By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
I once read someone's take on The Dark Knight, describing it as a disgusting film; I thought, on the other hand, that it was a brilliant and ultimately uplifting film about the importance of not making moral compromises and not backing down in the face of overwhelming evil. We saw the same film, but had a completely different experience from one another. I say this because I have friends who really liked Limitless; they must've seen something in it that I did not, because it left me feeling sleazy and wishing I'd simply turned it off. This is a film that takes a terrific premise (a pill allows people to access the un-used “90%” of their brains) and wastes it on a sordid, empty tale and a sordid, empty protagonist. It's literally about a man's attempts to use newfound super-intelligence to get rich, gain power, have sex with as many women as possible, and outsmart those who'd hold him responsible.
Though the film makes a few concessions to the dangerous consequences of drug abuse and involvement with organized crime, ultimately it's about (spoiler) a man for whom adultery is as casual as sharing a soda, murder is something to feel sort of bad about but not to fess up to, and wealth, power, and prestige are the reasons for living. He makes no growth and learns no lessons except for how to outsmart others. It is true that the film is well-acted. The editing and cinematography portraying the passage of time in a drug-induced haze are artistic and creative. There are thrills to be had as the story takes some unpredictable twists. For some, that may be enough. For me however, Limitless has the moral nutritional value of a deep-fried Twinkie.
CONTENT OVERVIEW (Spoilers):Limitless is rated PG-13. It has several disturbing scenes of bloody violence (a man finds another man's murdered body and later some severed hands), a woman witnesses a double homicide, and a man defends himself against gangsters and (spoiler) drinks a dying gangster's blood to get a drug fix from it. There is a fair amount of strong language, including one f-word. There are several scenes of sexuality (how graphic, I'm not sure, as we watched it at home and could skip over them, but they seemed fairly intense), including adultery with no implication of consequences. The film is, ostensibly, about drug use and crime, and while it flirts with the ideas of consequences and responsibility, ultimately the protagonist gets everything he ever wanted.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: The love of money is the root of all evil; the pursuit of riches goes hand in hand with foolish lusts and temptations, though seeking riches with the intent to do good for others is good. Don't neglect morality in the pursuit of pleasure or knowledge.
For a far superior examination of the limits of human potential check out Gattaca!
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.