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Lucy, the latest action sci-fi thriller from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), takes on some fertile new thematic territory even as it builds on past films and ideas taken from neuroscience, the New Age movement, theoretical physics, and Eastern mysticism. I felt compelled to write about Lucy because of my unique background and familiarity with some of the ideas Besson is likely influenced by. I’m pretty sure most other reviewers will not be making quite the same connections that I will set forth here, so you might find what’s laid out below an interesting (if lucyunusual and eclectic) read.

In a statement about Lucy, Besson mentions that the film is primarily influenced by his own film The Professional, as well as Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That statement can be found here and seems intended to help market the film. What I’d like to do here is open up the discussion about Lucy to some additional areas the filmmaker (to my knowledge) hasn’t mentioned. Bear in mind we may never know the full extent of what influenced Besson.

First, I think the film’s exploration of the question “what if we used 100% of our brain’s capability?” should be understood in the context of the human potential movement, which itself is an amorphous, multi-faceted phenomena. From the standpoint of  mainstream, Cineplex-targeted film making, this subject rarely gets the air time seen with Lucy. More on that in a bit.

I read one discouraged reviewer, who felt the film might get an opening weekend bump from the fact it stars Scarlett Johansson, was easily marketable from an action-film standpoint, and was directed by a filmmaker of some renown. However, lousy word of mouth, this same reviewer argued, would soon sink the ship. We’ll have to see if he’s right.  I have a little more faith in people and in the potential for Lucy to reach a very wide audience; but then I tend to be an optimist. Notably, The Fifth Element was no favorite of the critics, but went on to cult film status and endless repeats on cable.

One reason I’m an optimist is that Lucy seems similar in ambition to What the Bleep Do We Know – the docu-fiction created by William Arntz – a film that showed that there is a pent-up audience for this kind of material. What The Bleep went on to influence (or be corrected by, depending on your perspective) the TV Series Through the Wormhole Hole with Morgan Freeman, and of course Morgan Freeman ends up playing the college professor Samuel Norman in Lucy, expounding human potential ideas in much the same way that the various scientists did in What the Bleep.

The idea that ‘everything comes from nothing’ (Lucy’s ultimate enlightenment) is a concept that might seem unique to Lucy but in fact traces its roots to quantum physics. My introduction to this idea came through a ground-breaking book titled The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, a work that became well-known during the 1970’s and was one of the first books (that I know of) to link mysticism and physics. That book inspired my film Clouds.

Moreover, the Buddhist philosophy of ‘emptiness’ and the mystical idea of the ‘light body’ are also in line with Lucy’s final enlightenment experience. You can read more about the Buddhist light (or ‘rainbow’) body experience here — the phenomena is also described at length in David Wilcock’s book The Source Field Investigations.

Now the human potential movement can be roughly divided into at least two main camps: the humanists (or one might say spiritual humanists, which I describe in another blog here) and the trans-humanists. Both believe human beings must evolve in order for the planet to survive. The former offers a human-based and/or spiritual resolution to human evolution, the latter a scientific and technological answer.

Besson is certainly laying out the argument in this film that evolution is indeed required for survival: the question will become whose kind of evolution this is. The film, to me, sides mostly with the trans-humanists and thus the corporate and scientific answer to the problem of human evolution. The main reason that corporations in general support a trans-humanist agenda is that it can be commodified, sold, patented and owned. In a nutshell, it is profitable.

The trans-humanists will argue that human evolution must at this point require scientific enhancement and an ‘upgrade’, technologically driven, of the human genome. This ‘upgrade’ (or variations thereof) would again be corporate owned and patented. To many Christians, trans-humanism, secular humanism or any other stripe of humanism is a bad thing because you shouldn’t put mankind before God.

I take somewhat of a wider, more tolerant, view of the humanism(s) and their outlook(s). Traditional humanists (again, some of whom would be more aptly called spiritual humanists) have a rich tradition of self-help and self-improvement, ranging from the practical to the esoteric.  Some of this practical advice springs from the Christian culture itself. We have as examples Dale Carnegie’s classic best-selling book How To Win Friends And Influence People, and the more recent The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. While Johansson’s Lucy obviously never read either of those books, please bear with me.

There is also a long tradition of Indian and Eastern mysticism which uses its own form of ‘upgrade technology’ in the form of esoteric meditation techniques.  I’ll use as an example the Kriya Yoga techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda, as passed down through a lineage of teachers coming out of India and (if you believe) traces its roots back thousands of years. The explicitly stated goal of Kriya Yoga is to accelerate human evolution.

