Stephanie and I saw Limitless the other night. If you haven't seen it, what follows is all SPOILERS.
Among educated, middle or upper middle or upper class people, it's an old and cherished fantasy to use ALL of our brains, ALL of our potential, ALL of our talent. We're all bedeviled to varying degrees by our limitations. The many weaknesses in my character…the lack of discipline…whatever…get in the way of us being all that we could be.
This awareness is both painful and humbling on one hand, and tantalizing on the other. If.... If we could somehow crack the code and figure it out, we would be limit-less.
This is part of the Western "story" of progress, of human potential, of achievement. Again, it's an old fantasy.
It's an old story in Scripture, too. Eve, then Adam, heard a story of potential that was just outside their grasp. All they needed was to disbelieve the Story and reach out for the fruit.
Bradley Cooper's character in Limitless-- a beat down writer named Eddie Morra with a book contract and a case of complete writer's block-- loses his girlfriend. He's at the bottom. He runs into a former brother-in-law who offers him a mysterious pill, NZT. The pill, the ex brother-in-law tells him, helps him use more than the usual 20% of his brain. It helps a person use 100% of his brain!
Morra takes the pill. He writes a quarter of his book that day and hands it to his publisher. She LOVES it. He finishes the book in a day or two. Morra learns languages, takes $800 and turns into $2M in the market. He becomes a big fish in a small pond of rich, successful people, flying on a private plane to an exotic location.
Then a real tycoon, Rober DeNiro’s character with the delightful name of Van Loon, offers Morra the opportunity to work on the biggest merger in history. This is real power, real wealth.
Jumped in a NYC subway in a bad part of town, Morra's NZT enables him to remember action movies and immediately deploy what he saw on TV years ago. He prevails.
Of course, there are drawbacks. The pill begins to destroy the people who took it but can no longer get it (it's not FDA approved nor available in any normal, conventional supply). People will do ANYthing to get their hands on more pills.
At one point, a mobster who also is on the pill captures Eddie, hoping for more supply. Eddie utters the telling words, "The only thing that can save me is NZT." Talk about a functional savior.
Again, it's an old story of Progress, Human Potential. Anything and everything is possible with this pill.
What are fruits of this forbidden fruit? For the most part, it destroys those who take it. But of those who are not destroyed, what do they achieve? Vast wealth. Fight skills. Ability to extricate themselves from dangerous situations. Linguistic skills, which for the most part are used to bed beautiful women.
Is this the summum bonum of utmost potential achieved? This is it?
What NZT does not do is refurbish a soul. The old Western fantasy of using 100% of one's potential engages stupendous mental firepower and physical, but the ends (telos) of those things remain as ordinary as before. A rival tycoon directs a henchman to kill for the pill. The gangster uses NZT to become a gangster to the 10th power. Morra uses it for wealth and women.
What's beautiful about this ugly picture is that it unmasks the pretensions and thus the futility of the Western story of Progress and Potential. There are varieties of this story, but a common one among well-educated people is the Progress and Potential as part of the larger Naturalistic story. No god, only an uncreated universe.
Could this story be true? Of course it could. Perhaps we live in a Naturalistic universe and all that is is material.
But why when we see this story un-masked do we wince? Momentarily sated by seeing the old fantasy finally enacted, we now recoil and say to ourselves, "That's not it. There's something more. There has to be more."
Is there a ‘more’ to the story of Naturalism? Maybe. But it's a closed-box with only nature (material) inside.
However, the story of Progress and Potential are redeemable because they are originally part of the Story. In the futility of the Fall there's some progress and potential but marred always by that futility. But the Fall is only Act II of the Drama of Redemption. Act III Redemption and Act IV Consummation promise to re-track, re-purpose and thus redeem our labors. And by God's grace, by His power, we will come to the pace where the Resurrection of the dead enfolds not only souls but also our labors in ditches and labs and cubicles and kitchens.
© Glenn Lucke, 2011.