This film seems to be, at least to some extent, emulating 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I’ll give it the same criticism I’d give to Kubrick: “If you’re going to contribute to the discussion of human evolution, all I ask is that you please use complete sentences.” Notice how that last sentence of mine was quite full, risking being overcrowded, but at least it got its whole point across in the best way possible. That is what I like. I like it when ideas are fully explicated, and it should show that the writer has cooked up some good food for thought, rather than just gesturing in the general direction of a kitchen saying, “make your own.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m perfectly capable of coming up with my own ideas, and inventing stories to describe them, but when a filmmaker concocts an idea only halfway with the intention of leaving the explaining to me, I get stuck with all of the tedious labor. This just makes the creator seem lazy. The key problem with Lucy is that it serves as a great prompt for someone to fully explicate its ideas in a more creative and interesting story, but a truly great film would have a hypothesis at its core, not a prompt.
Now I suppose I must explain what I mean when I say a prompt or a hypothesis. A prompt (according to my mental movie dictionary) says, “Here’s a thing that could happen.” A hypothesis says, “If this happened, here are some of the implications and conflicts that could arise.” This is the difference between “What if a teenager got a time machine?” and “If a teenager got a time machine, what would happen if he accidentally kept his parents from falling in love?” I wonder if the old adage “show, don’t tell” has taught filmmakers to show ideas rather than exploring their implications. The way that Lucy explores the idea of a person gaining access to 100% of the mind consists of the following: Dr. Exposition (Morgan Freeman) runs through a checklist of what would happen at a given percentage of access to the brain, in spite of the fact that he has no way of knowing this since it’s all guesswork, and then Lucy coincidentally displays that behavior at the exact same time. There are missed opportunities for good storytelling at every corner: the drama of her parents losing their daughter, the comedy of watching her clumsily try to use powers she hasn’t mastered, the sadness of the loss of her friendships, the confusion of figuring out where the powers came from, the arguments about what to do with the knowledge she has, the irony of a girl who flunked math suddenly being an expert, the heartbreak of her growing apart from her lover… okay, I got that last one from Her, but it would still work, if the writer had given her a decent boyfriend. Alas, the film is mostly interested in going through a laundry list of special effects, and the plots are secondary. Here’s the bizarre part: this movie held my interest.
I didn’t care all that much about Lucy as a character because the film puts a roadblock at any potential route to empathy. At the beginning of the film, she’s clearly not the type of person anyone with half a brain would want to befriend, and we haven’t learned enough about her to empathize yet. Then, she progressively becomes less and less human throughout the “story,” thus placing her in the mental category of “non-person,” and we humans have a hard time remembering to care about anything in that category. To make plot all the more futile, conflict is practically non-existent since there is no appropriate adversary for an omnipotent goddess, and it’s a given that she will inevitably succeed unharmed. My enjoyment of the film is relying almost entirely on my relationship with the director, who keeps tossing interesting ideas and visuals my way for me to enjoy. Sometimes he gets so pretentious it’s laughable, but I must admit that I was pretty entertained on the whole, and the film even passed my Pause Test. It tries to substitute drama with intensity, and it kind of pulls off this trick by being concise.
So, in the end, it may not be a brilliant masterpiece, but it keeps the viewer curious about what’s coming next, and it satisfies the curiosity adequately, making for a good cinematic experience.