By Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
Don’t let the trailers of “Lucy” deter you. The new Luc Besson film starring Scarlett Johansen and Morgan Freeman is smart, philosophical, and offers great questions about afterlife and evolution. Warning: It is filled with more violence and destruction of property than any of the worst vestry or buildings and grounds committee meetings you’ve encountered.
One has to hand it to Besson, (almost). For a male action writer/director, Besson, keeps trying to get it right with female action leads (La Femme Nikita). But really Mr. Besson, near the close of the film Lucy was using 90% of her cerebral capacity and was smarter than anyone on the planet. Did she really have to ask the gaggle of guy scientists for help?
Aside from that backward slide, Johansson as Lucy, is singularly focused, tough, and violent. An American student in Taiwan, Lucy is unwittingly roped in to being a mule for a crime ring involved in smuggling and selling a synthetic drug that enhances brain power. The blue colored drug is in a pouch sewn into her stomach, then it leaks, and she begins her transformation. It doesn’t kill her. It gives her incredible powers to control time and consciousness.
The film’s special metaphysical effects, time travel, morphed body parts, magnanimous car crashes and lots of gore, keep the film goers who like that kind of stuff grinning happily and only having to use 1% (or less) of their brain capacity.
But the truth is, there is something quite courageous in this film. But you have to watch for it. The film is full of raging action and outrageous special effects, which are gently tempered by the occasional appearance of National Geographic-type clips of animals – doing normal animal stuff but placed in juxtaposition to the bizarre stuff that is happening to Lucy in the film.
It’s a movie about self-awareness, transformation, drug smuggling, eternal life, and even the interconnectedness of all creation. At various times this movie has elements of “2001 A Space Odyssey” (evolution of consciousness), “The French Connection” (drugs and a marathon car chase), “Tron” (human existence in cyberspace), “Phenomenon” (brainpower) and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” (for those who like women action figures killing men).
But the film artfully shows the links between humans and nature, and gives filmgoers glimpses of creation spirituality, whether they recognize it or not. The links between Lucy and the ape that appears in the film are particularly profound. As Lucy time travels in the film, she and the ape touch fingers, providing viewers with a strange knock-off version of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”.
For an “in your face” action film, the theological subtleties are even more striking. For example, the ape scenes are subtle, yet critical. The title of the film is the name of a 3.2 million year old fossilized skeleton, discovered in 1974 by Donald Johanson. The fossil skeleton, named Lucy by the crew of archeologists who discovered her, is the first in the Hominid Family Tree to walk upright.
Anyone who has studied Teilhard de Chardin or Matthew Fox will appreciate this movie. As earthly forces continue their greedy journey for power and control, Lucy becomes more aloof to them and more concerned with her deepening consciousness. She wants to share her knowledge as her mortal existence faces a violent end.
A person of faith might see her journey as headed in the direction of the “Omega Point” (de Chardin) or the cosmic Christ consciousness (Fox). A person of science might see it as a natural, albeit speeded up, step in evolution.
“From evolution to revolution”, says Professor Norman (Freeman). “There are more connections in the human body than there are stars in the galaxy”, Professor Norman continues as he drones on about the minimal use of human cerebral capacity (3-5%) and compares humans to dolphins at 20% brain use. At the same time he sets up the filmgoers to anticipate the possibility of what increased cerebral capacity might mean.
During the spectacular car chase the Paris police captain who is helping her confesses his fear of dying. “We never really die,” says Lucy. Immortality for all? Where else have we heard that?
And in the beginning of the film Lucy says,“Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?”
Well, after many special effects, lots of shooting and car chases Lucy gets her full injections of the blue drug. At 100% cerebral capacity, Lucy melts away like the wicked witch of the west.
“Where is she?” they ask. The cell phone vibrates with a text, “I’m everywhere”, it reads.
So is God. That kind of leaves the theologians in the audience (all 2 of us) wondering if the writer/director gets it after all.
Bonnie Anderson is senior warden at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pontiac, MI. She is the immediate past president of the House of Deputies in the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. Dan Webster is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and former broadcast news executive.
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