limitless My little review of the 2011 film Limitless, which I just watched.  Might be some spoilers…

"You know how they say you can only use 20% of your brain?  Now you can use it all!"

Or something like that.  The movie’s about a drug that helps you remember stuff, stay focused, and make rapid and accurate logical conclusions based on your subconscious perceptions.  The "20% of your brain" thing is such a common cliche myth, I wouldn’t have put that in the movie.  I’d either think of some more scientific way to explain the increased intelligence, or just left it completely mysterious.

What does the main character do with the extra mental power?  The first thing I would try to do is figure out how the drug works so I can keep using it forever.  He saves that for later, and is never really able to do it.  But he writes a brilliant book.  OK.  I would do that too.  But then he gets into the stock market, with plans to go into politics later.

It’s amusing but annoying how some people seem to think that there are secret patterns to be found in the stock market, and if only they could find them, they’d be rich.  Even this movies makes a reference to an "algorithm for the perception of stocks."  Um… no.  Even if there was a pattern, or an algorithm, finding it would change it because you’d have to factor in your own finding of it.  It’s ultimately just a silly daydream.  Silly because it emerges from misunderstandings about how the world works.

And then he wants to go into politics?  Why?  I can only guess it’s because he’s less concerned about using his intellectual drugs in pursuit of science and creativity, and more concerned about climbing the social ladder and gaining power.  Vanity!  All is vanity!  For many daydreamers, I suppose that’s the real value of intelligence.  It gives you a social advantage.  You achieve fame and power, and other people admire or envy you, and that makes you feel good about yourself.  The main character enjoys getting attention, and having intellectual arguments with people, in which he participates in a laid-back I’m-so-cool kind of way.

I’d be more inclined to keep the increased intelligence a complete secret, using it to have fun (write books and symphonies and program things) and pursue other areas of intellectual interest (artificial intelligence, unsolved math problems, philosophy).

The writing was a bit odd in some parts.  There were some weird metaphors in the movie.

Something like, "One minute you’re his best friend, the next you’re a leaper."  A leaper?  I guess it gets the point across, but it conjures up the image of a leaper.  Why would you want that in the context of the scene?  (It sort of reminds me of a metaphor they mentioned on the podcast Writing Excuses, something like: "Her skin was the color of a 3-day old corpse."  It might be technically accurate, but conjuring up the image of a corpse might not exactly set the tone properly.)

Later in the movie: "… like Oliver Twist begging for gruel."  I don’t remember Oliver Twist begging for gruel.  He was forced to ask for more after drawing lots.  He didn’t beg for it.

There were some other weird ones, but I forgot them.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was nothing very amazing either.  I can see how some people might like it, though; it was very fast-paced and captivating.  The cinematography was pretty interesting, with these weird perpetual zoom-ins every now and then, which were a lot of fun.  For example, here are the opening credits:


Categories: Movies


LanthonyS · September 5, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Good observations… about politics: Harvard graduate and professor Ignatieff tried to run here in Canada and his campaign was supposedly too intellectual for public taste. About the stock market: have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw”, or at least the Wikipedia article on Nassim Taleb ( and his quiet campaign against the idea of “stock market pros”?

Also, is it really a leaper, or a leper? To be a leper, at least, is a perhaps outdated expression for “to be an outcast”, and is still pretty valid (and unimaginative). Come to think of it, the writing in this whole movie sounds unimaginative… didn’t I see a Simpsons episode about this?…

S P Hannifin · September 5, 2011 at 2:48 PM

For politics, I suppose if you were super-smart, you could figure out how to manipulate the public to your will with vague messages (as politicians tend to do now), your focus in political debates being perhaps your main advantage… but I think it’d be easier to have more power elsewhere, where you wouldn’t have to rely on people voting for you.

I haven’t read either of those things about stocks, but I have read Taleb’s books, which I’m sure have influenced my opinion a great deal. They’re quite good.

Ah, yes, a leper; my spelling error. “One who leaps” doesn’t make any sense at all.

LanthonyS · September 7, 2011 at 9:44 PM

Ah, most amusing…
By the by I highly recommend What the Dog Saw. It’s not about stocks, it’s more like popular cultural anthropology — it has many glimpses (well, actually, quite thorough sometimes) into little-known but fascinating minds of the last century. Taleb happened to come up in it.

LanthonyS · September 7, 2011 at 9:45 PM

(and yeah, Taleb was little-known when the book was written)

S P Hannifin · September 7, 2011 at 10:04 PM

I will put it on my reading list! Yeah, I read Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness back in ’06 or ’07, and since then it seems his influence has been growing, which I think is great.

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