Whether it's Le Femme Nikita, The Messenger: Joan of Arc, The Fifth Element or, now, Lucy, writer/director Luc Besson is obviously fascinated by women who are beaten down in life but somehow manage to fight back.
Lucy, being released to theatres on July 25, focuses on a world run by the mob, street gangs, drug addicts, and corrupt cops. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) lives in Taipei, Taiwan, where she is manipulated by her sort-of boyfriend into serving as a drug mule for the mob. Unfortunately, the drug placed within her body begins to leak, transforming her from the average person using 10% of their brain’s capacity to using 100%, and endowing her with abilities to control her environment and, ultimately, reality as we know it. In this exclusive interview, Besson explores what fascinated him about the basic concept for this film.
GEEK EXCHANGE: Lucy, to me, was an exciting mix of action-thriller, science-fiction and philosophy.
LUC BESSON: Yes! I’m happy to hear that, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to try to mix the three of them, because sometimes as a moviegoer the camerawork is good, but I need more content, and sometimes I have a lot of content but it’s kind of slow. I just keep trying.
The film definitely gets very trippy at some points.
I swear to you, I never took drugs in my life! And I don’t even smoke, I don’t even drink, and all my friends who are musicians, they say hopefully Luc doesn’t take anything because if he does, he will be crazy. [both laugh]
Where here did the concept of this film come from?
Nine years ago I met this person at a dinner, it was a woman, and she was a professor in nuclear cells who got cancer, and I had a wonderful conversation with her for about four to five hours, and I’ve seen her twice after that. Then I met a couple of professors – and I just get very curious and very excited about all this, because it was new to me and fascinating. Then I became a member and founder of an institute called ICN, which is all about brain research. At a certain point I thought I wanted to do a film about the subject of brain research, not a documentary, but an actual film. I started to think about what I had learned and what I would love to see, and then divided the idea into four concepts, which is control of yourself, control of others, control of matter and control of time – which is the ultimate control. That’s what I started with.
Is it hard to take these out there ideas, in a sense, and make them relatable to the audience?
It’s a real challenge, and you have to be on the edge all the time. I think I also think of myself as a moviegoer; I love to be challenged in a film, but not too much because if I’m too challenged then I quit. Or I say, “What the fuck? I don’t understand this.” But I like to be challenged. When I saw Inception, that was a film that makes these things possible, because if you go pee during the film, you’re lost. So don’t pee, stay in your seat! But with Lucy, I came up with the concept pretty fast about what you’re like at one level, and when you go to the second level it’s multiplied by ten. And then the third is 100 and the fourth is 1000. So I get that very easily, and I enjoyed dealing with it.
In looking at many of your films, including Lucy, there’s an obvious fascination with women who are beaten down in life, but then manage to achieve some sense of redemption for themselves.
We say that female is the weak sex and male is the strong sex, and I’m always fascinated by that because I think the exact opposite is true. I like to show how strong can be the woman, and how weak can be the man. If tomorrow the Terminator started to cry because he wants to call his mom, then I’m interested, because I will see his weakness. But women are not supposed to fight physically with men because they are smaller and they have less muscles, so they have to be more intelligent. They have to be tricky, they have to try another way to express themselves. They have so many weapons other than muscles to use. Most of the time when two men can’t agree, at a certain point it finishes with fists. It’s never like this with a woman, because on that level she will lose So she has to find another way, and I’m fascinated to see how they are fighters on the inside and they end up winning.
With films like Nikita, Joan of Arc and Lucy, it’s amazing to watch their transformation from these women who are abused and stepped on, to basically turning around and doing the stepping on.
Yes. But the big difference between them is that with Lucy it was the first time that I chose a woman who has no power at all. She’s an average girl, she’s partying a little too much, she has a boyfriend but not really, she doesn’t know what to do with her life. If we’re using 10% of our brain, Lucy at the beginning is using 9.5%. She’s not even clever. And so it could be anybody in this situation – it could be you, me…anyone, it’s just the numbers that fall into your lap. You meet the wrong guy, Richard, the guy who put the suitcase on your wrist at the beginning of the film and that’s it, and you’re finished. I like that. Nikita, she was on drugs, she killed a cop, which was different; and Joan of Arc has seen God, so she’s definitely different. But Lucy is totally normal and that’s the beauty of it.
So the events of the film represent a complete transformation for Lucy.
Yeah, and you know what I love in the film is when she understands she will get the ultimate power, her big question is: “What am I going to do with it?” That’s a big difference, because usually in films when you get the power, it’s for revenge, for killing, for destroying, for stealing the money, for killing the others. Here she has the ultimate power and her only question is what will I do with it? And the only thing she can do is what we see, when we see the first image of the film, where we see one cell passing to the other one, the only thing she can do is pass it on. She doesn’t even think about it, just pass it on and make the human race better. That’s it.
In essence, she goes from being useless to being the most useful person on the planet.
You’ve said that you like watching your films with the audience. What’s your feeling when you do so? Is it exciting or ever depressing?
It’s both. Sometimes it’s very emotional, because you watch the face of the people and you can feel that they are in the space, and their eyes are wide open. And next to this person you have a guy eating popcorn and sending text messages. It depends what you want to see—if you want to see the good in it, you see all the happy faces, but if you’re weak or you’re not strong enough because you don’t know if the film is good or not, then you’re going to see all the little details, the people moving, going to pee at the wrong moments. You almost want to grab them and say, “Don’t pee now, go back to your seat and go pee in five minutes.”
Images: Universal Pictures