Lucy is just bad.
ScarJo plays a young girl, Lucy, who’s hoodwinked into becoming a drug mule for a guy she barely knows. He’s carrying a briefcase full of a brand new superdrug that’s a synthetic version of some chemical pregnant women produce to stimulate hormone growth in children. Apparently, this drug gives you a wicked high and it’s being smuggled to a drug baron. This, by the way, is the last time the film makes a lick of goddamn sense as we start to explore some very strange beliefs of the director.
The opening sequence of the film — Lucy being coerced into delivering the suitcase before being abducted by the shadowy drug lord — is genuinely clever. While the scene plays out, snippets of nature documentaries — docile animals being variously aware of predators waiting in ambush, before being chased down and ensnared — are cut into the action. The same animal urges that we’re seeing in the nature documentaries are still present in our social interactions. The same questions of power, domination, and authority in a pre-linguistic, unrefined, visceral sense are being explored. It also calls into question how we see Lucy operating in a space that has very few female characters: the guy she barely knows handcuffing her to a suitcase, the criminal underlings who snatch away her autonomy, and the drug lord who dominates and intimidates her. Is Lucy really the prey in the same sense as the antelope being mauled by the cheetah? Does this depiction of her reduce our appreciation of her autonomy? Does it deny her some responsibility? She must clearly know that she’s being asked to do something dodgy; does she have the option of doing something other than going through with her sort-of-boyfriend’s scheme?
This exploration is quickly over. It’s not long before Lucy is being forced to undergo surgery to conceal a parcel of drugs in her abdomen. The parcel leaks and the drugs give Lucy superpowers. End of act one.
Rather than stick with the idea of how human interactions are basally animal instinct, the film introduces Morgan Freeman explaining in his Morgan Freeman voice that humans only use 10% of their brain power, but evolution is magic, so humans could evolve the ability to ignore well established physical laws of the universe, like the conservation of energy. The drugs that are leaking into Lucy’s body open up her ability to use more than 10% of her brain, so she gains the ability to read brain scans, give medical advice, understand all languages, shape shift, and use telekinesis.
Director Luc Besson clearly has some weird ideas about what intelligence is. Not only does sheer brain power — that is, the ability to process information through the physical machinery of the brain — appear to equate to mental content — that is, knowledge, experience, understanding, qualia, &c. — but it also equates to personality. Lucy’s increase in intellect makes her abrupt and impersonal. She becomes less of an emotional creature and more of a robot. This becomes more pronounced as the film goes on until she literally becomes a latex-clad computer-being.
Lucy also becomes amoral. Walking into a hospital, she finds a room full of surgeons operating on a man who has a brain tumour. She decides that his brain tumour is inoperable and so shoots the patient and demands that the surgeons operate on her instead. For all we know, the guy had a few days left to live to wish his family goodbye, and there appears to be an intuitive difference between ‘The patient died on the operating table’ and ‘The patient died on the operating table because a woman walked in and shot him’. These appear to be ethically different scenarios even though the outcome might be identical. She seeks to inflict pain upon the drug lord who abducted her — he is pinned to a chair with knives through his hands, even though she can disable his body painlessly with her mind. But at no point does she seek to have the drug lord punished for his crimes.
This point becomes quite difficult throughout the film. Lucy feels no compulsion to protect innocent people from the consequences of her own activities — even destroying police cars that are legitimately trying to intercept her for various crimes, including murdering a hospital patient — and yet (with the sole exception of her captors when she first gets super powers) diligently defends the right to life of people who are shooting at her. Indeed, the film would be mostly over if Lucy had just killed the drug lord when she knifed him through the hands. Instead, she lets him live so that he can both inform his minions about her scheme to obtain all of the drug parcels and pursue her personally as the primary MacGuffin of the film.
Ethics and emotions are for dumb animals, it seems.
In lots of ways, the film has no real point. Lucy is far too omnipotent for us to ever feel like the bad guys have a chance of winning the conflict, and the ‘philosophical’ aspect of the film is far too stupid to be taken seriously. The film strips Lucy of personhood and then ends.
Other fictional stories of ‘woman transcends her place in the social order’ seem to handle these problems better. The best example that comes to mind is the Dark Phoenix Saga in Marvel Comics. The opening act is about Jean Grey obtaining omnipotence before the masculine world order — her boyfriend, her father figure, the galactic military, &c. — compel her to commit suicide. The story is less ‘A woman becomes all-powerful and then the story ends’ (as we see in Lucy) and more ‘The galaxy has to respond to the threat of a woman who isn’t respecting her place in the patriarchal world structure’.
Lucy ends just as the real problem begins: what the hell do we do living in a world that has Lucy in it? She becomes a commodity, giving access to knowledge far beyond our current social structure’s capacity. Which country should monopolise this information? Does it include harmful information? &c., &c., &c.? Roll credits.
This could have been a really good film, but Besson botched it. Seen alongside his earlier film, The Fifth Element, it seems Besson has some real hangups about powerful women being anything more than objects used to fulfill cosmic power struggles rather than characters in their own right.