver a briefcase, whose contents he won’t disclose. But that’s obviously not enough: the scene cuts to a mouse nibbling at a slab of cheese in front of a mousetrap. It’s as if Besson is shouting at us: “Class! Did you get the ‘metaphor’”? He doesn’t stop at that. When Lucy is accosted at the goon’s den a few minutes later, he cuts to a panther darting after a deer. As Lucy gets overpowered by the goon’s acolytes, Besson cuts to a shot of the panther devouring the deer. It’s only been 10 minutes, you tell yourself, 83 more minutes to go; perhaps bunking the class would have been a better idea.
Thankfully, the lecturing stops for a brief while, and the film reveals its central plot-point: Lucy consumes CPH4 (a potent drug that drastically enhances one’s mental faculty), and it takes her to a new rabbit hole. Earlier in the film, at a convention, Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) tells us that till now human beings have only been able to utilise 10% of their brains. As the drug begins overpowering Lucy, she experiences a marked change in her mental state — her mental prowess keeps on increasing, and she finds herself capable of performing feats impossible for any other human being. And it’s here you tell yourself, “This is the film.” We constantly live in times where everyone’s clamouring to assimilate as much information as they can; it’s supposed to empower us. But Lucy tells us that a deluge of information can be as crippling as the lack of it. “I don’t know what to do with it,” Lucy confides in Norman, flustered with her new superpower. It’s noteworthy how Besson subverts a tired truism to give us something to mull over — we don’t equate information overload with limitations, do we? But here’s the thing: Besson doesn’t seem to believe that this aside is worth exploring, and hence cruelly ignores it in pursuit of concentrating on the physical consequences of these superpowers. A lot of scenes are devoted to showcasing Lucy’s mental and physical superpowers — her furiously jabbing at the keyboard, making people fly in the air, rendering them immobile. This fixation on her external powers without really examining how it may be impacting her starts becoming tedious after a while.
In the film’s dénouement, Besson again resorts to his initial instructional self, and gives Norman the following lines to spout: “Without time, we won’t exist. Time is unity.” It’s banalities like these that really plague Lucy; there’s nothing egregiously wrong in a film trying to deliver a “message”, but this particular message, and the devices through which it’s materialised shouldn’t be so trite that it feels like a nonstop lecture in a class that refuses to end.
An edited version of this review was published on The Sunday Guardian.