OK, all you good elders in PCUSA churches, turn in your Book of Order to W-1.3000 (p.80 in the 2013-2015 edition). There you will find an erudite discussion of time, space, and matter, particularly as it relates to Christian worship. And this, dear readers, is precisely what is missing from the oh-so-humanist approach in “Lucy.”
The movie begins with an awkward exchange outside a high-rise bank building in urban Taiwan: a pretty young woman, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is resisting the persistent pleadings of her brand-new boyfriend to run this “simple” errand for him, to carry a locked briefcase inside the bank lobby and ask for a certain Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), and simply give him the briefcase. When she finally (reluctantly) agrees, she walks into a world she could not have predicted. The gangsters appear, the gunfire begins, her boyfriend is killed, and she’s taken captive and drugged against her will so a package of drugs can be inserted inside her abdomen.
Meanwhile, a smooth, suave, sophisticated, intelligent Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is lecturing an attentive group of students and visitors in a packed lecture hall about his 20-year research into brain capacity, and how we only use 10% at any given time, which is true of most species, as well, except dolphins (who use 20%). He speculates that if we could somehow harness a greater percentage, the brain would not only be able to expand its capacity for knowledge (like learning other languages, or understanding quantum physics), there are even indications, in the theoretical higher percentages, that the brain could manipulate, wait for it-----------time, space, and matter.
Of course these two seemingly parallel tracks in the movie are related. Lucy, it turns out, has unwillingly become ingested with a new synthetic drug that is supposed to imitate and duplicate the hormones that a pregnant woman would pass on to her fetus: the very life-enhancing building blocks that develop cells, except instantaneously, so that the firing of the neurons becomes a new kind of “high” for druggies everywhere. Mr. Jang, the Mobster, has already envisioned the commercial possibilities, and so he’s kidnapped Lucy to be a “mule,” along with several others, to carry this new, incredible product to other world capitals, for immediate sale and distribution.
Lucy, formerly helpless and chained to a wall, now has acquired the immediate superpower of increased brain capacity, which enables her to easily escape her captors. But now what? Her super-smarts enable her to locate Dr. Norman, and insist that they need to meet, so that she can show him what really happens when the brain’s activity level is increased.
But of course the gangsters are after their new boutique drugs, and cannot understand how every time they try violence with this Lucy, strange things happen, like all the attackers fall asleep at once, or their guns and knives wind up on the ceiling, or they suddenly can’t move forward, as if held back by an invisible wall of energy. They call Lucy a “witch.”
When Lucy meets Professor Norman, she tells him that she has now transcended beyond human emotion, such as fear, desire, greed, or depression. She simply wishes to expand her state of being further, so that she can tele-transport herself, not only through space but also through time, as if the boundaries of matter, well, just didn’t matter anymore.
Christians, of course, hold out the steadfast hope that our transformation in the coming Kingdom would be like that. But this film steadfastly refuses to go religious, even proclaiming in an overdub that we “were given” life, as if using the passive voice would actively deny the participation of the Divine Creator.
Well, it’s a rare film that bounces between philosophical treatises (Hegel would have been proud) and gunfights. The Christian cannot help but notice how assiduously they avoid invoking the name of God. But as the aforementioned Book of Order proclaims, the Christian is called “to participate in God’s purpose to redeem time, to sanctify space, and to transform material reality for the glory of God” (W-1.3040). Amen.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas