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Limitless

Limitless (2011) Movie Poster
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  •  USA  •    •  105m  •    •  Directed by: Neil Burger.  •  Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana, Robert John Burke, Darren Goldstein, Ned Eisenberg, T.V. Carpio, Richard Bekins, Patricia Kalember.  •  Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan.
        Aspiring author Eddie Morra is suffering from chronic writer's block, but his life changes instantly when an old friend introduces him to NZT, a revolutionary new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential. Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm, parlaying a small stake into millions. His accomplishments catch the eye of mega-mogul Carl Van Loon, who invites him to help broker the largest merger in corporate history. But they also bring Eddie to the attention of people willing to do anything to get their hands on his stash of NZT.

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Review:

Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
Image from: Limitless (2011)
"Capitalism too has to keep moving, keep expanding, or it dies. And because logarithmic growth is in its DNA, companies can only grow on the basis of ever-increasing levels of consumption." - John Sanbonmatsu

"Limitless" sees Bradley Cooper playing Eddie Morra, a failed artist who stumbles upon a drug which essentially grants him super powers. How does Eddie use these powers? To make money, buy penthouses, play the stock-market, woo women, become mega-rich, famous and eventually the President of the United States. Though the film at times hints that Eddie will one day use his gifts for positive, socially beneficial aims, its overall message is an ode to superficiality and the powers that be.

A cross between a comic-book superhero movie and Oliver Stone's "Wall Street", "Limitless" initially works well as a mindless power fantasy. The audience rides Eddie's highs, grinning as he's reborn a dapper speculist who beds babes and rakes in billions on Wall Street. But it's all bells, whistles and cheap gags. In the real world, when the Masters of the Universe dump cheap subsidised cotton on the world market, 20,000 destitute farmers are drinking pesticide in India days later. Like clockwork.

If the film seems to get stupider and stupider as its hero gets smarter and smarter, it nevertheless unwittingly works as some kind of allegory for hedonistic capitalism. Our hero has the opportunity to do and be anything he can, but instead chooses to cater to his own basest desires, becoming greedier and greedier until his body starts to break down. But though the film rightly suggests that a life oriented towards a kind of pathological need for satisfaction comes at a corresponding price (jogging, dieting, stress, desensitisation, addiction, pain, preparatory activities etc), Eddie is himself never shown to suffer even a moment of regret, has absolutely no self doubt, and actually learns to fix his "breaking down" body so that he may continue consuming with impunity. Eddie may be an ego-maniacal, power hungry narcissist, the film then says, but it's okay because nobody gets hurt and he intends to one day do good as the US President. End result: "Limitless" PRETENDS to say that powergreed is ultimately an addictionhigh that is destined to corrupt, but ultimately suggests something else: intellectual and personal greatness equals moneypolitical power (and vice versa).

Today we live in an era of unbridled capitalism. One which broadcasts the notion that personal, limitless hedonism is a legitimate, even the legitimate, goal of life. In the era of high mass consumption, this globalisation of desire is itself a prerequisite; excess must escalate or the system dies. Indeed, making desire and excess legitimate was perhaps the real revolution of the 1960s. As Tom Wolfe once remarked, the 60s released "an affluence that would have made the Sun King blink". But while consumer capitalism needs a hedonistic consumption ethic, it also needs a work ethic. The contradiction of today is thus: how to reprogramme the inheritors of this "limitless ethic" so as to suppress certain desiresexpectations - and to reestablish old bourgeois values of restraint - without killing the subject, the goose that lays consumer culture's golden eggs? Or, how to make the subject give up more, to give you more?

This nosedives into what Freud, Marcuse and Lacan called the death drive (each reinterpreted the former's use of the term). For Freud, the death drive is literally a drive toward death and the inorganic. It exists in "opposition to the pleasure principle" and enables us to posit a life that exists "beyond the pleasure principle". For Marcuse, however, who witnessed a burgeoning post war boom in consumerism and advertising, the pleasure principle is ITSELF the death drive, as the aim of an instinct is in every instance a satisfaction which can only be obtained by removing "the state of stimulation". Lacan would then expand this further: while the drive's "goal" is satisfaction, its "aim" is actually intermediate objects which stave off the ultimate object of enjoyment. In other words, the drive must not aim directly at satisfaction or else risk losing it altogether. So where Freud saw civilisation (and scarcity) as taming man's desires and baser cravings, Marcuse and Lacan recognised that civilisation does not eradicate the ErosThanatos dialectic (pleasurepain), but recruits it for its own purposes. Scarcity then becomes the logic of domination.

What Marcuse then began to document was the social shift away from an overwhelming presence of death, to a pervasive, limitless enjoyment. The subject was now mandated to consumeenjoy, no longer holding onto Puritanical ideals of abstinence and self-renunciation. Eros then becomes the psychic dominant of late capitalism. This society, Marcuse then wrote, is however predicated on the death, destruction, and domination of a great majority of people; the enjoyment that it propagates is always only available to a select few. For thinkers like Lacan, political struggle then became a fight predicated on Thanatos, the death drive, which became an ethical stance that must be accepted in order to disrupt the superego bond that keeps the individual at bay in the community.

Note that the death drive as defined by Lacan no longer describes a literal death, as in Freud's case, but rather death within the Symbolic Order. After having rejected the Symbolic Order composed of language, conceptualisation, categorisation and The Law, the subject persists as a kind of "living dead". This obscene continuation of life, a mockery of the symbolic order itself, is nonetheless still within the symbolic order. But now the agent derives pleasure from pain: he or she has gone past the pleasure principle, and enjoys being rejected by the symbolic order. This is the opposite journey of "Limitless": Eddie expands and expands and literally becomes The Law.


Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.

 

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