Big Hot Mess: My Journey Through Realizing Some Unpleasant Truths About Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’

Posted in Blog, Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies, Theatrical by - June 24, 2019
Big Hot Mess: My Journey Through Realizing Some Unpleasant Truths About Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Assault.

For the most part, I’m not really online. I show up to write my articles here, and I promote them on twitter. I spend an inordinate amount of on the site Letterboxd, which I used to document my thoughts about the films I watch, and let’s be honest, I’m a heavy cinema connoisseur. But on the whole, I don’t spend a lot of time online in a traditional social media sense. This has numerous perks in that it means I’m not consistently inundated with nonsense I really don’t need to waste energy on, such as why Caillou is supposedly a 5”11 monster.( The Caillou’s height debacle is proof that we’re living in a post-modern hellscape.)

The biggest drawback to this is that I’m pretty oblivious as to who is currently cancelled. I usually don’t discover this unless explicitly told, or I wind up doing some research on someone’s career and Wikipedia alerts me to the fact that this person is not a good person.

It’s always a shock to me. Every time, it’s the feeling of, “wow, that person eh?” In a lot of ways, I’m glad that this is the feeling I get on just about every occasion. That I haven’t numbed myself to this feeling yet, reminds me that I am, at the very least, still human in some capacities.

It’s a shock for two reasons. The first, is that it is usually something awful that results in this shock. That’s the reaction I’m proud of. The response of horror, correctly felt. The other is one that I’m less proud of, and also, one that I’m certain that damn near everyone who has experienced a similar sensation can recognize. After the correct response, comes the less correct response. “What do we do with this person and their work now?” I’m not entirely certain that I’m the first person to try and reconcile with the moral complications of art being made by terrible people, but in a sense, this is the first time I’ve ever really done so publicly. In a post #metoo world, this feeling is likely more prevalent that it has ever been, and as a result we’re probably all looking for a little guidance on how to move forward. For the most part, we try to have fun here with each Big Hot Mess. The fun part of cinephilia is thought provoking discussions about the texts we consume. The less fun part is the discussion we’re going to have today, and definitely continue to have in the future because when the mess spills out from the screen it can have terrible implications.

To be perfectly blunt, I’m nearly 100% certain that I am in no way the right person to provide any sort of guidance. I can barely figure out the complex web of my own emotions. There is a lot of front loading that I inevitably have to do with a piece of this nature. This is ultimately going to be heavily self-focused, probably more than a little narcissistic, and definitely a therapeutic piece of writing. I aim to discern a credible solution for to a conundrum that I am fully cognizant is not one size fits all, and will definitely not appease everyone. There are a lot of questions I probably need to ask of myself, questions which I will likely lack concrete answers to. I am ultimately a straight half-Russian/half-Chinese fully-able man, and that alone carries a considerable amount of privilege, which I am trying to be fully aware of. I am certainly not always successful, but believe me when I say that I am trying. But I imagine many of you are also trying, and maybe this week we can try together.

This most recent spate of shock was brought about by researching the career of Luc Besson (whose new film Anna is in theaters now, you can read our review right here and spoiler our boss HATED it) for an attempted piece on his 2014 film Lucy. For those of you who don’t know, Besson’s film is an action sci-fi thriller, where the premise could be best described as superhero version of Limitless but with the intelligence level turned way down and with the visual flare turned way up. Originally, the game plan was to write a quaint little piece on how Lucy is heavily underrated because people can’t get over the fact that the film does not care about scientific accuracy in the slightest. I was going to discuss the way the film expositionally sets up the rules of its world, while also leaving room for the film to go in different directions if need. I was prepared to defend, as I have on many an occasion in my personal life, the fact that the film is genuinely fun, engaging, and I legitimately believe is fully cognizant of just how ludicrous it really is.

For those who are unaware like I was, Luc Besson has been accused of raping many different women, one of whom is Sand Van Roy who stared in Besson’s most recent film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Besson himself has categorically denied the claims, however, as of November 2018 the total number of women who have come forward with allegations has reached nine. At this point, it is very hard to imagine a scenario in which the French director is completely innocent. This was all new news to me, but terrible news nonetheless and news that has brought about a whole range of complicated emotions.

