Limitless disturbed me in a way few movies have ever done. As somebody who consistently champions the belief that art, regardless of its medium, is at its best when it evokes a strong, undeniable feeling from its audience, I can’t help but admire the movie. But admiring something isn’t the same as liking something. I can’t say I liked Limitless, despite it being fairly well made and somewhat thrilling. In fact, I downright loathed this film at times and, in the end, found its ethical implications to be very troubling, if not deplorable.
Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a writer who doesn’t ever seem to write anything, but instead apparently spends his days aimlessly wandering around New York City. He’s one of those characters who the audience might be inclined to believe is smart simply because other characters say he is, though no further evidence is provided to back up that belief. Eddie’s at a low point in his life. Months before, he’d been given an advance to write a book and has yet to commit even a single word to paper. Now his editor is rightfully breathing down his neck. In addition to this, his girlfriend breaks up with him not because she doesn’t love him anymore, but because of his shiftlessness. During the breakup, Eddie presents himself as a very nice guy, supportive and encouraging when she tells him she has gotten a promotion. He accepts the breakup with no ill will, even reminding her how much he loves and cares about her before she leaves. All in all, Eddie Morra’s a likeable character…
Until he bumps into Vernon, his former brother-in-law from his short-lived first marriage, who, upon hearing about Eddie’s struggles with writing his book, gives him a drug, NZT-48, made by the pharmaceutical company he claims to work for; a clear, round pill that allows you to harness 100% of your brainpower. Once Eddie pops this pill, his world suddenly becomes brighter. The images on the screen immediately change from dark, depressing blue tones to bright, vivid colors. Eddie goes home and writes and writes and writes. The pill works wonders and he wants more. However, when he goes back for seconds, he finds that Vernon’s apartment has been ransacked and Vernon has been murdered. Of course, there wouldn’t be much more of a story if Eddie didn’t find Vernon’s secret stash of the magical drug hidden within the apartment.
We soon discover through Eddie’s addiction to NZT that not only does the pill allow you to excel at anything you set your mind to, but it also turns you into an arrogant, selfish, money-hungry piece of shit. Anything that might have been redeemable about Eddie Morra goes right out the window as he uses his drug-induced powers to have sex with lots of good-looking women, impress Wall Street yuppies with his newfound knowledge of the system, and make millions of dollars playing the market. You’d think that with unlimited brainpower, more could be done to benefit society, such as the curing of diseases or perhaps donating some of that money to a charitable cause. But no. Eddie would rather fuck hot chicks, mingle with the wealthy whites, and make tons of money. What’s troubling is the realization that, if given the opportunity, a great number of people would do the same and I’m not entirely sure I would be any different, though I’d like to think I’d use that power for some sort of societal good.
The more Eddie Morra rose through the ranks of the Wall Street socialites, the more I hated him. The more I hated him, the more I questioned why. Was it simply because he had become a despicable person or was there a bit of jealousy fueling my hatred?
As expected, Eddie’s rise to the top doesn’t come without speed bumps along the way. He starts blacking out while on the pill, jumping from one party to the next without remembering anything in between, going from one bedroom to another without knowing how he got there. Also, some mean-looking dudes seem to be constantly on his tail, including a stereotypically bald, cro-magnon-browed, menacing Russian mobster, Gennady, who stole a taste of Eddie’s NZT and wants more, at any cost. The scene where Gennady and his henchmen break in to Eddie’s high-rise apartment to take the pills by force is one of the highlights of the movie, especially when it’s ultimately revealed just how far Eddie will go to get his fix; a moment that, as a fan of the macabre, made me grin a sinister grin. A problem also arises when Eddie’s supply becomes awfully short and he decides to go off the pill for a bit. In doing so, he experiences painful and nauseating withdraws, not to mention a return to limited brainpower, which causes him to muck up an important meeting with Carl Van Loon, a Wall Street powerhouse played with casual confidence by Robert De Niro.
Eddie’s downfall is the best part of the movie because it provides us with a sense of justice. Most of us have grown up being taught that cheaters never prosper and those of us blessed with good parents have been raised to respect and celebrate the efforts of decent, hard-working individuals. Seeing those who achieve success by cutting corners and using others is frustrating, but watching them get what they deserve can be exhilarating. I would have liked Limitless more (but admired it less) if Eddie Morra ended up falling flat on his ass. For a while, it looks like that’s what actually is going to happen.
Then he triumphs.
It’s suggested, but never made abundantly clear, that at some point while under the influence of NZT, Eddie figured out a way to solve all of his foreseeable problems. But then again, why wouldn’t he have? After all, your ability to problem-solve while on the drug would indeed be limitless, based on what the story has us believe about NZT’s capabilities. The movie doesn’t cheat. It plays by the rules it presented to us from the very beginning and sees them through. It shouldn’t be surprising then that Eddie Morra ends up getting everything he wants out of life. But as somebody who believes in hard work, dedication, talent, and effort and gets a sense of satisfaction whenever cheaters truly don’t prosper, it’s always disturbing when you’re reminded that, despite what you’ve been raised to believe, the Eddie Morra’s of the world often win.