October 5, 2022

I wouldn’t say I loved Lucy

I’m doing a movie review AFTER everyone else has seen the damned thing.  Can you believe, I couldn’t get anyone in my family to go see Lucy with me?  I finally saw it on my own alone at a dollar movie.

Why wouldn’t anyone see it with me?  Because it wasn’t remotely real.  We seem to have a double-standard when it comes to fantasy films vs science fiction. We saw Frozen and Maleficent as a family and we enjoyed both of those.  Fantasy doesn’t have to be plausible.  Science Fiction however does, and is therefore subject to severe scrutiny.

I wouldn’t say I loved Lucy, but I have to say I enjoyed bits of that movie.  If you have to stare at one woman for an hour-and-a-half, Scarlett Johansson is a pretty good choice. If you liked the way she whupped ass in the Avengers, you’ll like her in this too.  If you liked all that reality bending of the Matrix, this film could be a sequel to that.

No Kung Fu though.  Pity.  This film could have gotten away with a LOT of Kung Fu.

OK, I liked that it didn’t impose religious beliefs. It didn’t even acknowledge them!  I also liked that it showed elements of evolution and cosmology as eye-candy, because we experience “awe and wonder” -no matter what Oprah says.  But the movie got a lot of the stated facts annoyingly wrong.  Life didn’t begin one billion years ago. It was at least 3.8 Billion years ago.  Animals weren’t only around for millions of years, but for HUNDREDS of millions of years.  I even winced when Morgan Freeman (who I think should know better) said that humans were at the “top” of the “evolutionary chain”. Ouch!

For those of you not in the know: evolution isn’t a chain or a ladder, and there is no ‘top’ either.

Then Freeman’s character describes his scientific theory as an untested hypothesis, which sounds to me an awful lot like conjecture.  Scientific theories are not hypotheses!  They’re not guesses, educated or otherwise.  Aaaaggggg!  I hate having to re-explain that all the time!

Hey Hollywood, would it kill ya to have a science adviser when you’re making Sci-Fi?

Worst of all, of course is the premise of the film.  Lucy, (Scarlett Johansson’s character) is accidentally overdosed with a mystery drug called CPH4.  For some reason, movie producers never seem to know anything about the periodic table. (Remember Unobtanium in the movie, Avatar?)  Combining one Carbon and one Phosphorus atom with four Hydrogens isn’t that complex or mysterious.  In real life, it’s a metabolic enzyme called 6-carboxytetrahydropterin synthase, and it doesn’t have the properties the movie gives it.  The director insists he made up the name of the drug -to hide the real name of a real chemical which is naturally produced “in tiny quantities” about the 6th week of pregnancy.  He wants to keep the name of the real drug secret, because it might do what the drug did in the movie.  However biologists discussing this online say that chemical isn’t what the director says it is.

Anyway, because the director thinks the properties of this mystery molecule can’t be known, then maybe they could really cause the outrageous development of her activated intellect. We can’t prove that wouldn’t happen, right? So we take advantage of the ignorance of the audience so that anything sounds plausible.

The back story isn’t the real issue though.  The problem is the premise, the old (and erroneous) adage that “the average human only uses 10% of their brain capacity, so imagine what we could do if we tap 100%?”

When questioned about this, the director said: “It’s totally not true. Do they think that I don’t know this? I work on this thing for nine years and they think that I don’t know it’s not true? Of course I know it’s not true!”

Thus Science Fiction becomes Science Fantasy.

In the movie, a gargantuan dose of this drug is accidentally released into Lucy’s system, and she begins to access more and more of her brain’s total efficiency.  As she does, she acquires new powers; not just of perception or cognizance, but of psionics. She can visualize the fabric of the universe as if reality were an illusion constructed by the computers from the Matrix. And like that other movie, Lucy develops all the seemingly miraculous powers of Neo. She can even turn back time –manually. Consequently she becomes a sort of deity, complete with all the powers of Spock, the X-Men, and ET combined.  All of that is not even on speaking terms with reality.  But that’s still not my primary complaint.  As I said, my issue is the premise of this film.

I always knew there was something wrong with that old saying. We only use 10% of our brains? That can’t be right. It didn’t make any sense, either from a material nor a theistic perspective, unless brains are just really inefficient. Everyone seemed to believe that when I was in school, everyone. And no one could tell where that claim first came from.

So I’m sitting in my 2nd level college course of biology for science majors, and the lecture is on the brain. The basal portions regulate glands and bodily functions, process sensory input, enable motor control, and so on, but all our wisdom, intelligence, and personalities emerge from the ‘thinking’ part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, or ‘grey matter’. So we use our entire brain. There is no portion of it which has no known and necessary function.

Then the lecture mentioned that intelligence can be correlated with the number of neurons, and that our neurons represent only 10% of all the cells in the human brain, as if we only use 10% of our brain cells for ‘thinking’. Once I heard that, I thought, “THAT’s where that came from!”

Not that anyone cares, because of course people would rather believe that if you unlock the mysteries of your own imagination, then you can wield telekinetic powers. Faith promises much the same thing.

15 thoughts on “I wouldn’t say I loved Lucy

  1. I seem to recall [which means that it may be incorrect] that the 10% was first popularised in the book How To Make Friends And Influence People. But it probably originated from the early idea that, as you say, 90% of our brain is Glia. Glia (Greek Glue) was log thought to be no more than a support structure for the neurons. Modern imaging now shows that the Glia is very active – a very mobile mass of sub-microscopic biological structures which perform many [many as yet unknown] functions which are critical for neural function.

  2. This isn’t a new idea-Hindu mystics are often said to achieve superpowers like levitation and teleportation by meditation.

  3. As soon as I heard Morgan Freeman give the 10% of your brain thing in the trailers I decided I had to avoid watching this movie at all costs.

