In the 2014 French Sci-Fi movie Lucy, Scarlett Johansson plays the lead role, Lucy, a woman who develops psychokinetic abilities when the drug CPH4, smuggled inside her stomach, is absorbed into her bloodstream. Judged without prejudice, and also appreciating the fact that Lucy is a cinematic venture and not a comparison with the Buddha, what Lucy goes through may bear uncanny resemblance to what the Bodhisathva goes through on his path to Buddhahood.
In the movie Professor Norman played by Morgan Freeman, one that Lucy seeks out to make sense of what is happening to her, points out that humans use only 10 per cent of their cerebral capacity. The only other species that uses its brain more effectively are dolphins that use 20 per cent of their cerebral capacity. This is what enables dolphins to echolocate, a natural system that’s far more effective than any man-made sonar.
Norman hypothesizes that if humans are able to use 20 per cent of our cerebral capacity, we would have power over our own bodies. With 100 billion neurons, there are more connections in the human body than stars in the galaxy, says Norman. Norman points out that humans have a gigantic network of information to which we have no access.
And it is this ‘network of information’ that the Buddha tapped into when He attained Buddhahood. So, when Lucy reached 100 per cent of cerebral capacity one can interpret that she too, in theory, attained Buddhahood, with the help of a catalytic drug. But Lucy disappears at the end of the movie which would suggest that she attained nibbana.
According to Norman’s hypothesis once the cerebral capacity reaches 20 percent it opens up and expands the rest of the brain and the “obstacles fall away like dominos”. This could be writer-director Luc Besson’s version of the jhanas – various stages of mindfulness – attained through meditation.
At the beginning of the movie Lucy confesses to her mother that she feels everything, space, air, the vibrations, the people, even the gravity and the earth’s rotation. She confesses that she can reach the deepest parts of her memory, that she can remember the taste of her mother’s milk in her mouth.
At 28 per cent Lucy doesn’t feel pain, fear, desire; all emotions that could be tamed by meditation. In fact, Moggallana Thera, an arahant, was mercilessly beaten by a gang of robbers. But he maintained his composure without a trace of anger, because arhanthood afforded him freedom from such negative emotions.
Lucy at one point says, which is an aside as much as an attempt to intimidate her captive that, “What makes us us is primitive. They’re all obstacles.” By ‘obstacles’ Besson may be alluding to obstacles of defilements or kilesa that can be overcome by meditation. In the next breath Lucy says that the pain her captive is experiencing is blocking him from understanding. But fictitious Lucy, like Moggallana Thera, is able to look beyond the pain to understand greater truths in life. Lucy likens this stripping away of emotions to taking the human element out of herself. Could Besson unbeknownst to himself be referring to the state of Anathma?
Lucy is also able to control magnetic and electric waves. The Buddha could control much more than that. This is evidenced in ‘Yama Maha Pelahara’, the twin miracle in which the Buddha issued a stream of water from one half of his body while simultaneously issuing a column of fire from the other.
Accessing 40 per cent of brain capacity would enable control over other people. This was exhibited in the way Lucy overpowered her captives who forcibly smuggled drugs in her gut. At the end of a lecture on the limitless wonders of harnessing cerebral capacity, while talking about psychokinetic abilities, Norman says that the discussion is entering the realm of science fiction. But the Buddha exhibited such power and control over matter millennia ago when, with the power of His wisdom and psychic abilities He defeated Baka Brahma.
It is said in Paticcasamuppada that the great Brahma outlived many world systems (kappa). In fact, he lived so long that he forgot his previous births and was convinced of his immortality. The Buddha went to the Brahma realm to eliminate his illusions, whereupon Baka Brahma started to brag about his eternal life. The Buddha declared that he is ignorant and revealed the meritorious deeds that had resulted in Baka Brahma’s longevity. The Buddha explained that it is this longevity that had resulted in his wrongful views of immortality. Upon hearing this, Baka Brahma has second thoughts about his omnipotence. But still conceited he attempts to show his psychic prowess by vanishing. But because of the power of the Buddha, he remained visible. The Buddha then uttered the following verse:
‘Bhavevaham bhayam disva bhavan ja vibhavesinam bhavam nabhivadim kinci nandincana upadiyim’:
‘I do not extol any existence because I see danger in it. I have renounced the craving for existence because I am aware of its evil.’
The Buddha’s words of renouncing craving for existence are echoed in Lucy’s own words when she says to Norman during their first conversation that she feels no desire.
The whole movie is woven around Lucy’s attempt to pass on the knowledge she garners upon reaching a 100 per cent cerebral capacity. The Buddha has said that the greatest of the daanas or alms is the dhamma daana. Whereas the Buddha propagated His wisdom through the Dhamma, Lucy did it with a pen drive.
At the end, reaching 100 per cent of cerebral capacity Lucy strips away all barriers of space and time to understand the secrets of the universe. Buddha was able to see the whole universe, could see past, present and future.
The only hitch is that according to Narman’s theory, if the environment is not favourable the cell will chose immortality. In fact, at the end of the movie Lucy disappears, but also becomes omnipresent and immortal. This is contrary to the words of the Buddha. In Buddhism nibbana is similar to extinguishing of a fire. Nothing remains.
But Besson is spot on when Lucy says, “Film a car speeding down a road. Speed up the image infinitely and the car disappears. So what proof do we have of its existence? Time gives legitimacy to its existence. Time is the only true unit of measure. It gives proof to the existence of matter.”
This epitomised in the Buddha’s words, ‘Sabbe sankhara anicca’ (All things are transient). Everything is impermanent, subject to change over time.
In all fairness to the cinematic venture that’s Lucy, Besson may not have intended the movie to be read in a Buddhist perspective. This review of Lucy is not to be confused with a comparison to the Buddha.