Jul 302014

Lucy 2014Like this year’s other great summer blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow, Lucy organizes its narrative according to the logic of a video game. In The Edge of Tomorrow the character learns zones by replaying them ad infinitum. In Lucy the character must level up. The Edge of Tomorrow is a shooter; Lucy is an RPG.

The level framework is laid out in voice-over at the beginning of the film and text screens helpfully track Lucy’s progress. Each time she enters a new zone or begins a new encounter, the screen goes black and we’re told “7%” or “10%” or “20%,” etc. As she collects blue crystals, the numbers climb, unlocking new skills along the way. As she approaches level 100, her body becomes a progress bar, tracking her rapidly climbing XP.

The film commits to this structure completely, foregoing all traditional narrative goals. (My friend Colin Burnett discusses this absence from a different angle in a post on his new blog.) Lucy must “reach cap” within 24-hours and no explicit justification for doing so is given. There’s some mumbo jumbo about immortality early on and later some more about sharing knowledge, but neither seem to motivate Lucy. She reaches max cap because that is what you do in an RPG. And that logic, it turns out, is enough.

The clarity of the structure and the strictness with which it’s followed frees up the film to do other things, and at moments it reminds me of Speed Racer, which borrows its physics and spatial logic from video game design. These films are very different, but in both cases, importing an external but familiar set of rules and expectations clearly enables them to experiment with (or at least play with) form to an extent that’s rare in big-budget movies.

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