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Entry updated 30 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2014). Canal+, Ciné+, EuropaCorp. Directed and written by Luc Besson. Cast includes Min-sik Choi, Morgan Freeman, Scarlett Johannson, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Amr Waked. 89 minutes. Colour.

Prologue. A cell is seen splitting into other cells. It is clear that Evolution will be important to the actual story. A CGI rendering of a prehistoric chimpanzee or hominid appears – not exactly the specimen of Australopithecus afarensis given the name Lucy, but close enough. A woman's voice, soon identifiable as Scarlett Johannson's (she plays Lucy in the main film), can be heard musing on the billions of years life has existed on Earth; and wondering what has been accomplished so far.

Main story. In Taiwan, a young woman named Lucy (Johannson) is bullied by her new boyfriend into delivering a briefcase to a certain Mr Jang (Choi). A cadre of terrifying trained henchmen who seem to move in unison – Lucy resembles Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003-2004) in various ways, though Lucy is to become a literal Temporal Adventuress rather than a supernaturally deft escape artist – corners the terrified girl and takes her to Jang's corpse-strewn hotel suite (the sequence is accompanied by short intershots of predator animals taking down prey) where she is forced to operate the code to open the briefcase, while everyone else hides behind protective walls. The briefcase contains four bags of powdered CPH4, a concentrated synthetic version (see Imaginary Science) of a natural substance that six weeks into pregnancy stimulates the development of the foetus. Lucy is knocked unconscious, awakening to find that one of the bags has been sewn into her abdomen. She has become a mule, as Jang's colleague, the jokily sadistic Englishman called Limey (Rhind-Tutt), tells her.

She is then chained up and kicked in the abdomen by henchmen, seemingly for the fun of it; but the bag splits inside her, and the CPH4 infiltrates her nervous system, initiating rapidly incrementing access to the 90% of her brain that Homo sapiens cannot normally make use of. As in the typical Superhero Origin Story, Lucy is transformed by this rebirth, acquiring a range of Psi Powers that includes Telepathy, Telekinesis and an exponential increase in her Intelligence. Inter alia, a lecture on the human brain delivered by ace Scientist Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan) to a select audience provides some philosophical underpinning: evolution, he seems to claim, involves change. One plus one, he intones gravidly, equals two.

Insights of this calibre attract Lucy's interest. She goes to Paris, where Professor Norman continues to speculate while she commandeers a police car, along with Inspector Pierre Del Rio (Waked), whom she fascinates by re-enacting a familiar film trope: driving at great speed against traffic (though without the excuse of being chased), a sequence which includes traversing the Pont de l'Alma tunnel where Princess Diana perished (in a car that was evading pursuit). Twenty-five members of the Taiwan gang track her to Paris, but she eliminates them, partly through Time Travel, an innate capacity for which is now part of her toolkit. Lucy's intelligence continues to rocket, causing her body to morph, though she regains control of her outward form. She revisits the primordial "Lucy", whom she touches with her finger, like God animating Adam or Stanley Kubrick a chimp (see Uplift). She gains 100% access to her brain, and disappears into space-time, leaving behind a flash drive containing everything she has learned about the universe. It is possible to assume that Homo sapiens as a whole will gain full brain access, and achieve Transcendence like Lucy.

It should not materially detract from the pleasures conveyed by this modest, attractively filmed, conveniently short film that the science it represents seems more nonsensical than usual in sf Cinema, perhaps because more time is spent espousing it. Johannson's utterly realistic depiction of stark terror in the opening sequences grounds her later transformation into androidal invulnerability, and gives some human resonance to the single kiss she bestows gingerly upon Del Rio, in order to remember what folk are like. Assonances with her roles as the Alien in Under the Skin (2013) and the voice of the AI "Samantha" in Her (2013) are probably unintended; but are vivid. [JC]


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