Friday Distraction: “Limitless”

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 03: Actor Bradley Cooper arrives at the special screening of ‘Limitless’ presented by Relativity Media held at ArcLight Cinemas on March 3, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Relativity)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Relativity

Starting today, I’ll find some time on slow-ish Fridays to discuss some cultural flotsam that’s roughly pertinent to the mission of this blog. Today: The surprisingly successful Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless, which I watched over a series of train rides. Spoilers await you!

In the film, ne’er do well novelist Eddy Morra becomes addicted to a mind-enhancing drug, NZT, that turns him – for 24 hours at a time – into a godlike genius. He quickly realizes that he can use his intelligence to make piles and piles of money. Later, he decides that it can be helpful for a political career. “Isn’t it time somebody shook up the free world and got things done?” he wonders. After surviving some drama, including the murder of a socialite (he can’t remember doing it in an NZT blur), and the self-defense murder of three gangsters, we cut to his life 12 months later – he’s gone from a crappy novelist to a wealthy trader to a U.S. Senate candidate who’s winning. “They don’t even want a second debate,” says his campaign manager, proudly.

At that moment he’s visited by his old boss, played by Robert DeNiro – only sort of slumming, for once. He’s just bought Morra’s secret drug-making combine, and wants to control his protege as he becomes president.

“Given where you’re heading,” he says, “some of our ideas are a bit ambitious, but I think they’re achieveable.”

This all struck me as quaint. Well, plot hole first: How is a guy with a paper-thin bio and a beaten murder rap all of a sudden a credible U.S. Senate candidate? (In Doctor Who’s similar plotline, in which The Master quickly becomes prime minister, we at least have the plot device of mass mind control.) Lots of people know about the murder, and lots of people know that he got where he is thanks to a steady, illicit pill supply. This doesn’t come out? In New York City? With Fred Dicker and Maggie Haberman on their beats?

Second, the idea that Cooper wants the presidency, when he can do anything he wants as a private citizen – that’s the quaint part. Cooper’s ability allows him to understand mass psychology fast, but he’s succeeding in systems that don’t have many barriers to individual achievement. Day traders don’t need to worry about filibusters and holds. They don’t need to worry about the media at all. And before Cooper becomes president, he has to spend at least some time in the U.S. Senate, which is one of the worst jobs you can imagine for a super-genius who can figure out anything but is arrogant about making partnerships.

I’m guessing the people who bought this plot twist don’t talk to many people in politics. Other than that: Decent movie!