The human brain and its capabilities have long puzzled and deeply fascinated the most accomplished of scientists. While it has customarily been understood that we tap into much less of our mind’s capacity than we are capable of using, the exact percentage has remained uncertain…and ever fluctuating. With that arresting thought in mind, writer/director Luc Besson took the premise as a starting point for a storyline for his new film, the rip-roaring action-thriller “Lucy” starring Scarlett Johnsson.
Besson imagined what it would be like if we could access the furthest reaches of our brain, asking himself how that would affect our understanding of life…and our role in it. He pondered: “Would we have more control over ourselves and others?”
The result is the incredible story of Lucy (Johansson), a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic
Besson was interested in the notion of having an “average girl,” as he puts it, develop superhuman mental and physical capabilities when her mind is unlocked. He surmises: “Lucy has problems, like anyone else, and she doesn’t know what to do with her life. Yet she’s going to reach the most ultimate knowledge in the universe.”
Producer Virginie Besson-Silla, who has worked with Besson on three previous films reveals that the writer/director actually tinkered with the concept 10 years ago: “The basis of the story was there, but I don’t think Luc was quite ready. I believe he wanted to let it mature.” She pauses, “So he took all those years to finally come back to it.”
Although Besson believed that the idea of expanding one’s brain capacities made for tremendous action-thriller material, he was particularly intent on grounding—at least in part—“Lucy” in scientific fact. The filmmaker offers: “After I met with a few scientists, I was amazed by what they told me: about cancer, about cells, about the fact that we have hundreds of billions of cells that communicate with one another. Apparently, each cell sends out something like 1,000 signals per second. The Web is nothing compared to that. It took me a few years to find the right balance between what is real and what is fantasy.”
As he delved further into the concept, Besson reached out to a number of scientists, including world-renowned neurologist Yves Agid, who co-founded the Brain & Spine Institute (ICM) that is based at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, of which Besson is a founding member. Agid remembers the conversation he had with Besson about a story that was “a combination of fact and fiction.” He says: “When Luc told me about the screenplay, I found it extraordinary. Still, I had to rein in his creativity a bit with facts, which was easy in the end, because he understands everything so quickly.”
As the neurologist helped Besson walk the line between theoretical reality and imagination, he began to see that creativity for a filmmaker is not dissimilar to the skills needed to work as a scientist. Agid says: “That’s what I find splendid in the film: There are true facts. For instance, Lucy deals with the number of cells in the brain, the number of signals per second produced by one cell, etc. By taking advantage of all these figures, Luc implements a fascinating dynamic throughout the film. Of course, the more Lucy advances through the movie, the more the story becomes fictional, which I find extremely robust. When you see the film, you believe it. It grabs you because it is grounded, to some extent, in reality.”
Besson walks us through the research that informed his ultimate story: “There’s a combination of factors that make this possible, involving really bad people and a new kind of drug. Well, actually, it’s not exactly a drug. In fact, it’s a natural substance that pregnant women produce in the sixth week of natal development called CPH4. I came up with this idea, which according to some doctors I spoke with, is not entirely illogical. At some point, when you open up the capacity of your brain, if you can access 20 percent, you can open 30 percent. When you reach 30 percent, you can open 40 percent, and so on. It’s a domino effect. So Lucy is colonizing her own brain, and she can’t stop it. She doesn’t want it, and she doesn’t even know what to do with it.”
Opening across the Philippines on , “Lucy” is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.