It’s a rare movie that really leaves me astonished, but Limitless managed it. It’s probably the most pro-transhumanist movie ever.
Basically the protagonist Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper) is a loser, who has his life completely transformed by a drug, called NZT. It makes him smarter in almost every way: better memory, faster processing, increased learning ability, and best of all, super-duper amounts of motivation and focus. (spoiler warning from here forward) He uses his transformed mind to transform his life, changing from a broke writer who can’t write into a successful day trader and ultimately a successful politician. He wins his ex-girlfriend back, makes millions of dollars, and if the conclusion is to be believed (as opposed to being a clever bluff), he also even engineers away his dependence on the drug for these benefits. I was expecting the movie to end as all movies must end, with the death of the protagonist due to hubris, not to mention for having used drugs, but in a surprise twist, not only does he not die, the movie leaves off with him ready to be elected president.
We all dream of being our best selves, and the struggle of human life is essentially that – where can we find the motivation, energy, and wisdom to fulfill our potential? The idea that we might find a drug that can help us with this is an old idea – and usually a much-maligned idea. Yet the idea that there might be simple miracle pills is not entirely without merit – consider for example the power of aspirin or caffeine or Benadryl. Add your favorite drugs here, of course.
The appeal of the drug is that you don’t have to do all the self-improvement WORK that otherwise seems to be required in order to make major progress in your life. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve transformed my life several times, most recently very much consciously and on purpose. But I’d be the first to say that it’s hard work, and that it’s not for everyone – I manage my own identity, but this process is complicated and not without very significant downsides both internally and socially. I think part of the thing that makes the movie so fascinating is precisely that you get to see several people go through that kind of change, and see at least some of the impacts on the people around them.
So anyway, this is a long and roundabout way of saying that I found the movie really interesting on multiple levels, and if you’re interested in transhumanism or self-improvement, you’ll probably find it interesting as well. Apparently they even did a viral marketing campaign that consisted of mailing out (fake) samples of the drug! There are a variety of interesting reviews popping up online. I also put a hold at the library for the book that the movie is based on: The Dark Fields. Also check out this awesome article about smart pills at Singularity Hub.