Mo brains mo problems ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mo brains mo problems

My rating:

Okay, let's get one thing straight: the thing about humans using only 20% of their brain's potential is a myth. (The fact that you may have heard it as 10% should be your first clue.) Different parts of your brain are used for different things: basic bodily functions, motor functions, sensory inputs, math calculations, creative thinking, fantasizing about a naked Summer Glau in your bed, etc. And whenever you perform these actions or think these thoughts, that part of your brain will be utilized. We only use 10-20% of our brains at any one time, which is as it should be. If an abnormal amount of neurons in your brain - say, 100% - are firing, well, there's a name for that: an epileptic fit. So yes, it's a myth that has been thoroughly debunked, and anyone who mentions it as a bald-faced fact is just being stupid.

This movie, however, is very enjoyably not stupid.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a mess. He's a writer who hasn't written a word of his novel, he lives in a crappy New York apartment and is behind on his rent, he spends his days and nights drinking and procrastinating, and his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has just dumped him. Then one day he runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who gives him an experimental drug called NZT-48. One pill boosts his brain power to such an extent that he finishes his book in 4 days, makes a fortune off the stock market, wins back Lindy, and attracts the attention of the wealthy and powerful Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). But as smart as NZT makes him, Eddie soon finds that his new, upgraded life comes with a price. The Russian thug (Andrew Howard) from whom he borrowed money wants his cut. Van Loon is not a man to be trifled with. And the drug's provenance is shady, and may have potentially deadly side effects.

Oh my, what a seductive premise. I'm not the only one, am I? The notion that a pill can unlock your boundless potential, give you instant recall of everything you've ever seen or heard, make it trivially easy to make millions, allow you to charm the pants off anyone you talk to - literally! - hits me right in my Fatal Flaw, and I’m sure it would in lots of other people too. What makes its depiction of drug-induced super-intelligence so beguiling is that it’s not like some magic genie’s wish-granting powers; once Eddie becomes super-smart, we see exactly how super-smart he is. We see step by methodical step how he turns his life around, and although it takes place within a dizzying amount of time, it all seems thrillingly plausible. What also makes it seem plausible is that NZT makes you smart, but does not make you infallible. In Dungeons & Dragons terms, Intelligence is not the same as Wisdom.

See, both James Berardinelli and Roger Ebert think this movie isn’t as smart as it depicts people on the drug to be. And having read their reviews before watching it, I thought I was seeing proof of this when Eddie – who is definitely on the drug at the time – borrows money from the Russian thug to fund his stock trading. (And forgets to pay it back even after he makes his millions!) I thought this was a very jarringly stupid thing to do, and was all ready to shout “Hah! Movie about smart people is dumb!” But after a bit of thought, I realized it’s not – it’s a very unwise thing to do, because again, INT and WIS are different things. NZT boosts your intelligence but does not change your basic personality, and the proof of this when we see other people besides Eddie on the drug. One of whom is Lindy – and what does super-intelligence lead her to do? Break up with Eddie, knowing his dependence on NZT will only lead to trouble. Because Lindy is a prudent and sensible person, whereas Eddie is most decidedly not.

Yes, the movie is smart, smarter than Berardinelli and Ebert gave it credit for. Most synopses and reviews you’ll find will lead you to think that the drug’s side effects – which include blackouts, memory loss, withdrawal symptoms and possibly death – are the main conflict that Eddie has to face. But while they are scary and dangerous, Eddie figures out how to mitigate them right quick – and then he gets plenty of other problems thrown at him. The plot is really quite dense, and there’s an almost episodic feel to the storyline that keeps the proceedings nicely unpredictable. At one point, Van Loon mentions "the classic smart person's mistake of assuming there's no one smarter than you", and unfortunately for Eddie, he makes it quite a few times. But again, Eddie is not infallible, even when he's super-smart. Nor are the other people we see who take NZT, and among the most fun parts of the movie is when all these super-smart people engage in deliciously enjoyable battles of wits.

