Typically, Taften and I will sit and kill time by playing video games, and in between us we’ll have a monitor playing some movie on Netflix. Usually, this is done with the unwritten rule that we take turns and that I’ll pick a movie, then he’ll pick a movie. I’ll find something from PBS or National Geographic, and he’ll say something like:
It’s attractive that you’re so intellectual but this is not cool at all, sorry.
And then there will be times where Taften will turn on something and I will complain in a much less verbose, more whiny version about how terrible of a movie it is, how it doesn’t tell us anything, how it’s only vaguely entertaining. Sometimes, in my best form, I’ll be able to MST3K it and get some good jabs in at the film–which, to his credit, Taften usually laughs at.
Limitless is one of those movies where it’s certainly entertaining–where is the story going next? it follows a basic thriller method–but what’s the message of the story? I see some elements of the “ship of Theseus” debate, put forth as a vaguely existential drama. But the movie focuses more on the material gains of being motivated and how your progress can be almost, well, limitless if you simply put your mind to it. Why, anything (even complex mathematics and stock exchanges) are just a few scene changes away from your present studio apartment over a Chinese express diner! The movie producers who skimmed off the multi-million dollar budget of this movie aren’t even laughing, this is just too formulaic.
The movie starts in media res. As Bradley Cooper is standing at the top of this building, about to commit suicide and giving his voiceover, I can’t help but think in my head:
Cooper: How did I get here?
Billo: I bet you’re about to tell me!
Starting a movie out with the main character about to commit suicide doesn’t really give me any interesting reason to watch the next 2 hours–he might as well have jumped, for all I cared.
Cooper goes through the motions of encountering the wonder drug NZT, cleaning his apartment, doing some writing, and generally upsetting his overall bland existence. I think that the movie could have maybe expanded on how much happier he was with simply having washed hair and a clean apartment–why go through the remaining 2 hours of motions of how much more he can achieve? It’d at least be realistic, and the domestic drama of him trying to unravel the life he annihilated would have been more interesting to me had he not had the, well, limitless resources that this wonder drug gave him. As it was it became the story of the nouveau riche attempting to disassociate himself from his old life–Russian money, lack of self control, drinking and drug habits–while not getting noticed by the other blue bloods.
Eventually, the movie jumped the shark when Cooper’s girlfriend takes the drug and essentially becomes Superwoman. Climbing over wooden rails, dropping ten feet and not losing her momentum, then using a child’s skates as a vicious weapon to cut the cheek of her pursuer. Afterwards, in a fit of pique, she claims she will never take the drug again and that he should stop taking it as well–reasonable advice that we expect that all of us plebes would give Cooper at that time. But I doubt that’s the case. Cooper’s self-loathing hasn’t gotten to the point of needing therapy (that’s debatable, but he at least seemed somewhat functional prior to taking the drug), but he is the everyman here. Wouldn’t it be great to become Superman, to rise above every challenge life throws at us? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be, well, limitless?
The correct answer here is No. Limits define us, limits are meant to be edged and pushed, not removed entirely. With drugs like NZT (or a cape, or a wand, or a radioactive spider bite) we remove that one last shred of humanity that defines us. The only thing that he needs to be able to uncover the Theory of Everything is to simply take more of the drug, to become less and less human and therefore less and less interesting. It was only a matter of time until Cooper thought his way out of every problem, even the mere problems of addiction to the drug and the negative side effects. Why, he hasn’t become merely a superhero, he’s become god. And stories about gods are best kept to mythologies and pulpits, thank you.
The movie might as well be called “The Apotheosis of Bradley Cooper”. The adversity that Cooper faces here (lapping at NZT-infused blood, threats to his life from Russians, the always-intimidating Robert De Niro) are at best a mini-golf course. It’s more disgraceful than actual problems, more things that white blue-bloods would be terrified of experiencing, or better yet, having it socially known that they are experiencing. What about real adversity? What is Bradley Cooper was black, or transgendered, or was blind or deaf, or maybe foreign? What if he was female and hit the glass ceiling with de Niro? I don’t think there’s any drug, legitimate or otherwise, that could help him there. The real message of this movie is “If you get the money (through whatever means, even a dangerous brain-modifying drug) then you’ll get the power. Money makes you, well, limitless.
The Onion AV club put forth a review of Limitless as essentially being a 2-hour commercial for Adderol. I can’t help but agree, and I would add that Adderol would have been needed on my part to maintain my lagging interest in the movie.