The Strawberry Criterion: Lucy

luce, my girl!

The first time we see Scarlett Johansson in Lucy she’s sucking dumbly on a fountain soda straw, barely listening as her sketchball boyfriend tries to con her into delivering a mysterious package. The last time we see her she’s a hulking blob of post-matter electrical wires in possession of all knowledge. Now, holding those two images in your mind, try to conceive of a movie weird enough to chronicle that transformation. Does the movie you imagine open on a neanderthal drinking water from a stream? Does it include a scene of Scarlett Johansson traveling back in time in a folding chair to glimpse a Tyrannosaurus Rex? A medium shot of ScarJo imploding into aquamarine stardust in an airplane bathroom? A closeup of a newborn goat sliding out of its mother’s goat pussy? Does it include sumptuous, Mallicky screensavers of intergalactic space sperm inseminating wormhole ovums? It probably won’t, but it should. Lucy does. Lucy has it all. Lucy is weird.

The Frenchman behind all this weirdness is Luc Besson, best known for writing and directing 1997’s in-all-respects flawless space opera, The Fifth Element. That movie featured a platinum-haired Chris Tucker twirling a golden scepter while wearing a skintight lycra bodysuit. Lucy somehow scans as weirder, both to its credit and its detriment. Besson infamously included a disclaimer before copies of the (presumably unreadable) screenplay that read, “This film is extremely visual. It is difficult to describe in words. The beginning is Leon the Professional. The middle is Inception. The end is 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Being forthright about the troublesome nature of your work is laudable–and smart from a financial standpoint–but acknowledging the faults of your work from moment one also lets you off the hook in regards to fixing those faults. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, in which the announced awareness of failures frees the artist from addressing them. Lucy is extremely visual. It is difficult to describe in words. Luc Besson knew this going in. He should have used that knowledge as a tool, not a crutch.

y duz this turn me on!

As uniformly convoluted as Lucy is, it’s message is clear: knowledge matters. Since immortality is not an option, our species must pass knowledge down through the generations, ensuring what we’ve learned doesn’t get lost. In this way, Lucy sets itself up to be a knowledge film for the information age. Knowledge is power, embrace your potential, read a fucking book, etc. All that’s well and good. However, Lucy‘s distinction as a film about knowledge becomes problematic when you consider the vast lack of self-knowledge constantly on display on-screen. Building a sci-fi movie on pseudoscience and speculative thinking doesn’t have to be a cardinal sin; the sin becomes cardinal when a film concerns itself too much with what we don’t know about science to the disadvantage of what we do know about movies. The unruliness of Lucy‘s style, plot, and themes only become unrulier as the movie progresses, when the opposite effect should have taken place. Lucy should have been smart fun masquerading as dumb fun. Instead it’s the other way around.

If any scene from Lucy is to be remembered, it is the one in which, while having a bag of drugs surgically removed from her stomach, Lucy phones her mother on the other side of the world. Her powers of recollection have become so strong that she can remember the softness, breed, eye color of a cat she pet as an infant. She can remember the odor and taste of her mother’s breast milk. Lucy cries, telling her mother she loves her in an upswell of earnest feeling recognizable to anyone who has ingested certain drugs. (There was potential for a great pro-drug movie in here, too, but that aspect is broached as halfheartedly as everything else.) Told in intense closeup, the three-minute scene acts as a microcosmic might-have-been for the rest of the movie, which involves itself too much with what Lucy can be as an idea, not who she can be as a person.

scarluce using 100% of this harp

The last sign of recognizable life Lucy provides is a text message, sent to her pseudo love interest, that reads, I AM EVERYWHERE. These three words take on great extra-movie significance when one views Lucy as the culmination of a trilogy formed in concert with last year’s Her and this year’s Under the Skin. All three movies featured Scarlett Johansson existing on a plane beyond human comprehension. In Her, the disembodied voice of Samantha transcends the form she never in the first place had; in Under the Skin, the guilty alien ScarJo becomes prey to the violent world she preys upon. Lucy seems to be the weakest third of the trilogy, a mishmash of ideas that never were crammed into a movie that only partially is. Yet the unsettling fact remains: Scarlett Johansson is everywhere. Maybe understanding is simply beyond the rest of us.

Strawberry Verdict: 3.75 Strawberries out of 5