    Also, the reason Hollywood will never bother hiring a science adviser for this sort of thing is because it costs extra money to do so but there’s no marked difference in ticket sales- people like us will scream and throw popcorn at the screen because of some stupid comment made by the movie scientist that anyone who completed 7th grade science will know is dead wrong, but the vast majority of movie-goers just don’t care.

  4. There’s science fiction, there’s fantasy, and there’s complete bullcrap. I don’t know offhand where I draw the line, but when the film’s entire premise and seemingly its entire content is a bastardization of real, well established science, it’s time to me to avoid it.

    Compare and contrast: The Matrix. The premise that humans are needed to power the robot’s civilization is also total bullcrap, but I am able to overlook that minor point because it’s not all that important to the plot. Yes in one sense it’s foundational, and wholly wrong, but the film does not constantly remind me about the sheer absurdity of human body heat measured in BTUs and how the robots have no substitute. I can isolate that problem to that one scene, and otherwise the film works beautifully. Whereas, it seems the creators of Lucy tried their damnest to ensure every single moment was chock full of blatantly wrong pseudo-science drivel and incredibly stupid philosophy.

    Compare and contrast: As soon as Neo had magic powers outside The Matrix, in what was otherwise a mostly serious and hard science fiction movie series – that’s when I developed a similar dislike that I have towards the movie Lucy. Similarly, as soon as The Matrix series devolved into a Christ-metaphor or some shit, that’s also when I developed a similar dislike towards The Matrix that I have towards the movie Lucy.

    I have not seen the film. I do not plan to see the film. I know everything I need to know after reading this spoiler-review:


    But seriously – the ending takes the cake, and is arguably one of the stupidest things I have ever read. Consider this a spoiler warning. The movie has been building up the purpose of life, what we’re here for, and what we’re using our life to do, civilization, life in general, etc. The movie answers it by saying life, the universe, and everything is here so we can turn ourselves into a USB memory stick. What. The. Fuck.

  5. Years ago I read somewhere that the 10% myth came from a researcher who’d stated, sometime in the 1800’s, that they understood the function of about 10% of the brain. The press of the time misunderstood.

  6. My father used to love to say that Albert Einstein only used 10% of his brain, AND that he was so bad at math that he couldn’t add up a bridge score, both of which are absurd. My guess is that it is some kind of envy that causes things like this to become memes: If the smartest guy in the world couldn’t do simple math AND he only used 10% of his brain, then maybe I could learn to use 15% of my brain and become smarter than Einstein. If only all those physics equations weren’t so hard to understand.


    1. The “Einstein couldn’t do math” meme actually comes from a self-depreciating joke that Einstein once told- he said that after his work on quantum physics he was now ready to take on a much bigger challenge: figuring out his income tax. Some people apparently didn’t catch that it was a joke (or deliberately twisted it) and took it as a face value claim that Einstein was bad at math and had to have his wife do his taxes for him, which has become all to prevalent a belief today.

  7. That and the 10% thing is bullshit, in the first place. I can’t believe that stupid concept is still around.

  8. My favorite rebuttal to people who spout the 10% nonsense is thus:

    “Do you know what we call it when someone is using ‘more than 10% of their brain’ all at once? A grand mal seizure.”

    Tends to make ’em stop and think for a second, even if it isn’t entirely accurate.

  9. But it wouldn’t even be a big expense to talk to a scientist about the scripts. Just call up a professor and take her somewhere nice for lunch. Having a dedicated science advisor would be better, but we routinely see mistakes so basic they could be improved over one working lunch.

  10. The problem isn’t the cost of the scientists, bigwhale. If the writer can’t write around the advice of the scientist, because the core concept of the movie is silly, getting that advice isn’t going to do any good.

  11. Oh, and to go back to the tail end of the actual post:

    So I’m sitting in my 2nd level college course of biology for science majors, and the lecture is on the brain. The basal portions regulate glands and bodily functions, process sensory input, enable motor control, and so on, but all our wisdom, intelligence, and personalities emerge from the ‘thinking’ part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, or ‘grey matter’. So we use our entire brain. There is no portion of it which has no known and necessary function.

    I think the movie does represent what actually happened after Lucy’s brain started using more than 10% of its potential for thinking. It’s a vivid hallucination during a massive seizure, as she quickly died of cardiac arrest, because the parts of her brain that were supposed to be handling autonomic functions were busy thinking, instead.

  12. It bothers me that people are OK with all the telekinesis and time-bending, but they cannot suspend their belief long enough to imagine a universe where the 10% myth actually is true. What part of SCIENCE FICTION don’t you get?

  13. It bothers me that people are OK with all the telekinesis and time-bending, but they cannot suspend their belief long enough to imagine a universe where the 10% myth actually is true. What part of SCIENCE FICTION don’t you get?

    For me – it was just everything combined. They could have gotten away with any bit of it IMHO. They could have went with “using more of your brain allows you to turn back time”. That could be a fun premise. They could have went with telekinesis too. A problem comes when the movie stops being scifi with occasional fantasy elements and starts being a script written by someone with educational level of a Christian creationist.

    This is also further compounded by the absolutely atrocious philosophy of the film, such as the meaning of life is to become a USB memory stick. SPOILER WARNING. You have just read a spoiler. You’re welcome.

    This is also further compounded by the incredibly idiotic characters, their nonsensical motivations (see above spoilereview for examples), and so on. In addition to being horribly bad on the science, and horribly bad on the philosophy, it’s also just a bad film in terms of characterization. It’s just a bad film.

    And yet Rotten Tomatoes ranks it at like 66% at the time of this writing, 48% non-critic. I have absolutely no idea how anyone gave it a passing grade.

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