Looking Back At Lucy: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein

The movie takes an intriguing theme, evolution’s goal, adds glitzy special effects, a heady mix of exotic locations, and invokes three solid thespian performances, but manages, nevertheless, to disappoint me.

Without turning a hair, Morgan Freeman, as Professor Norman, gives us a Nobel quality neuroscientist who is loveably warm and wise. Scarlett Johanssen, as Lucy, adroitly manages the transition from terrified victim to super-heroine with just an edge of humor. Amr Waked, as Del Rio, is a wonderfully Gallic flic whose hormones barely manage not to dislocate his professionalism.

The plot involves Lucy’s stumbling into a situation where she becomes an involuntary mule forced by a nefarious Korean drug lord to smuggle a new drug, CPH4, across international borders. The drug is a synthetic form of a human hormone said to power the developmental spurt during the sixth week of pregnancy. The drug packet, surgically buried in Lucy’s abdomen, leaks triggering an unprecedented increase in Lucy’s brain potential. What ensues is a race between the drug lord’s no-holds-barred effort to recover the drug and Lucy’s development of unimaginable mental ability to control her body and her environment.

The staging begins with the pre-historic Lucy, the first hominid, drinking out of a stream, using her hand to scoop up water. Inter-cut with this are scenes of Professor Norman lecturing on the evolution of the human nervous system. The point of his lecture is that the earliest humans used a small fraction of their brain potential, and that evolutionary progress in the animal kingdom involves a progressive increase it that fraction. Modern humans use perhaps a fifth of their mental capacity. Norman opines that evolutionary increase in that fraction will endow humans with amazing abilities.

That story line shifts to the events in which Lucy is forced to have the packet of CPH4 inserted into her body, its leakage and her development of those amazing abilities. She has the capacity to control her bodily processes and her environment, but she is left unemotional, in fact, robotic.

She commits herself, with the help of Del Rio and the police, to disrupting the smugglers’ plans and reaches out to Norman for his participation in gaining control of what is happening to her.

The core of the film contains high action chase sequences and shoot-outs. In the finale, Del Rio manages to kill the drug lord, and Lucy’s body disappears morphing into a series of amorphous interconnections with vast computers in Norman’s laboratory. The mass extends a finger drive to Norman—think of DaVinci’s God reaching out to Adam in the Sistine Chapel—presumably endowing him with what she has learned. Del Rio cries out asking where Lucy is. A message appears on his cell phone: I am everywhere.

This ambitious film is marred by several fumbles. Among those is its heavy reliance on the neuro-babble falsehood our species utilizes only a fraction of its brain power, and bio-babble about miracle hormones. Another is the glossing over of improbable events: Lucy’s walking into a hospital operating room with pistol in her hand without being stopped, the implausibility of a Korean drug lord with an unchecked martial potential exceeding that of the Mafia, to mention a few.

The original African Lucy is usually regarded as the mother of our human species. The eponymous Lucy must be taken as fostering the next stage of human development. I was most disappointed in the film’s failure to raise the unspoken questions. Does evolution imply improvement? Is an emotionless, non-material being more human? Is it a better human? Is it more god-like?

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