Sci-fi and Dystopian fiction has enormous potential to undermine stereotypes and get young people thinking about old social problems in new ways but as a genre it can also be prone to silliness, racist and sexist tropes, machismo, bad science and bad art, and whilst Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ isn’t completely immune to some of these problems, I think it’s far and away the best of the new batch of blockbuster sci-fi. I took a small group of teens to see it, which I think helped me to understand it’s real value. (I may be about to go a bit education-y, but bear with me if you can face it.) Because I can now say, quite cheerfully, that the whole film is worth watching for the ending alone. And Stop reading right now if you don’t want to know the film’s ending because this review is one big ‘Spoiler alert’.
From a feminist viewpoint this is a controversial film recommendation for me but, in spite of a few troublesome things, I’m going to go ahead anyway and say I think this film might very well be not just good for girls but necessary for some. This requires some context. For anyone who hasn’t given much thought yet to how it might feel to be a teenage girl today, imagine being surrounded daily by images of female exploitation – pornography is rife amongst today’s teen boys and there is also a growing pornogrification (is that a word?) of the music and the cultural icons which provide the psychological backdrop to girls lives. The message to girls is insidious and that’s before you even get to the news feeds filled (as they should be, because it’s important) with the many ways in which teen girls can be and are victimised daily and their voices swept under the carpet: trafficking, children’s home scandals, infamous abusers and a complete disregard of the girl child infecting every level of society, from the police to social workers, BBC, governments. It’s not too much of a leap to imagine that in the current environment girls and young women must feel unsafe, misunderstood, angry, voiceless, commercially exploited, and stereotyped. Above all they must feel utterly let down by adults, we have resoundingly failed to protect them. It’s impossible to ignore and dangerous to disregard the effect which all this might be having on the collective psyche of girls. Girls today, as in every age, must look to the images in the culture around them in order to imagine and reimagine themselves. We know that depression, self harm, eating disorders are all on the rise, which seems like nothing less than a collective cry for help. This problem is not just the job of police, social workers, governments, teachers, parents, it’s the work of art also. You’ll note I’m setting aside the usual concern that ‘educational’ goals can take the art out of art (they can, but this film doesn’t).
Watching a young woman to whom girls can relate, Scarlett Johanssen, “Kicking some serious ass” as she takes control of her personal environment and shakes her world up in the process may not be exactly politically correct, but it might well be emotionally necessary at this point. And no more likely to lead girls into trouble than watching Wonder Woman high kick her way out of danger did the previous generation of girls any harm whatsoever. At the end of the film the chief character, Lucy, does not use, or need to use, violence to assert her voice, she simply utilises her new understanding in order to upload herself to the universe (the perfect metaphor for young female voices making themselves, and their ideas, heard on the internet, that they might use it instead of being subjected to it).
There is plenty to object to with this film, and some feminists will have a different take on it than my (equally feminist) perspective, and that’s a conversation, but for me it was all about the ending, which lifted and clarified things hugely for my small group of teens. The Internet is a realm of power in which the most successful older women have been routinely bullied, belittled and sexually slandered and we should be in no real doubt that young women and girls are watching these dramas play out. Many girls are dealing with, or have dealt with, the very same kind of bullying, slander and abuse if on a smaller scale and are being influenced by the response of adult women currently coming under attack, they’re inspired often by the female journalists (Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent spring to mind, but there are many others), women who’ve learned to strap on their flak jackets before going to work. The young have no real trouble understanding that they will need more than Internet access, more than Education for their ideas to be heard in this new world order, they will also need emotional resilience and courage in spades. What better than a dramatic depiction of this very process? Nothing less than uplifting to watch as an angry and powerful man with a gun is beaten squarely by an eerily calm young woman and her computer.
Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ kicked ass.
Much much more.