Paging Dr Faust

Watched the recent movie Limitless finally. Was a bit intrigued by what I'd heard of it, and wanted to see how it played out.

I'm tempted to file this one along with Idiocracy (described here), as one that had almost everything wrong, yet was still interesting.

Why was it wrong? Well, it was premised on the old saw (where did that one come from, anyway?) that people only use 20% of their brain. And here is a drug that allows a writer to use all of his. What's wrong about that? Well, every study I've heard of that used functional MRI or something similar to measure brain usage finds that pretty much all of it is used regularly (maybe not every second, but the parts being used rotates quite regularly).

But the idea of suddenly being able to be ten times as smart is, of course, an intriguing one. Watching someone go through that experience is an interesting idea. How well do they handle it? What do they try to do?

Well, Eddie starts by cleaning up his apartment (and life) a bit, and getting a real start on the book he's supposed to have been working on for a while. We also get a look at what the effects of the drug are like as he seduces his landlord's girlfriend by helping her with a school paper (that sounds kind of mocking, but it isn't meant to be. I actually liked that sequence; it did a fantastic job of showing what the drug was doing for him).

Then he finishes the book; ok, that makes sense. Then he gets into finances, making a pretty fair bit very quickly. Then he makes his first overt faustian bargain (the drugs are not yet looking faustian), borrowing from Russian mafia to get seed money for the stock market. He then makes a ton of money in the stock market, getting the attention of a wealthy energy magnate. And this part left me wondering: he had converted $12k into over a million in a week or so in stocks (never mind this is basically impossible in the stock market, even if you can see the future. It can be done in options, but that was never mentioned). Then he takes several weeks working with this energy magnate to help seal a huge merger that will make him $40M.

The question is, why waste the time on the merger? The stock market, at the rate of return he was getting, was going to make him far more money, and in less time. How much less? Well, he had roughly 200:1 return his first week (they gave an exact figure, but I forget it). If he halved that return, he could've cleared $1B in two more weeks.  Compound interest is a miracle, that way. And, of course, he somehow gets so tied up in this merger that he forgets to repay the mafia. Awfully stupid for someone with a four-figure IQ.

And what it comes down to is, in essence, a Faustian bargain. Is it too good to be true?

And this is where the movie really failed, for me. Because it ends up not to be too good to be true. How Eddie ends up with the pills is a bit of a stretch (running into an ex-brother in law on the street, said brother just happens to have this pill, and happens to be willing to give him one. The first two are pretty improbable, but ok. The third part, though, I can't figure. The brother-in-law didn't seem a generous person, and didn't seem at all likely to get anything in return). Finding the health risks was expected (maybe not the exact specifics, but they were inevitable). But the ending gives the whole thing a moral of, "if something looks too good to be true, try it out. Maybe it isn't". Which isn't exactly a healthy life-lesson.

But it still was pretty interesting to watch. And I love the camera work (even that of the '2nd 2nd Asst Director', which appears to have been a real position in this movie); lots of use of very wide angle lenses (including at least one (I think I noted a second, but can't remember it now) use of a fish-eye), and some other distorting lenses as well. There was also some clever use of multiple exposure (or a film analog of that) in several sequences. And they did some other subtle effects as well that worked brilliantly.

One thing I could have done without was all the gore in the violence.  It wasn't terribly over the top, and it didn't feel completely out of place, but it still felt a bit excessive and unnecessary.

Overall, I did think the acting was quite strong across the board. Nobody left me wondering if they were really the person they pretended to be.

Really, I think I liked most of it; just not so enamored of the script. Perhaps a friend (who said this to me months ago) summed it up best, "it felt like it could have been so much more".

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