This year I attended Melbourne’s White Night after years of not. It seemed a little like it had jumped the shark and many attendees were less than impressed. The highlight was Ideation at the State Library of Victoria, staged in the domed Reading Room. It was a spectacular and moving visual paean to human knowledge and the value of libraries. If the entire night had been that good, I’d go again.
Anyway, it’s weeks later and I watched Luc Besson’s Lucy, which is something like a message or lament about human potential. The two share a demonstration of the achievements of humans over time and a concern to preserve knowledge gained. In addition, Lucy undergoes the process illustrated with slides not so dissimilar to Ideation’s pictures, except without music.
Parts of Besson’s work recall Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, only fictional, and only in passing, because despite Morgan Freeman’s gravitas as the science dude, it’s basically a drug heist treasure hunt action adventure revenge flick. Ideation was closer to Herzog, but I wasn’t thinking about him as I was immersed in it. So, with Lucy, I’m not sure if it’s a profound drug flick with intimations on human experience a la Train Spotting, or a shallow meaning of life movie.
Lucy’s goals are noble, but I kept wondering if the ends or the visual effects justify the means. I also question how evolved she’d really became, given her body count, even if ‘death isn’t real’. Then I started wondering if Lucy was acted upon as an any person or whether the trajectory of her evolution was intrinsically linked to her memories, personality and her DNA. Did it all happen because Lucy survived the drugs, or could it have happened if I had survived the dose (assuming a drug like this could exist)?
The brain-computer analogy is too mechanical, and too classically Newtonian rather than heretical alchemical Newton. And she could have outlined more obviously the solution to Descartes mind-body problem, which is alluded to if you read too much into her speech about numbers and scale.
Scarlett Johansson does ok to present Lucy as a person undergoing a series of traumatic and strange events, and her character does change as the drugs act on her brain. She kinda turns into the Girl from the Girl in the Pearl Earring, all observing and being observed. I was reminded too, of Rose facing the Daleks in Doctor Who, and I half expected Lucy to reduce the legion of gang members to dust. In the end it’s the same for Rose and Lucy, you can’t have that much power. Their options are annihilation or becoming something else. Rose gets her brain back at the cost of her Doctor. Lucy chooses something else.
Sadly, I wasn’t really impressed with this something else. If her fate is what 100% of brain use is meant to look like, then that’s a result of Besson falling short in imagining what 100% of brain use looks like because he’s not using 100% of his brain. Do you see the dilemma?
All I could think is if a human being is so transformed I’m not so sure she’d turn herself into a super computer and human wi-fi. I think that if the premise is not false, and someone could achieve 100% use of their brain, the rest of us would struggle to comprehend this. Just like humans struggle to comprehend the achievements of previous super people – insert your own example.
What I’m striving to argue is Ideation and Lucy are attempting express something of the nature of human potential but end up being about something else, or something else as well. I didn’t see the future in lights in the library, but acknowledgement of how far we have come and it worked emotionally. With the film, it promised to show us our potential, but potentiality is unknowable, even unmeasurable, and Lucy didn’t convince me otherwise. Furthermore, I didn’t feel the narrative in the same way I felt Ideation’s display.
And now I’m left with all these questions.
Whither humanity now?