Interestingly, one of Steve Jobs’ favorite books was Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. If ever there was a proponent of human evolution, it was Jobs.

Similarly, the Tamil Siddha tradition seeks to evolve human consciousness through the practice of certain mantras that, according to the practitioners, create the ‘siddha powers’ that are evident (in some ways) in the character of Lucy. Super human powers are also, of course, very much on display in film via the super hero genre, so that is no great news. Also, themes of scientifically induced enhanced brain capacity have been explored in other films such as Limitless.

What is news is that there may indeed eventually be an actual technological link to enhance human capability that will make the synthetic cocktail ingested accidentally by Lucy a very real (albeit expensive) option for some people — likely the rich who would rather evolve while sun-bathing on a yacht than while sitting in some cave meditating. Genetic screening and therapies are already a reality; rest assured the upgrade cocktail that expands IQ, memory, longevity, virility, etc. is not far behind. (An interesting article regarding genetic modification and extended lifespans can be found here.)

However, as explored in Lucy, another impact of such a cocktail could be an incredibly expanded awareness, tantamount to the mystical goals of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence as laid out by the Tamil Siddhas. Admittedly, one can easily dismiss the whole notion of this brand of human potential as a myth, whether generated by science or yogic methods.

Proponents of yogic mysticism, however, apparently have great faith in their practices, are notably democratic and would like the entirety of humanity to evolve, not just the wealthy who can afford an expensive genetic cocktail and have zero faith in any kind of spirituality. A spirituality that might inspire, among other supposedly bad ideas, wide-spread compassion (generally propagated by mystics) that could discourage our world leader’s penchant for starting a war every five minutes and/or negatively impact one’s stock portfolio.

Yeah, give me Lucy, sexy Lucy, guns a blazing, butt swiveling, making those bad Asians impotent in front of our very eyes – now there’s some marketing potential for you.

That said, Besson slips in some very subtle story telling prowess to assure me with Lucy that he hasn’t bailed out on the love and goodness he was propagating with The Fifth Element. While Lucy comes to a much more clinical enlightenment than did Leeloo (played by Milla Jovovich) in The Fifth Element, she does, over the course of the story, stop resorting to violence. Lucy immobilizes her adversaries toward the end – she does not kill them. Ultimately she transcends the enemy. Besson, albeit in a fairly subtle way, reminds us that ultimately evolution = compassion.

At the end of the film, per Professor Norman’s wise suggestion, Lucy decides to pass on whatever knowledge she gained. It was apparently this wisdom she lacked, even with all of her new-found powers. In short, even God (or the Goddess) may need a teacher.

I am reminded of another story that shows us how compassion should go hand in hand with scientifically enhanced human evolution: a 1963 Outer Limits episode titled The Sixth Finger starring David McCallum. A YouTube link to the final few minutes of that poignant episode is here or you can find the entire episode on Hulu here.

This is how the narrator sums up the scientist’s attempt to accelerate human intelligence  in The Sixth Finger — words that could just as well be applied to Lucy:

“An experiment too soon, too swift, and yet, may we not still hope to discover a method by which within one generation the whole human race could be rendered intelligent, beyond hatred or revenge or the desire for power? Is that not after all the ultimate goal of evolution?”

As for Lucy, after initially losing her sense of empathy, her shift back toward compassion is a little less spelled out. So it may be up to me, the humble reviewer, to let you in on it. Even though Luc Besson may believe greed jeopardizes the human race, he has not jumped ship on the altruists! Lucy does eventually evolve toward non-violence. Amen.

Actually I’m sure many of you will get this point from the film itself, but in case not I feel compelled to remind you.

Still, it’s the males in the film – notably the Caucasians and the Asians (a hint at WW III?) – that in the end keep killing each other like rats on a sinking ship. This may be why the Dalai Lama says that the next step in human evolution is up to the women – notably women of the West.

He  is probably right.

Finally, let’s not let the irony of Lucy escape us. Whether through science or yogic mysticism, humans will evolve, and probably in ways unforeseen by the unenlightened, gun for hire scientists and capitalists seeking profit. In other words, nature is not without her trickery. She will eventually get us where we need to be, by whatever means possible.

**

Don Thompson is a producer, playwright and essayist. He has edited/authored two anthologies of essays: Your Life Is A Movie and  A World Without War, both available from Del Sol Press.

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