|Spiritual allegory or vendetta flick?|
We'd seen the trailers for both films and I had to admit that Lucy looked intriguing. It's actually the latest in the growing genre of "philosophical action movies." (Think The Matrix, Looper and this summer's Tom Cruise confection, Edge of Tomorrow.) Lucy promised a mixture of ingredients to meet both Jason and my weekend entertainment requirements. On the surface, it had lots of shoot-em-up-action-and-adventure and high-speed-car-chase-scenes (that Jason loves,) wrapped around a thought-provoking pop-psychology, gooey center (that I crave.) It seemed the perfect Reese Peanut Butter Cup flick!
The premise of this Luc Beeson (The Fifth Element) thriller is that the heroine, Lucy, (played by Scarlett Johannson) unwittingly becomes a drug mule. When the synthetic uber drug implanted in her gut ruptures, she starts to experience an extreme and immediate expansion of her brain capacity. Her experience is portrayed as the worst-best drug trip ever. Thankfully, we get help from Morgan Freeman's geeky wise neuroscientist character to explain what's happening to her along the way. (It's a sci-fi scientific perspective, BTW).
But what the film actually portrays is ... enlightenment. Yup. I'm not sure of Beeson's religious or spiritual persuasion, but the concepts he portrays in the film are oh, so Buddhist. Perhaps he was influenced by his film The Lady, the 2012 bio-pic about Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is Buddhist. Regardless, some of Lucy's allusions to Buddha's Four Noble Truths are hard to ignore.
At one pivotal point, Lucy tracks down the evil drug lord who cruelly implanted the deadly drug inside her stomach. As she tortures him (not so Buddhist) to extract the whereabouts of his other drug mules, she tells him that humans are blocked by their perception of experience. She says we are hindered from seeing the truth due our own struggles. "Like right now," she says flatly as she stabs him. "All you can think about is pain." True that.
No matter what you think of Beeson as a screenwriter or filmmaker, that is the first Noble Truth, which says, suffering exists.* Seriously, this is the first step to seeing the truth about life. The sooner I accept that there is suffering, the sooner I can find the source of the discomfort. Of course the Buddha wasn't talking about being tortured physically (although that certainly is painful.) The Buddha was talking about good ol' emotional suffering and dissatisfaction, which I experience just about everyday without benefit of anyone stabbing me with anything.
The second Noble Truth is that we become attached to our suffering. Put plainly, I don't see reality because I'm too caught up in the everyday drama of my life. In fact, I get so accustomed to numbing out reality with drama that I seek out drama when things get too boring. (And this may very well be why Hollywood and films like Lucy exist.)
When I finally perceive that I am the cause of my own suffering, and my attachment to wanting life to be the way I want it to be, then I can finally let go of my attachment—maybe. (That's Noble Truth number three.) Then, I can choose a healthier way to go about my life (Noble Truth 4.)
I'm not sure that Lucy really gets to experience the fourth Noble Truth. She does seem to be freed from suffering and the cycle of human existence that includes suffering. At one point in the film she says, "It's like all the things that make [me] a human are fading away." Before she gains full enlightenment; however, she totally kicks ass. She single-handledly takes out an entire Korean mafia and potentially alters Man's (or at least Morgan Freeman's) understanding of life.
Ultimately, Lucy experiences enlightenment—seeing the truth in everything, 24/7—and it's fascinating to watch what that might look and feel like. At least I think so.
Johannson portrays the newly awakened Lucy with a mixture of white-knuckled terror, feral-cat fearsomeness and wide-eyed wonder. If that is anything near what total enlightenment is like, I can understand why we humans want to stay stuck in our humanity. Having the ability to control matter, energy and time is exhausting—and very hard on the body, apparently.
Lucy wasn't a great movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of reviewers beg to differ and take issue with Beeson's creative license with known science, but for me it was a thought provoking film much in the vein of 2001:A Space Odyssey—with a lot more blood and gore and set on earth and not space, and ... well, it was very different, except for thought-provoking part. And for my money, that's always a thumbs up.
P.S. What's the Buddhist perspective on Sex Tape? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with karma. Stay tuned.
* This is sometimes translated as "Life is suffering," or, as M. Scott Peck understated it in his book The Road Less Travelled, "Life is difficult."