Limitless: A Movie Limited Only By Its Lack Of Consequences

19 03 2011

Based on the “techno-thriller” novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, Limitless explores the concepts of power and responsibility…or the lack thereof. Here’s the breakdown:

Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is a writer with a book deal – and not a single typed word. His apartment is a mess, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him and he’s increasingly turning to alcohol. That is, until an old acquaintance gives him a little pill called NZT. With one clear pill, 100% of Eddie’s mind is unlocked, providing him with the brain power to finish his book, clean up his apartment, get in shape, win back the girl…and make gobs of money in no time flat. But there’s a reason people say, “when it seems too good to be true…it is….”

The Monkey: Limitless is, what I like to call, a literary movie. Its use of voice-over, its well crafted monologues and dialogue, its structure and pacing, all feel like they were pulled directly from the pages of a novel. Sure, the movie is based on a book, but often, for better or for worse, this literary quality is lost in book-to-screen translation. Not so with Limitless. It works infinitely better since Eddie is a writer himself, and the voice-over is his own.

Another feature of the film that lends itself to a literary quality is the stunning and unique visual representations. From the opening credits scene (a single, sped up straight shot through the streets of New York – one of the best opening sequences ever), to falling letters as Eddie types out his novel furiously, to scrolling and numbered ceiling tiles as Eddie works the stock market, Limitless has countless examples of cleverly portraying the effects of the NZT drug. Not the mention the heightened color palette and the panoramic “bubble vision” that heralds the drug’s effects, giving the viewer a sense of what it might be like to unlock their own brain’s true potential.

The plot was well paced and the inevitable consequences of the drug on Eddie’s life, and the intrigue behind the drug itself, contributed to a satisfying tension; however…

The Weasel: SPOILERS AHEAD! …Eddie was able to pick himself back up and get right back on the horse…or, in this case, the drug. Instead of learning his lesson, instead of heeding the warnings of past NZT addicts, Eddie not only continues taking the drug after a near fatal withdrawal, he coaxes his girlfriend to take it as well (albeit in a life or death situation). He doesn’t rise to the occasion, he doesn’t pool his own resources and put his life back together on his own merits, as a true story of human struggle would have him do. No, instead he continues to take the easy way out, ultimately leading to an ending where you almost don’t want to see Eddie succeed. He learned nothing, aside from “NZT makes me powerful.” He gets the girl, the career, the money and gets to make a fool of his former boss (Robert De Niro), but none of it is satisfying, none of it is earned. Sure, he claims he’s off NZT by the end – but with a permanently altered mind, the results are still the same.

If I can wax nerd here for a bit: Batman is so liked because he’s human, he has human struggles – what if he were suddenly given Superman’s powers and was able to obliterate all the crime in Gotham City in one night? Too easy. It’s the story of struggle that resonates with an audience and Limitless pulls this struggle right out from under itself. Add to this a steady decrease of the film’s earlier visual wizardry and clever writing, and you have a movie that falls into the tropes of a typical action thriller.

A wonderfully intriguing story that will definitely have audiences talking after the credits role. But having a main character that is able to avoid consequences and avoid the universally relatable story of human struggle over insurmountable odds – it left the ending too tidy and unsatisfactory. I would have gladly given this movie 5 Death Stars, but this was a flaw I just couldn’t overlook.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you find the ending too easy? Have you read The Dark Fields? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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60 responses

20 03 2011
Cassandra Okamoto

It was probably just completely set up for Limitless 2! Haha

21 03 2011
Dustin

Right?! lol – but I really don’t think they’ll do another one – but who knows! Did you see it?

22 03 2011
Brett

What was he saying in Japanese at the end? I feel like the ending was to easy and unsatisfying.. Holding out hope that the twist is in the translation.

22 03 2011
Dustin

Good catch! I didn’t even think about that – hmmm…anyone speak Japanese? 🙂

7 04 2011
Cara

It was chinese, and he was speaking complete bullshit. I am fluent in chinese and i only understood what they waiter was saying but couldn’t understand a word of Eddie’s due to his mispronunciations and american accent hahah

7 04 2011
Dustin

Thanks for the update, Cara! I’ve always wondered if actors are really saying anything coherent when they speak another language in a movie – good to know! 🙂

19 06 2011
brent

It’s Chinese.

Eddie says: “Two shrimp dishes without MSG (wei jing)”

The waiter says “but wei jing can keep your suit clean”

Eddie says ” then I will get my hands dirty instead.”

The joke is that MSG and napkin have similar pronunciation in Chinese.

20 06 2011
Dustin

Awesome – thanks for the behind the scenes info! 🙂

23 09 2012
Patrick

He orderered some stuff in Chinese, noodles, onion cakes, and a lobster dish. He tells the waiter that he doesn’t need a bib. The waiter reminds him the the bib will protect his clothes. Morra jokingly says that the bib won’t keep his dirty hands clean. Which is a great pun to end the movie on as he’s entering politics. Morra’s Chinese had a slight Catonese accent while the waiter spoke perfect Mandarin. However, Morra’s Chinese, understandably, wasn’t up to snuff. Although, as someone who’s been studying Chinese for a few years, I found it super cool that Morra’s latest accomplishment (and therefore the hardest one haha) was mastering Chinese. I was like… awesome! I’m almost there myself and I’m better than Morra. Life is good.

24 03 2011
scarletsp1der

good review! one of the things that I enjoyed, and I’m glad you picked up on it, was the voiceover. It was very much in style of an writer! very appropriate.

