Monday, August 22, 2016

Two to Tango: Lucy and Her

by Cait Cannon
Lucy and Her are almost the same movie.

Dissatisfied by Hollywood’s enthusiastic efforts to make (appallingly) bad sequels, I’ve decided it is my extremely serious and important responsibility to seek out movies that, while on their surface seem like nothing more than distant cousins, are serially tangled. In a true debate of who came first, the Junior or the Twins, my goal is to unravel the cinema universe one awkward pairing at a time because, well, if the media has taught us anything the past few years, it’s that every movie could use a sequel or two. I read once that Jorge Louis Borges said that all people and ideas essentially come from one person and one idea—so hopefully if you make enough shitty movies, you’re bound to strike classic cinema gold again...and blockbuster hits will finally start to do something for me. So like some film nerd a little too indicouch to do much else, I'd like to imagine a world where Luc Besson’s Lucy serves as the honorary prequel to Spike Jonze’s Her. Buckle up, friends.

The two films follow the common building-to-disaster pace of a typical scifi jam, but what ends up working so well when they're imagined together is that the two disasters fit into so lovingly into one another as a sort of big spoon/little spoon situation. Her matures Lucy's wild, ornery plot lines and softens the blow of "life isn't important so why live it," suggesting, well sure, maybe life doesn't matter, but the connections you make during it are crucial. As close to Camus’ The Plague as a couple of Scarlett Johansson movies can get, when paired together, they end up somehow more comforting and manage to complete a deliciously existential conversation I don't think either one has on its own. The conversation moves from explosions and science to the impact simple day-to-day interactions have on us, perhaps suggesting that the latter is the more important experience to focus on.
Starting with Lucy, we open on a pretty bleak interpretation of what it means to exist. Not only is the dialogue very dry—a cross between that one kid that talks too much in philosophy class and a lazily researched Wikipedia article—but it’s meant to run colder and colder as the film progresses. We watch as a magic baby-making drug takes Lucy’s humanity away, replacing it with hyper consciousness and super powers (obviously). All the while, we get to listen to Morgan Freeman’s sonorous tenor as he delivers an earnest speech outlining the potentials of the human brain we simply have yet to unlock. Because we’re dumb. Basically the gist is if we re-route parts of our gray matter normally reserved for, I don't know, breathing and not voiding our bowels whenever they see fit, we can unlock superhuman capabilities like telekinesis and changing our eye color to avoid angry drug lords.

In Lucy, Besson equates intelligence with emotional sterility, gently saying humans are tethered to a more basic existence because we are so motivated by our hearts, not our brains. And because form fits function, empathy and relatable character building go out the window, and instead we’re left with a robotic Johannson causing a lot of property damage because...knowledge? I guess? Honestly, when looked at on its own, I find Lucy to be grating and incapable of going beyond a sort of navel-gazing “look how smart we are” level of storytelling. There are moments when the film, trying to grasp at any humanity slipping rapidly through its fingers, adds romantic undertones for almost no reason. The highlight of which is, after a gunfight in a hospital, Scarjo randomly kisses the French police chief with whom she is working as, “A reminder.” Of? We aren’t sure. Maybe love? Maybe humanity? Maybe that kissing is awesome? Who’s to say. Like. This movie makes no sense.
BUT! If we fast-forward to a not so distant future—one of mega high-waisted pants and a resurgence of twee music popularity—Lucy’s evolved state is snatched from the philosophical ether. At first she functions as nothing more than a glorified secretary to a lonely (if not pathetic) Theodore Twombly before getting back in touch with the real nuances of personhood. Closing the circle of Scarjo’s characters’ existence, Her takes a more micro approach to the themes brought to light in the unending, heady explanations of Lucy. Departing from the bleak Human/God/Animal conversation, Her talks about humanity in all of its small, more romantic moments. The desire to be accepted, to be loved, to be touched...these are the places Theodore and Samantha (Lucy’s evolution) find purpose in existing. Samantha could be what Lucy was before her drug-mule snafu, which adds some emotional weight to Samantha’s interactions with Theodore. Her saves Lucy, and to a certain degree Lucy gives Her an edge it lost to its own desire to make us Feel Good.

The two movies are, in short, talking about the same thing, however they decide to slice it. Beyond tech, or love, or being human, they both say the same thing: knowledge is the key to transcending barriers. And that's cool. It's not the first time we've been told this story, especially in science fiction. When asked about the two films, Scarjo defines her roles as such: Lucy is a story of transcending the self and Her is a story of self-actualization. Lucy evolves away from her humanity, Samantha wasn’t human to begin with, but needed to be a part of humanity to realize that she should follow her own path of existence. See? Little spoon, big spoon. It works.
Beyond just satiating my need to finish a story, I like imagining these movies together because it helps create a more robust theme I can hang my hat on. It's tiring to watch the same movie over and over again (Looking at you, Harry Potter) but sometimes it ends up rehashing a story just enough to make both iterations more beautiful. I did not like Lucy at all the first time I saw it, and I think I've made that abundantly clear. But I also don't think that Her was that much better in terms of letting an audience access a potentially unconventional/interesting chat about love and loss. The flaw both films have, whether they're imagined together or not, is that they tell WAY MORE than they show, and I think from an emotional standpoint, that does both narratives a huge disservice. So, F This Movie! readers, am I wrong? Do you have other movies you think are somehow star-crossed? It takes two to tango after all, so send your thoughts my way!


  1. Sure that's all very interesting but which one should Rob keep in his DVD collection?

    Personally I like to think of Grosse Pointe Blank as a sequel to Better off Dead.

    1. It's true. I'm basically rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic over here.

    2. It's the movie he's putting up against Speed 2: Cruise Control.

  2. This article made me realize Johansson is visiting the Singularity well again for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation. Does Major Motoko Kusanagi fit anywhere in the Lucy/Her chronology? :)

  3. Nice column, Cait. I think WOLF OF WALL STREET's Jordan Belfort has kids and they become the SPRINGBREAKERS, but that might be too easy?

    1. hahahah I love that! It makes Wolf of Wall Street's 3 hour run time worth it.

  4. Oh! I've got one. It's a little superficial, but Trevor Howard's experiences with love and loss as Alec Harvey in Brief Encounter cause him to become the cynical, stuck-up Major Calloway in The Third Man.

    Also, I love Trevor Howard.