I am uncertain how to specifically proceed. Obviously writing a piece about how Lucy is fun, is ostensibly off the table. You can only be an ostrich to a certain extent, before you too must remove your head from the sand. Exactly what piece I’m supposed to write armed with the newfound knowledge that I now have, escapes me. Do I write half a puff piece on the film, followed a stern condemnation of its maker? Do I defend the fact that in 2014 the magnanimous awfulness of Luc Besson’s actions had not been reveled? Many questions persist, for which I have little answers.

In interrogating the text specifically, does this newfound knowledge alter my perceptions of the film? This question, I can definitively answer. Knowing that Luc Besson has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple people actually alters what is a crucial moment in the film. Lucy (Scarlett Johannson) is being held captive by low-level gang members, who sexually harass her, and then proceed to repeatedly kick her in the stomach after she rebuffs their advances. This is actually a crucial plot point, as in doing so the gang members inadvertently break the package of drugs being held inside Lucy’s stomach, which chemically providers with her supernatural powers. The entire film literally hinges upon an instance of attempted sexual coercion. That becomes very hard to overlook in light of new information.

Should this information affect my reading of the film? I imagine that this is where I lose a lot of you, but I’m slowly being dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that a work simply standing on its own is largely a quixotic sentiment. It’s idealized in the sense that there are always nagging voices in the back of my head attempting to alert me to things that are important to know, regardless of the film I’m watching. There is a devil and an angel on everyone’s should. One tries to distract, while the other screams “pay attention.”

Why didn’t this scene bother me the first time I watched it? It honestly probably should of. It’s a warning flag now to me, but at the time I simply ignored it because I was having a good time. I want to reiterate, Lucy is fun and entertaining. If I didn’t think that the film was fun, and long for a time where my enjoyment could be pure, then I likely wouldn’t feel the guilt that I do. There’s a lot of twin edged sword that comes with revelations of this nature. On one hand the guilt is for liking something, and on the other, the guilt is for wishing I could still like this as I did before.

Furthermore, a question that I’m amazed I haven’t asked myself yet is, “am I still allowed to like this?” This is part of the moving forward that has to be reconciled with. It likely returns to aforementioned concepts of separating the artist from their work. If you can do so without reservation, then logically you’d be able to enjoy all art guilt free. If as I’ve previously proposed it becomes increasingly difficult to do so, the answer to, “am I still allowed to like this,” becomes muddled.

In a sense, this is the ramification of the monkey’s paw that we wish for when it comes to art. Maybe I’m projecting slightly, but I think most people would prefer that art was more personal. Often times art is enhanced by some knowledge of the artists circumstances. Here at Big Hot Mess especially, we love it when we feel that we can understand how a personal detail may have influenced the outcome of a piece. Knowing the Luca Gaudagnino loved Suspiria growing up, or that Terry Gilliam fought insurance companies over the rights to The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, positively impacts our response to a film. This is the inverse relationship of that effect, where the text is negatively altered by outside knowledge.

Part of what makes art so simultaneously wonderful and terrible is that it requires a dual commitment. On one hand, we demand our artists bring forth parts of themselves in their work. In turn, however, we have to give part of ourselves to the art in the form of our response. There is no one size fits all response to art. Who we are at the moment of consumption heavily dictates how we respond. If that means a subsequent re-viewing comes with a potential personal asterisk, a “yes but,” then maybe that’s just the way it has to be.

I knew this piece was inevitable, and I foolishly hoped I could put if off as long as possible. It bears mention that this is not the last time I will likely feel these feelings. Future filmmakers, and probably present ones too, whose work I enjoy will have the skeletons buried in their closets revealed. It’ll upset me. The asterisk will forever be attached in painful and sticky ways. Maybe all we can really do is the best on each day as it is given to us. If that means I can’t enjoy Lucy anymore then so be it…but we’re sure as hell never going to trust Caillou, no matter how long the debate may rage on.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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