Limitless (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl
Limitless is probably the malest piece of movie making we’ve seen in awhile. It’s not misogynistic, or even sexist—though Abbie Cornish’s bit part as Bradley Cooper’s love interest is pretty and perfunctory, we must admit it’s classily done—it is just really, really male. Like bong hits and video games male; like computer chess and burritos; like snappy puns traded at lightning speed and a mattress on the floor, “Chocolate and Cheese” on the stereo for old time’s sake. Bradley Cooper exudes a certain kind of large, safe, and tasty masculinity: he is equal parts the prom king who secretly befriended you in high school, and the pony-tailed philosophy major you dated in college. The zero-to-hero story this movie tells could be some kind of indictment of the American dream, or a clever retelling of the Faust myth, or a sly endorsement of drugs. Whatever it is, and whoever wrote it (former frat boys is what we’ve heard), it is the funnest action movie in theaters right now, its under-the-influence conceit consistently pushed to jaw-dropping extremes. We saw this movie in a crowded theater—one of the first in a long time and oh what a difference some public makes—and the middle-aged couple next to us seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. At one point, Bradley Cooper is required to drink some blood. Some shit happens and it’s his only way out of a bad situation and blah blah blah. But the way director Neil Burger allows us to arrive at this conclusion with Cooper, to vicariously assess all the possible scenarios and realize—with him, nay, as him—that this is truly the only way, is a mini-masterpiece of pacing and focus. An image that has been Twilighted to death suddenly became disgustingly pleasurable. As Cooper opened his lovely mouth to slurp at the black stain of sangre, the older gentleman in the exact next seat to us chuckled, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
It reminded us of the first few months of our friendship with Mark—in fact this whole movie is what it’s like to be friends with a man, to behold with bemusement and horror the quotidian workings of the bland, megalomaniacal logic that has somehow ruled the world for thousands of years—when we would engage in absurd thought experiments like: If all your poetic ambitions would be fulfilled but you could only eat tacos for the rest of your life, would you do it? Or: Would you rather be able to instantly know people’s darkest desire or have any kind of new car that you wanted? Would you drink blood if it allowed you to access 100% of you brain? If you could access 100% of your brain, would you use it to make an ass-ton of money, learn a bunch of foreign languages solely to prattle to a UN’s-worth of maître ds, and run for president? Or would you use your powers in some non-self-monumentalizing way? Eschew the priapic path in a true quest for empathy, and the maximum good? As the camera zoomed us down another montage of NYC’s streets and the club-music soundtrack pounded like the rain of a thousand remixed Adidas commercials, we didn’t care that Cooper was merely a cipher of contemporary male anxiety, his meteoric ascent the raging hard-on every white American dude knows he could at any moment have in the over-priced skinny jeans he has somehow found himself in. We were having fun, as one does, when one is hanging with the boys. Go see this movie if even the thought of illegal substances now makes you paranoid.