Thursday 9 June 2011

A Mind Without Limits

NZT-48. It’s a new drug designed to force your brain into working at its highest possible capacity at all times. If only. It’s the basis for the plot of Limitless, a new film that I have seen recently staring Bradley Cooper. Marketed as an action blockbuster of sorts, and given Bradley Cooper’s slick image I figured that it would be forgettable throwaway fare that I was in no rush to see. But to my pleasant surprise it’s a solidly clever Science Fiction film which actually allows Cooper to demonstrate what a fine actor he can be. Who knew?
The premise for the film is strong. The ‘Moral dilemma’ situations presented in films are not usually that much of a dilemma as far as I’m concerned, as the motives of the character are invariably selfish and/ or shallow and the terrible consequences so clearly sign posted that I normally find the reasoning behind the protagonist’s actions wholly unconvincing. All pretty boring and predictable. But Limitless is the first of such films that I did actually find to present a valid dilemma. I put my hand up right now and admit that, Hell yeah, I would be sorely tempted to take the super magic drug.

In the film, Bradley Cooper’s character, Eddie, an aspiring but dallying writer decides to take the risk and jump down the rabbit hole (yes, I know The Matrix already referenced it, but it’s my turn of phrase here – not the film’s) and suddenly, he has the energy and focus to pull his life together. He writes an incredible novel in mere days (you can probably already see how this story captured my imagination!) No tiredness, the luxury of time, combined with an ability to fully understand and recall every half heard and barely noted nugget of information that your brain has ever processed. Suddenly all the disjointed parts of your memory link together with brilliant clarity. No need for researching or referencing or working out or double checking, it’s all there. And the smarter you are, the better it works. An ability to focus completely on what you are doing without fear of your mind wandering away or being interrupted with endless differing priorities (to give an example of the illusion of writing, between writing this post I have also watched an entire film, eaten dinner and had two phone conversations!) The idea is, thrillingly incredible.

But Chrissy! I hear you cry, are there not “Smart Pills” around these days anyway? Oh no, no, no, this film is not about a drug that improves your concentration or lifts your mood or some other wishy washy-ness, we’re talking about a pill that makes you AWESOME. Quite simply. You won’t find any of those around these here parts. And, obviously, the implications of such a drug far exceed the narrow confines novel writing, which is basically what this film explores.

Of course, there is a cost. There is always a cost with anything good, or amazing, or awesome. The yin and yang of the universe. But without giving too much away, as you would imagine, the cost is a logical one if you consider what running at maximum capacity on every level at all times would eventually do to your body and your mind. The candle that burns the brightest burns twice as fast as they say. But even so, would it still be worth it? That’s the question the film asks, and it’s the question I asked myself.

There is a distinct lack of ‘Drugs are bad, Mmm K?’ moralising in this film making it far more realistic and balanced. And whilst the film does contain a few over played or slightly unnecessary and contradictory bits (it’s not perfect) I’m loathed to put you off watching it in any sense because it is well acted, intelligent, wryly funny and at times, unapologetically weird. In short, I really liked it.

Also, Bradley Cooper is a bit of revelation in this film for me. I’d seen him The Hangover and The (appalling) A Team, and whilst he always comes across as likeable he was always far too polished, all blonde hair and white teeth, for him to be of any real interest to me. But at the beginning of Limitless he is a grungy, mucked up, messed up, intense author who exudes a whole different kind of charm. For some reason, I found this compellingly attractive. Suddenly ole’ blue eyes has depth and he retains this charm throughout his transition to suave superman. And it works really well, he plays his usual character archetype off against the drive, charm, selfishness and naivety of this character. The pay off works brilliantly and keeps you, as the viewer, hooked on how his journey will turn out.

Incidentally, I have also seen another Science Fiction film recently called Strange Days, staring Ralph Fiennes. It’s an old film but a good one. The central themes are quite similar, except that the Eden apple in this case is a completely immersive head set that allows you to experience other people’s experiences as though they your own by linking the ‘recording’ of their sights and brain functions directly into your mind (think Red Dwarf’s Better Than Life concept, only far more exploitative and voyeuristic.) Fiennes’ character in this film is so similar to Cooper’s portrayal of Eddie in Limitless that I would think that Cooper had taken that performance as inspiration for his own. Which is not a judgement! I think if that were to be the case it was a wise choice indeed.

Both films for me represent Science Fiction at its best, taking something that is not possible now but could be possible in the future and observing the effect of it upon human nature. It asks the questions, if you could do it, would you do it? And if you did it, how would it change you? How would it change our society? And both films concentrate on a sympathetic and relatable central character, which is the most effective way of drawing the viewer in to think about these questions.

Back in the real world, I’ll have to continue on in the usual haphazard manner of attempting to retain flurries of inspiration and remain focused enough at any one time to actually sit and write anything down. But in one of the other infinite parallel universes out there, there is a Chrissy with access to such a resource, so I can take some comfort in that. Of course, somewhere out there in infinity is a Chrissy with an arse for a face, infinity being what it is, so, you know, it’s not the greatest of straw grabs…

In conclusion, I feel that…

My toes itch, and I need a pee, although I don’t think that the two are related, but anyhow…

I’m sorry, what was I saying?


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