Last weekend I had a dilemma. I wanted to see The Eagle and Limitless but I could only see one of the two. It was just a simple matter of timing that meant I saw The Eagle. If only I had seen this for the sign it was! If only I had let the fates take their course! Instead, today, I thought I’d catch up with Limitless. This meant I had to endure almost two hours of the most self-indulgent, immoral twaddle that I have put myself through in a longer time than I care to contemplate.
Limitless tells the story of failed author Eddie (Bradley Cooper) who is caught in a negativity spiral that can only end badly. That is until he encounters Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his ex-wife’s brother, who has the solution. All it takes is one pill of NZT and the brain will fulfil its potential and more. A novel will be written in four days, the stock exchange will be cracked through psychology and the blows of an enemy will be outwitted and out-dodged. Even the girlfriend who walked out on the struggling writer will be back with her drug-smartened ex. A smart haircut works wonders.
Because this is a film you know that trouble lies ahead. What will happen if these miraculous pills run out? What about the thug who stole a pill and now wants more? There are other questions too – what on earth is the point of Robert De Niro’s character? But I leap ahead of myself…
Since I saw Limitless this evening, I’ve been trying to work out exactly what it was that annoyed me so much about this film. It’s not the fault of Bradley Cooper. He does just what he should with the material. He’s quite possibly the best thing in this film, breathing humanity and some complexity into Eddie, a not particularly likeable wastrel who got lucky. But that’s as good as it gets. You could have wiped out de Niro’s character from the film and I’d never have noticed. Or, at least, never have been bothered.
While I watched this film, I was relentlessly reminded of Wall Street, the original version, and 80s TV shows, such as Capital City. Here we are, twenty plus years on, and the same message is being pumped out at me. I seem to have changed, thank God, but the message has not.
Limitless tells us that a man will succeed if he swallows a little clear pill that may as well go by the name of Greed. Every day he must swallow his pill of Greed. His awareness of the possibilities of life and art will be heightened but all this little pill of Greed will make him want to do is control stock markets, turn millions of dollars into billions. And once I realised that this was the magical promise of these little pills, I didn’t have an ounce of interest in the fate of our supposed hero. The girlfriend would come back, he’d cut the hair, he’d dazzle boardrooms with his perception of markets, he’d outrun loansharks. But he would not do a single thing that made his life the better for living except in a purely materialistic sense.
The film tells us that the supply of pills will end and when that happens there is nothing but death. But not necessarily. Our so-called hero Eddie, he runs up against that brick wall when he goes cold turkey with his magic pills but he learns to control his habit and the suggestion is that he weans himself off the pills while learning to live without them, yet still with his heightened capitalist reflexes intact.
When the loanshark dies, when anyone dies, in this film there is no emotion. When the recovered girlfriend (Abby Cornish, what are you doing in this?) has to take one of these amazing pills in order to fight off an attacker who has cornered her without really caring who she is, does it matter if she escapes or not? The assassin never says a word. He is as pointless as the lives he pursues.
At the beginning of the film we see Eddie, perched on the very edge of a skyscraper. His decision of whether it is better to jump is forced though our minds as we catch up with events. When we’re finally back on the ledge, I really couldn’t have cared less.