Secrets of the Universe
The human brain and its capabilities have
long puzzled and deeply fascinated the most
accomplished of scientists. While it has customarily
been understood that we tap into much less of our
mind's capacity than we are capable of using, the
exact percentage has remained uncertain...and
ever fluctuating. With that arresting thought in
mind, writer/director Luc Besson took the premise
as a starting point for a storyline for his new film.
He imagined what it would be like if we could access
the furthest reaches of our brain, asking himself
how that would affect our understanding of life...
and our role in it. He pondered: "Would we have
more control over ourselves and others?"
Besson was interested in the notion of having
an "average girl," as he puts it,
develop superhuman mental and
physical capabilities when her mind
is unlocked. He surmises: "Lucy has
problems, like anyone else, and she
doesn't know what to do with her
life. Yet she's going to reach the most
ultimate knowledge in the universe."
Producer Virginie Besson-Silla,
who has worked with Besson on
three previous films-The Family,
The Lady and The Extraordinary
Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec-
reveals that the writer/director
actually tinkered with the concept
10 years ago: "The basis of the story
was there, but I don't think Luc was
quite ready. I believe he wanted to
let it mature." She pauses, "So he took all those
years to finally come back to it."
Although Besson believed that the idea
of expanding one's brain capacity made for
tremendous action-thriller material, he was
particularly intent on grounding-at least in
part-Lucy in scientific fact. The filmmaker
offers: "After I met with a few scientists, I was
amazed by what they told me: about cancer,
about cells, about the fact that we have hundreds
of billions of cells that communicate with
one another. Apparently, each cell sends out
something like 1,000 signals per second. The
Web is nothing compared to that. It took me a
few years to find the right balance between what
is real and what is fantasy."
As he delved further into the concept, Besson
reached out to a number of scientists, including
world-renowned neurologist YVES AGID, who
co-founded the Brain & Spine Institute (ICM) that
is based at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris,
of which Besson is a founding member. Agid
remembers the conversation he had with Besson
about a story that was "a combination of fact and
fiction." He says: "When Luc told me about the
screenplay, I found it extraordinary. Still, I had
to rein in his creativity a bit with facts, which
was easy in the end, because he understands
everything so quickly."
As the neurologist helped Besson walk the
line between theoretical reality and imagination,
he began to see that creativity for a filmmaker is
not dissimilar to the skills needed to work as a
scientist. Agid says: "That's what I find splendid
in the film: There are true facts. For instance,
Lucy deals with the number of cells in the brain,
the number of signals per second produced by one
cell, etc. By taking advantage of all these figures,
Luc implements a fascinating dynamic throughout
the film. Of course, the more Lucy advances
through the movie, the more the story becomes
fictional, which I find extremely robust. When you
see the film, you believe it. It grabs you because it
is grounded, to some extent, in reality."
Besson walks us through the research that
informed his ultimate story: "There's a combination
of factors that make this possible, involving really
bad people and a new kind of drug.
Well, actually, it's not exactly a drug.
In fact, it's a natural substance that
pregnant women produce in the sixth
week of natal development called
CPH4. I came up with this idea, which
according to some doctors I spoke
with, is not entirely illogical. At some
point, when you open up the capacity
of your brain, if you can access 20
percent, you can open 30 percent.
When you reach 30 percent, you can
open 40 percent, and so on. It's a
domino effect. So Lucy is colonizing
her own brain, and she can't stop it.
She doesn't want it, and she doesn't even know
what to do with it."
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