WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN? What is wrong with us? What will fix us? If you are looking for good answers to these perennial questions, you won’t find them in French director Luc Besson’s summer sci-fi blockbuster Lucy, but the film is at least compelling enough to pique your interest in such theological pondering; though not quite as compelling as the other semi-intellectual sci-fi summer fare, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The difference with Lucy is that Besson’s view of things, though pushed beyond believability, is a worldview whose essential components actually get some traction in contemporary postmodern culture.
To be sure, the movie isn’t that good. Lucy really strains one’s willing suspension of disbelief. For example, a key plot element is the completely false, though widely held, belief that humans use only 10% of our brain capacity. But I don’t think it’s as bad as some critics contend (here’s a representative review from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/07/life-is-futile-so-heres-what-to-do-with-it-according-to-lucy-a-spoilereview/375006/ ). There is, after all, no such thing as warp drive or Vulcan mind-melds, nor is this galaxy or any galaxy far, far away full of strange and interesting alien life-forms. Science fiction always trades in the fantastical to purchase our attention. Once a film-maker acquires that, he can just give us our money’s worth in an amusement park ride or also try to upload his own worldview story while we’re being entertained.
Luc Besson wants to tell us a tale of human evolutionary redemption facilitated by modern science; specifically modern pharmacology. The title heroine, Lucy, is forced to become a drug mule and has a packet of a new synthetic designer drug sewn into her abdomen. A well-placed kick in the stomach by one of the cartel’s thugs causes the packet to leak into Lucy’s body and we immediately discover one of the drug’s apparently unknown side effects: an accelerating enhancement of brain capacity, accompanied by ever-increasing physical and mental abilities. As Lucy’s access to her brain capacity increases rapidly—ten, twenty, sixty, eighty percent—she acquires telepathic and telekinetic abilities. As the movie races to its conclusion and Lucy approaches one hundred percent use of her brain, she acquires knowledge that encompasses the cosmos and is able to manipulate space and time. Eventually she becomes a disembodied consciousness.
The plot—such as it is—and the action of Lucy serve to project a view of humanity that is made up of bits and pieces of Darwinism, progressive humanism, transhumanism, and New Age pantheism, overlaid with a quasi-religious theme of original “sin” and final “salvation”. As the movie opens we hear a voiceover narration of Lucy intoning, “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?”, followed by a rapid fire montage of images of human history, industrialization, and contemporary mass culture. The implication is that we have misused and squandered the precious gift of life. But a “gift” given by who, or for what purpose, or how Darwinian evolution (a purposeless and deterministic process) can go wrong, we are never told. Yet, somehow there are things we have done and left undone from which we must be redeemed.
The instruments of our salvation are the blue crystalline drug that Lucy has inadvertently absorbed, and ultimately Lucy herself, transformed by it. Besson makes the drug (nonsensically said to be a synthetic version of a powerful pregnancy hormone) a sacrament and Lucy a cosmic savior. At the end of the movie Lucy absorbs a row of supercomputers, is transformed herself into a shiny black semi-liquid tentacled living computer, and eventually produces and presents the sum total of her knowledge, conveniently downloaded on a flashdrive, to the neuroscientist who has befriended her. Then she—the shiny black-tentacled computer that is—disappears completely. A moment later a detective who had been helping her asks, “Where is she?” He immediately receives the text message, “I am everywhere.”
I did say that if you were looking for good answers to the ultimate questions about our human identity and predicament, they are not to be found in Lucy. But because Besson, beyond the obvious and necessary exaggerations of science fiction, means to be taken seriously about his worldview, we do find some things interesting and instructive. The first thing is that it seems we all really do know, intuitively and unavoidably, that as human beings there is something wrong with us that must be fixed. Besson’s answer, that we somehow took an evolutionary wrong turn, is not coherent. Strictly natural processes cannot make mistakes. The True Story of our predicament, encapsulated in Genesis chapter 3, is that our wrong turn was—and still is—to say to our Creator, in effect, “We will go our way and not yours, consequences be damned.” It is all the more ironic then that Besson’s fix for our predicament is just one more version of accepting the lie, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:4). The real fix, the real sacrament, and the real savior is, of course, Christ: “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Gospel of John 1:29).
Movies are one of the quickest ways to see into the popular Zeitgeist (spirit of the age). It is heartbreaking then to realize that, though we often carry our existential anguish and sense of lostness, and our longing for salvation, down into our entertainment, we seldom come back out again with any sense of truth or grace. Nevertheless, the light of grace is always there, even in the postmodern landscape.