An excerpt from The Former Hero.
With a clamor she burst onto the bright doorstep, one hand across her brow.
She strode out to the street and looked one way and then the other.
Up and down the sidewalk she saw a long mural of pastel chalk drawings: a winged horse and a man with some features of a vampire, a range of hills with cattle grazing and a sunset, and something like a dragon and angels and lightning bolts, and a commentary of misspelled words all around.
Further down was a simple house, and soaring over it was a stick-figure of a girl and a cat with big blue teardrops.
The girl had wings and flew over the house holding the cat’s hand.
Flames came out one side of the house, and beside it was a simple, grown-up figure, bland except for a scribble of long dark hair.
“Penny! Penelope Flax!”
The bird still chirped and a gust blew her mahogany hair.
An airplane motor hummed far away overhead, a descant above the distant highway noise. And the bare stick branches of the tree tapped together in the breeze like the ticking of some wild clock.
The glass tumbler with a little wine slipped from her hand and smashed on the cement, and time stood still while the earth shifted beneath her, while the lightning struck in her eyes, while all creation’s colors muted together through a smoky lens.
The girl was gone.
If you are like me and do not have your analytical faculties constantly running full bore, you may have looked at the movie trailer for Lucy and thought to yourself, “Hm. Looks cool. And maybe for once Scarlett Johanssen will have a role where she can show a little more of her acting abilities. She’s nice-looking too. I think I’ll go see that.”
One thing panned out. She’s still good looking. Acting abilities? Still waiting for an Oscar performance.
I fell for it again. Yes, I paid way too much for a movie ticket to see a film when I should have waited for the video. I think I’ll write another blog post someday about how the law of diminishing returns is applying to almost all action movies: more bombs, more chases, more hype, louder music, more heroes, more evil villains— they’re just not doing it for me so much any more. Maybe you feel the same.
But what was really interesting about Lucy was what it told us about ourselves. Easy now. I’m not putting you on the couch here. This is a real observation, and it has everything to do with the book I just wrote (I wrote a book, if you hadn’t noticed.)
A quick plot summary. Lucy is kidnapped and gets a bag of a new kind of superdrug sewn inside her belly to be smuggled in to another country. In a violent encounter, she is kicked in the stomach. The bag ruptures, and the drug gets into her body. This drug has the power to unlock the fabled 90% of the brain that goes unused.
That old tale of only using 10% of our brains, though scientifically untrue, is essential to the story of Lucy. From the moment of getting kicked in the stomach to the end of the film, she is using steadily more and more of her unused brain. 20% flashes on the screen, then 30% then 40% and so on, you guessed it, all the way to 99%. And when she hits 100? Well, she vanishes.
Let me explain.
At 20%, [no, I’m not going to issue a spoiler alert. Grow up.] pain is no longer a problem, and she can learn new languages in minutes. At 30%, she is telekinetic, that is, if someone points a gun at her, she can restrain them with her mind, disarm them etc. You can imagine where it goes from 40% on.
I’ll just tell you. By 99% she has all godlike powers, except for one. She can stop time, create matter, understands everything to the point of being omniscient, travel through history all the way back to the Big Bang. You name it. She is like a god, except she still has a body.
At 100%, she disappears and gains omnipresence. All mind = no body.
Perhaps you had gone down this trail of imagination yourself. I know I have:
Gosh! I’m only using 10% of my brain? A genius like Einstein used about 15%. What amazing things could I do if I could somehow harness more of my own brain’s latent power!
This biological fiction of “the unused 90%” has created room in the popular imagination for something we are already greedy for: new horizons of human potential. We’ve all remember seeing psychics apparently moving things with their minds. We know about people with photographic memory. We know about savants and people who can do incredible math calculations in their minds. We’ve heard of ESP, telekinesis, astral projection. We all remember the kid bending the spoon in The Matrix — “there is no spoon.”
But here’s my point. We love this idea. Deep down inside, near the cockles of our heart, we love it. For the same reason we love superheroes, because secretly we fantasize about being like them.
Yes, in case you haven’t been reading my blogs for the last eight years, I believe that we love superheroes, in part, because we dream of being like them. Who doesn’t want to fly like Superman? Swing on a web through the streets like Spiderman? Be rich and invent really cool stuff like Batman and Iron Man? We all wish we had at least just one super power. And truly, we would like to have them all.
We would kick so much butt! Bullets bouncing off our chests? Yeah, baby. Forget the whole Open Carry movement. Don’t need guns for protection, because guns don’t hurt me. Bombs don’t hurt me. Terrorists don’t hurt me. I just walk into their camp, disarm them, win the war, usher in a new era of peace, uphold good and put down evil. That’s what we want. Or if nothing else, how about just X-Ray vision?
So when a movie comes along (same theme, new characters and premise) that suggests that the potential to be super is latent within each of us, because of this popular science notion from the 1940’s that we have untapped powers locked in our brains, WE EAT THAT **** UP!!
Put another way, we want to be gods, and not altogether illegitimately.
We recognize humans are special, despite snippy biologists who want to insist that we are no different, certainly no better or more valuable than all the other creatures in the animal kingdom. But we know differently. I mean look at us! We have iPads for pete’s sake! What do dolphins have? Not even the beginnings of an 8-track player.
We believe we are special though some scientists try to tell us differently. And that’s because we are, because of the amazing capabilities of our powers of rationalization, cogitation, cerebration and meditation.
And what if we really were destined for something more, some super quality? What would that look like?
New Age types in the late 20th century proclaimed a “spiritual evolution.” The next step of human evolution will be into a realm of spirit, not the addition of a finger, or wider bandwidth of hearing capacity. That’s not much different than Lucy.
So here’s my takeaway from the movie Lucy. We are impatient to evolve. Now that we humans know what that concept means, we cannot wait around for the next 10 million years. We want it now! And a handy cultural fiction about our brains is the platform for this movie that tells us what we so greedily want to hear, and reinforces one of the deepest urges, at least as far back as the legend of Prometheus and the Tower of Babel, that we can transcend our current bounds, that we can take heaven by storm.
Man desiring to be a god. An old, old story.