Trigger warning for abuse.
The director of Lucy, Luc Besson, is a disturbing man to google (The Daily Beast). Stories from the shoot of The Professional are potentially triggering in regards to abuse of children, and I won’t recite them here. Suffice it to say, push-back from a young Natalie Portman’s parents and Jean Reno (the actor playing the titular character) prevented Portman from being put into horribly exploitative positions.
In real life, Besson met a 12-year-old girl and began dating her openly when she was fifteen. They married two years later. Although there are more allegations of abuse toward Besson from several women, a French court dismissed them, and I don’t think we need to open a conversation about those allegations when his grooming, assault, and marriage to a girl so young is fact. I mean, it’s enough. It’s way more than enough.
In any case, if you look across his filmography, you’ll see a man who often features sexualized young heroines getting beaten to crap. The greater context of his life makes his films seem like visualizations of cruel fantasies.
Lucy is another iteration of this theme with Scarlett Johansson at the front. She’s a Woody Allen supporter (Fandomwire), and I’m never quite sure what to make of people who seem to gravitate toward the more abusive directors. Here, ScarJo is the model upon which Besson’s love of wounded women is inflicted, and I’m mostly grateful she was almost thirty-years-old shooting the movie.
To paraphrase the elevator pitch for Lucy, a young woman visiting Taiwan becomes a drug mule and then sorta turns into a superhero when the bag breaks open inside of her.
From the beginning, Lucy is depicted as a trembling antelope about to be slaughtered by cheetahs. The plot is structured to have her writhing sexily in pain until she’s on enough drugs to simply become bruised and covered in blood and robotic, which is weirdly (from personal experience) also extremely attractive to men who enjoy sexy abused women.
I once knew an author whose fetish was transparently abuse against women; he often spoke of how much he loved seeing their strength by how they prevailed. How their bodies could be liquefied by the abuse, yet they would keep going. Abusive men enjoy seeing hurt women prevail to keep getting hurt, as with Joss Whedon and his bevy of abused characters and colleagues.
This kind of man is not good at storytelling. There isn’t enough empathy for whole characters or humility for feedback. And Lucy isn’t a good movie.
I didn’t understand it when I originally watched it because it was 2014 and I hadn’t done that many drugs yet. I’ve done drugs now. So I can tell you that the fake-science handwavium of this flick is entirely to prop up a story about how awesome drugs are. Yes. The plot of Lucy is, “Oh my God, I feel awesome on drugs. I know everything. I’m so smart. Drugs are great. It’s gonna kill me, but what a way to die!”
This is drenched in buckets of pseudointellectualism, using the voice of Morgan Freeman (link to overview of abuse allegations on Variety) to narrate stuff about nature and predators and prey. The movie arrives at the most drug-logic conclusion ever: It’s about “time.” None of us would exist if not for “time.” Yeah, okay, Besson.
Lovers of psychedelics will be familiar with the train of thought surrounding unity with the universe, the smallness of the individual, etc. Whether or not those thoughts have any validity, the contribution of people like Luc Besson to this vision is sort of like this dark, nasty, caustic side. He’s a guy with crappy fantasies having a good (for him) trip and I don’t want him in my vibe zone, you know?
Possibly he wrote this after a too-large dose of shrooms, and someone would have been doing us all a favor by putting the coke-covered screenplay in the trash with the empty sheet of LSD tabs.
I genuinely enjoy the part of Lucy where most dialogue is non-English and not subtitled. I feel like I’m a bad reviewer if I don’t call out things someone did well, and Besson’s ability to storytell beyond language barriers is an impressive feat to this monolingual country-locked American. He’s very visual and the confluence of all the drug-visuals and drug-logic (the movie even looks more or less like an acid trip) works on that aesthetic level.
Besson truly has aesthetic skill in abundance. The Fifth Element coasts primarily on his ability to cast attractive, charismatic actors and draw upon (genuinely brilliant) French retrofuturism, even when the story is sloppy nonsense that also mostly serves to get us to the moments where Milla Jovovich whimpers in a bloodied ball.
But god, Lucy is kinda embarrassing. Because doing that many drugs isn’t awesome; it only feels awesome because you are a chemical creature and you’re punching the button that gives you the good chemicals. Dying young and sexy like Lucy isn’t cool. You’re not really a genius when you’re drooling on your bathroom floor, talking about how the key is time, and it doesn’t gain any real potency when you put a forty million dollar budget behind it.
There are so many other drug-related movies I’d prefer watching to this one. Lucy can go in the bin with Requiem for a Dream.