Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

For all its modern techno-accoutrements, for all of its media echoes and hyper macro-zooms, Limitless is kind of another version of kids’ lit standard works Half Magic and The Five Children and It. That is not at all to disparage, mind you; not only do the kids like the concept, but they like it because it reflects a basic, patterned human truth. Beware of what you wish for.

The contemporary manifestations of this folkloric problem are familiar, and apt. The film presents the problem in the form of a drug, which suggests substances, or dependencies generally. Pornography could apply, and certainly our gluttonous appetite for social media and omni-technology. Whatever the metaphor, the fact is that these days we’re voracious for sensation, desirous of multi-and omni-connectivity. We want to be everywhere, aware at the same time that this may just leave us nowhere. Our protagonist shuttles between these two extremes—he’s either an inert waster or a speed freak. That would describe a lot of the university students I hang out with these days.

Is this next part on purpose? There’s a Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, not Burgess), Fight Club component here. Limitless is tempted toward and even kind of embodies the very thing that it is worried about. The irony comes across as conscious, or on-purpose. And as technology is more morally neutral or at least morally complicated than hyper/sexualized violence, I don’t think there’s any particular hypocrisy going on here. Especially since, parable resonance or didactic opportunity aside, this is a commercial film. You’ve got to think of your investors!  Since this is the case, this movie very nicely establishes and resolves its conflicts. (It is also very successful and stylish in visualizing them. Plus, violence!) The further or final irony is that in the end our protagonist wins. Just like in A Clockwork Orange! Or maybe The Godfather II. Or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Happy endings can leave a productive sour taste in your mouth.