Directed by: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
2nd Viewing: DVD
“And then I began to form an idea. Suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to do. It wasn’t writing, it wasn’t books, it was much bigger than that. But it was going to take money to get there.”
Edward Morra, Limitless (2011)
What was Edward Morra’s idea? Doesn’t matter, that line is there to imply he has a masterplan. He doesn’t. If he did, he wouldn’t have been later pondering his destiny like an over-praised schoolboy. “Maybe [I'll become] president. Time someone shook up the free world and get things done.” In the end, Morra’s fate seems to be poltics as he is last seen trying to become a Senator. But in what way would he change the world? Edward Morra’s actions in Limitless suggest the answer to this question would be pathetic.
Since utilizing the nootropic wonderdrug NZT, Morra has answered the film’s premise (What would you do if you were 20 or 30 times smarter than anyone else on Earth?) by making money and getting laid. Big whoop. As if to highlight the character’s epic underachievement the film climaxes with him fighting a small time hoodlum. Maybe if it was a reflective scene questioning the limits of abstract intellect versus the brutish realities of physical force, then maybe it would have value. But it’s not. It’s just a ruckus with some goons. A goon ruckus.
Ok, so maybe the events of the film were just teething problems while our protagonist got to grips with his new abilities. After all, he’s super smart not infallible. Nonetheless, the choices he made in the course of the film still give us insight into his instincts, his personality, who he really is.
Edward Morra was introduced to us as a writer. Maybe if we understand what it is to be a writer then we can better understand what Morra wants.
Writers aspire to share their experience, viewpoint and ideas, they also want to show off their ability with words, they enjoy the process of writing and mixed up in all of it is a desire to be praised for their work and prove they have talent. It’s a mixture of ego, creative aspiration, an imperative to connect, to educate, to entertain, and simple enjoyment.
Morra rejects writing after he finishes his first book. He sees it as beneath him as evidenced by his “something much bigger” comment. It would be safe to say then that Morra’s original desire to write was overwhelmingly ego-centric and not one of cathartic or creative need.
In fact, throughout the film all of Morra’s creative activities confirm this. He learns to play the piano but doesn’t write music or explore any of the possibilities that such knowledge and skill would offer. For almost everyone music resonates on an emotional level. If Morra had even the most basic appreciation for music then wouldn’t his heightened sensory perception make it even more powerful? It appears then that music was merely a puzzle to solve. Just like languages were. Morra learnt languages, not to connect with different people and learn about alien cultures rich in history and ideas but to charm waiters and fuck women.
Morra did not persist with anything creative. He didn’t write mind-blowing books filled with revolutionary ideas*, he didn’t write heart-breaking songs nor paint beautiful pictures. He didn’t invent new technologies or even advance existing ones. Instead he made money by speculating on money markets. In essence, he took up gambling. The smartest man in the world contributed nothing of any value.
Now, you might say that at the end of the film he is twelve months older, he could have grown, and that his Senate run is part of some kind of masterplan to bring a lasting global peace, or maybe just organise the world’s food supply so that those enduring famines might eat. To that I would say, coconut horse bollocks.
Remember that brief conversation with his campaign manager about the second overflow fundraising dinner? Well there you go. He’s soliciting donations. We know he can get all the money he wants, so why is he accepting donations? There’s only one reason he would begin his political career entangled with big business: because he wants what businesses want. There is no conflict of interest. Look at him there, with the same old glib slogans and shithead haircut. So much for shaking things up.
So in the end Edward Morra is just a blank-minded consumer capitalist monkeyboy. With all his knowledge and insight he still lacks inspiration and fails to transcend the mediocrity of his society. Instead, he wholeheartedly subscribes to its most lamentable elements. The smartest man in the world is a provincial conformist.
*Yes, he wrote that one book but that was at the beginning of his new mindset. Most of it would have been based on his old views and it was probably some trendy bullshit anyway, like those bores Little Dicky Dawkins or Malcolm Gladrags have written. And I bet it included yet another tedious retelling of the Kitty Genovese incident. Arseholes love telling that story because they think it bestows upon them a profound insight into human nature. Besides, the fact that he abandoned writing demonstrates that Morra undervalues the power of ideas and the importance they hold in changing the world. Not that he has any ideas on how or why the world should be changed, the slob.
- While Edward Morra is undoubtedly a schmuck, and Limitless woefully under-performs when it comes to its premise, there are some good things about it: It rushes along its 95 minute run time in a frenetic, exciting way. There’s energy in its camera work and editing, and an inventiveness in how intellectual pursuits are depicted -the infinity zooming effect is excellent.
- In the long term, what would the world be like for a person on NZT? Would you come to find everyone else tedious, feel alienated, feel lonely? Would you look at your partner and think they were an idiot? Would you treat them like a pet? I think you’d end up a bit like Dr. Manhattan, might even feel a bit blue.
- “With Verne’s cash combined with an unprecedented surge in motivation I was able to complete the book in four days.” What the hell kind of fallacious reasoning is that? What’s Verne’s cash got to do with writing a book? Nothing. Bloody idiot.
- When John Travolta in Phenomenon gets mysteriously endowed with super-intelligence and telekinesis, he sketches out new car park designs and farming strategies so that his friends might benefit. He also gets Forest Whitaker laid with a Portuguese maid. He’d get my vote.
- When I saw it in the cinema last year, Limitless seemed longer. This time it was as if they decided to just stop the film, nothing seemed resolved, only established, like a too-long act 1 or a TV pilot.
Tags: Abbie Cornish, Alan Glynn, Anna Friel, Bradley Cooper, Brain capacity, character study, film studies, Illuminating The Dark Fields, Limitless, Neil Burger, neurology, NZT, NZT-48, Robert De Nero, textual analysis, The Dark Fields