“Limitless” can be read as two different things, and depending on what meaning we choose to attach to it, we’ll either hate it or be terrified by how accurately it portrays our society. This film is either a sleazy instruction video on what we should all strive for and what average people (like us, presumably) should do if we ever become really rich and powerful, or an indictment of what we would do were we to become bigshots like Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, “The Hangover”).

Limitless

At Quality 16 and Rave
Relativity Media

If we’re supposed to think of this movie in that first context, then, frankly, it sucks. It’s like a 12-year-old boy imagined what it would be like to have the smartest brain in the world. For the record, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world to get a haircut, wash your clothes, contribute nothing to society and have sex with tons of women, which is 90 percent of what Morra does once he discovers the powers he gets from a new super-pill, NZT.

The drug is illegal, and Morra has to steal it from his drug-dealing ex-brother-in-law to get his hands on it, but once it’s in his system he quickly transforms into the person he presumably always wanted to be.

So, if the point of this movie is that enough power can corrupt even a good person, then, frankly, it still sucks, because Morra is kind of a lazy douche before the powers anyway.

However, if we place “Limitless” in a broader cultural context, we can then assign it much more value and importance as a pessimistic look at what people in 2011 would do if they could do anything in the world. Innumerable sexual encounters aside, Morra doesn’t do a single thing for anyone but himself once he gets hooked on NZT. Apparently the smartest possible version of Eddie Morra looks, acts and talks a lot like any other asshole who grew up with a silver spoon in his or her mouth. But, strangely, while this feels disappointing and upsetting, it doesn’t feel incorrect.

This is where the duality in how we read the film becomes important. If the film is claiming that the self-glorifying romps Cooper goes on (once he’s dominated the stock market and made himself an overnight sensation) are the smartest possible thing someone can do, then it should’ve been called “Pointless.” But by thinking of this man’s new superpowers as neither inherently good nor bad, and using them as mere access points to find out what he really believes in, we are shown a saddening but spot-on mirror image of the egotistical culture in which we participate every day.

It’s a lot like the question that the characters of “Office Space” were asked to consider: What would you do with a million dollars? Honestly, as nice as we like to say we are, who would do anything but spend it on themselves? Who, when put on the spot, can come up with something better to do with a million dollars than “two chicks at the same time?”

One can’t critique the message or main character of “Limitless” without also judging the world that gave rise to both. Morra is endowed with limitless cognitive power — this is true — but throughout the movie he reveals his unbelievably limited view of what that power is for.

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