Director: Neil Burger, 2011 (PG-13)
Our brains, we are told, use a mere fraction of their potential. If we could harness all of this, our intelligence would be limitless. At least, that is the premise of this mindless but surprisingly engaging thriller.
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook) is a struggling writer. Looking like a bum, his writer’s block has him one stop from eviction. And when his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him, he appears to have lost it all. But after chance encounter with his brother-in-law, a low-level drug dealer, Eddie finds himself with a new experimental drug, NZT. When he takes it, his brain is opened up to its fullest potential and his mind is blown in an apparently positive manner. As he comments in voice-over, “A tablet a day and I was limitless.” He knocks out half his manuscript in no time flat, and wants more NZT. He gets it, but it comes at a cost.
With the drug, Eddie is able to learn a language in a week, connect forgotten facts from his past memory to solve problems, and he can read the stock market like a children’s book. He even gets his act together and wins Lindy back.
The story escalates when he borrows money from a Russian mobster to use in the stock market under his new guise as a broker. And here he meets Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), a Warren Buffet-like figure who is hard and ruthless but who will use Eddie to enable his current merger. With the mob after him, Van Loon needing him, a mystery man tailing him, and the pills in short supply, Eddie finds his life is less limitless than he thought.
Limitless is actually rather limited. As an action-thriller, it does keep up an excellent pace. With the excellent camerawork and intriguing effects to communicate Eddie’s transition from normal to “superhuman”, the film carries us along, enabling us to overlook the numerous plot holes along the way. Cooper even gives a nuanced performance as a man who is in total control one minute, and a panicked addict craving another fix the next. But there is little depth to the other characters and the ending leaves us wondering as it seems inconsistent with the rest of the film.
Then the film offers little in the way of a moral message, not commenting positively or negatively about drug use, its central tenet. It seems to suggest that self-improvement is the goal for all humanity and any way to reach that goal is justified. But the ends really do not support the means involved here.
Self-improvement is not our ultimate goal. Of course, if we can grow and improve, that is wonderful. But it is a secondary part of our journey. Learning Italian just so we can impress a date in a restaurant is a mostly selfish and shallow motivation.
Our real goal, though, is to heal our brokenness. We are broken and blind. As Eddie says, early in the film, “I was blind, but now I see.” This is more than a biblical allusion. It is a direct quote from the blind man who was healed by Jesus (Jn. 9:25). Jesus came to offer that solution to our brokenness, which includes physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Most of all, through his sacrifice on the cross, he offers all of us a chance to be restored into relationship with God. We can enter into the family of God as children (Jn. 1:12), redemptively healed even as we will find full holistic healing in the age to come.
We will not find experience limitless intelligence in this life, through drugs or other means. But we will find relationship with the one who has limitless intelligence if we give ourselves over to Jesus Christ. With him, there is no need for NZT.
Copyright ©2013, Martin Baggs