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Cinema in Focus: ‘Limitless’ Explores the Bounds of Brain Power

This film takes our fascination with the mind to an intriguing level

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

The common belief that we use only a small portion of our brains makes us all wonder what it would be like if we used all of it. Setting aside the neurological fact that everyone uses all of their brain to negotiate each day of life, it is a universal experience that we aren’t easily able to access all the memories or muster all our evaluative skills whenever we like. As we make advances in understanding brain chemistry, it’s not a very large jump in science fiction to imagine a drug that could give us complete brain access at all times. This is the theme of Neil Burger’s film Limitless.

Based on a novel by Alan Glynn and adapted for the screen by Leslie Dixon, the person who experiences complete brain access is Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper). A self-sabotaging writer who can’t get past the first word of his novel and is wisely rejected by his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), Morra has lost his way.

When Morra crosses paths with his ex-wife’s brother, he is offered a pill that promises mental clarity. Thinking he has nothing to lose, he takes the pill. Although he quickly understands the lethal nature of the drug, Morra is addicted to the limitless abilities it provides him.

This set-up allows us to explore the question of addiction from a new perspective. Rather than ingesting a substance that gives a counterfeit sense of well-being, this drug actually does make Morra smarter. But it also takes over his life such that he could die if he quits. Compounding his problems, his newfound confidence also produces such a change in his character that his girlfriend once again rejects him.

The plot thickens in a variety of ways we won’t spoil, as Morra flees gangsters and battles tycoons, fights illness and tries to win back his girlfriend, but the final scenes are unexpected and unexplained. It is this twist that both strengthens and weakens the tale.

But perhaps that is the message: If we play with brain chemistry, the results will undoubtedly be mixed. The risk may be worth it, but the danger could be devastating — not only to our minds but to our souls as well.

Discussion:

» The problem that has been seen throughout human history is that when limits are removed, then the character of the person is even more important. What do you think you would do if you had no limits to your mental abilities? Would this be a good thing or not? Why?

» The lethal nature of the chemical Morra is taking implies that he can’t continue taking it. Why then do you think the film ends where it does?

» The love that Lindy has for Morra wins in the end. What do you think will happen in their relationship? Do you think she will start using the pill? Would you?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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