The film largely belongs to Bradley Cooper, who is perfectly cast for the role (and he apparently knows it too, because he's also an executive producer). Abbie Cornish is sweet and completely different from the last role I saw her in, and Robert DeNiro is nicely menacing as the one man who, with no artificial enhancement whatsoever, is probably just as smart as super-smart Eddie. But Cooper is front and center here; he somehow manages to make a cocky, strutting yuppie sympathetic. Oh, and I really ought to mention director Neil Burger's visual flourishes. By no means is this a dry and dusty movie about people talking using a lot of big words (although they do sometimes talk very fast); Burger utilises quite a few flashy camera tricks to visualise what it's like to have a hyper-active mind, chief of which is the spectacularly dizzying "deep zoom" effect.

The one misstep the film takes is in its ending. See, it's first and foremost a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and boy is it ever effective as just that. It does, however, lead you at times to think it's also a cautionary tale about drug addiction and unfettered self-interest, and its ending abandons any sense of consequence as quickly as Eddie gets over the side-effects. So if you're gonna enjoy the fantasy, give a thought to the moral issues under it - because again, it is an extremely seductive fantasy, at least for me. Y'see, in that scene where Lindy breaks up with Eddie, she says it's because if he is dependent on a mind-altering drug, he has essentially become a different person - no longer the Eddie she loves. This is prudent and sensible, except that the movie's depiction of NZT is not that at all. It doesn't make you a different person, it makes you the best you you can be. That seduces me more than Helen of Troy offering me a coupon redeemable for 1 Free Awesome Sexytimes.

NEXT REVIEW: Senjakala
Expectations: lagi-lagi Ahmad Idham


McGarmott said...

I find it interesting that a few of my friends who saw it were under the impression that (spoiler alert) in the end Eddie actually manages to wean himself off the pill; i.e. they bought his little speech.

I really liked the ending, by the way.

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: You thought he was bluffing? I didn't see any evidence of that.

McGarmott said...

Maybe I was making an assumption, but it's just that Eddie didn't immediately confront Van Loon ... but instead waited until he got outside, which in my mind was him formulating how he was gonna play this one. Also, I don't see how weaning himself off the pill would allow him to keep his IQ.

profwacko said...

Earlier in the movie, to me.. eddie was like the Intelligent, Van Loon was the Wisdom.

And when Im out of the movie hall, i imagine that i took the pill myself and was walking to my car with full of confidence. lol

spoiler alert..

i think in the end, Eddie's labs manage to upgrade the pill, no negative effect and even better than the original. Mayb Eddie gave his scientist to take the pill themselves and do more research. lol

k0k s3n w4i said...

ACTUALLY, i read that the current ending we all saw is an alternate. maybe test audiences didn't like the original ending or something. who are these test audiences and where does hollywood get them? because they are all fucking idiots. they ruined i am legend.

one can write off the 20% thing as a drug dealer knowing nuts about neurology, but the film's biggest problem is that eddie is stupid, even when he's on the nzt-48. and so was everyone else who took the stuff. no one was smart enough to suspect that there might be side effects? i have an iq which is barely in the third digit and that's what i thought about first. and double dosing recklessly? without understanding all the repercussions? pure dumbness. i guessed quite early on that atwood's meteoric rise could probably be because of the drug as well and eddie didn't even suspect until he saw the big reveal on tv? all the other nzt junkies never thought of trying to perpetuate their supplies the way eddie did? i seriously didn't appreciate a film parading a bunch of enhanced super-smart human beings and expecting me to buy into them when they are saddled with so much plot-induced stupidity that they look like a right bunch of idiots.

about the rubbish ending: i thought it was quite obvious. eddie still has a steady supply of pills. when van loon told him that his lab was shut down, his first bluster was to tell van loon that a smart bloke like him would have several labs. then he told van loon he's off it but still retain some capabilities. sounds like a gambit to me. the reveal at the restaurant with his girlfriend was suppose to reveal that he's still on the pill - the absolute butchering of mandarin notwithstanding. that's just hollywood trying to pass off unintelligible gibberish as fluent mandarin.