There were a few plot holes in my opinion, but one thing in particular didn’t make sense. SPOILER ALERT:……the gangster that loaned him the money…..Brainpower smarts says: as SOON as you have the money, pay him back! Don’t sit on it! I was yelling that inside my brain as I watched that be a downfall for poor Eddie! haha

25 03 2011
Dustin

Good call! But the thing I thought about – wouldn’t the drug make the gangster guy KNOW that Eddie grabbed the knife? Hmmm…who knows 🙂

26 06 2011
Dan

Also he had the smarts to notice the tin getting lighter.. looking at the tin with surprise that he had run out was a bit.. duurrh

28 06 2011
Dustin

Ha, good point! 🙂

25 03 2011
Brett

not necessarily because the Brother in Law stated that “it works better if you are smart to begin with”. Anyone translate the Japanese at the end yet?

25 03 2011
Dustin

Ha! Good point, Brett! And he clearly wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed to begin with 🙂 Still haven’t heard anything on the translation front

25 03 2011
scarletsp1der

haha! “sharpest tool in the shed” haha I caught that Dustin! LOL

25 03 2011
scarletsp1der

can’t WAIT to read your thoughts on Sucker Punch!!!

26 03 2011
Dustin

Writing my review as I type this 🙂

3 04 2011
a

That wasn’t Japanese.
It was Mandarin.
He was just ordering food.

And it was extremely POOR mandarin so nobody speaking the language would know what he would be saying anyway.

3 04 2011
Dustin

Thanks for the update on that! Yeah, I doubted there was much there that would have lent anything more to the story – thanks for clearing that up! 🙂

6 04 2011
Ragnar

Maybe that is the clue. his mandarin was poor because he was bluffing. the pill was wearing off and he wanted to spend his last moments with the women he loved.

6 04 2011
Dustin

You never know! I think that it might be reading too much into it, but maybe the movie will have some more clues when the DVD comes out 🙂

7 04 2011
Amy

I like how you termed this a literary movie – I couldn’t find a word for the way it felt to me. Another movie I liked that made me feel the same is ‘ Perfume: The Story of a Murderer ‘. Any other such movie you would recommend?

I actually am happy with the ending, it’s different and because of how unreal it actually is..he wins, he still wins… it’s the fantasy of if only life was that easy.

7 04 2011
Dustin

Ooo – I LOVE ‘Perfume’! And I totally agree, very literary. Hmmm…another movie like that…if you don’t mind violence, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ is a masterpiece. Also, ‘The Fountain’ was very well done!

Thanks for the comment! 🙂

7 04 2011
Amy

Thanks for the suggestions! 🙂 good movies indeed!

10 04 2011
joe

I think the movie was awful. Ive taken that pill and it doesnt do that shit.

24 05 2011
friso

bullshit…does it exist??

25 05 2011
Dustin

It doesn’t exist – at least as far as we know!

10 04 2011
tommy

Joe your a moron nzt isnt FDA approved you would die if you took it. thats like me saying i took heroin… i hope you accidently took x and kill your mom

22 07 2011
Susane

Wow, we are just reviewing a movie! Maybe you need some pills of a different sort? Calm down and don’t be so hateful!

10 04 2011
joe

That movie is awful. I took nzt and it doesnt do that shit. Weak.

11 04 2011
Yann Ngameni

I didnt get to se the end so what is the twist that everyone is talking about?

12 04 2011
Dustin

I don’t know if it was so much a twist as a head-scratcher, lol. At the end, Eddie revealed that he had ceased taking NZT, that he had managed to make the effects last without taking the drug. Was he telling the truth? Who knows! 🙂

30 04 2011
JohnnyKageDotCom

I like how it ended. He used the drug to come up with a way to beat the drug. It’s like taking your last of three wishes to wish for more wishes. This isn’t 1940, we don’t have to have comeuppance for bad behaviour anymore. Look at real life for a second. Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Swarzenneger all took steroids and look how it worked out for them.

2 05 2011
Dustin

Great perspective! That makes the ending a lot better in my mind; he used basically outsmarted the drug, using it against itself – very nice, thanks for the comment!

19 05 2011
J

I didn’t think it was an awful movie, more entertaining than anything. If I was to pick at things the storyline, the actions of the characters all lacked credibility, although the opening squence was a thing of beauty but just felt that I was waiting for something dark & disturbing to happen to Eddie given the subject of the film.

25 05 2011
Dustin

I loved the opening sequence too! Thanks for the comment!

26 07 2011
Sam

To be honest, I liked the ending.
In my opinion, your criticism about the ending comes from the shackles of conventional standards and story telling.

Think about it from a different angle.
Was Eddie’s life better or worse before he took the NZT?
Would it have ever gotten any better?

Perhaps you’re missing a very important point that is being made in the plot, which makes it so satisfying to those who get it. It seems the drug was made specifically to enslave people like Eddie by making them succeed to a point, and then exploiting them (exactly what De Niro did at the end, surprise surprise). Various issues are raised here.

For starters, it seems the guinea pig has outsmarted the experimenters.
Secondly, it also raises the issue of whether one day drugs will make us “better” and “successful” people. Some will watch it and believe that it is a happy ending. The drug acted as a catalyst for getting a potential failure to go through some life-changing events. The other side is very much like the conclusion you came down to – in the end, it was all the drug’s doing. Some day, people will no longer rely on hardwork, but just easy drugs to cheat in life.

Important thing being, that the ending is ambivalent.

26 07 2011
Dustin

Thanks for the comments, Sam! You make some really good points – it’s movies like ‘Limitless’ (with multiple conclusions, multiple ways of reading it) that make them so enjoyable to watch and rewatch!

15 08 2011
chadsandlin

I enjoyed all of your comments. I used to watch movies with coke and popcorn, either gave it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Since taking film review in College last semester, I noticed a whole different side to films. I really pay more attention to movies, and limitless was a great one. I thought you did a great job at the top breaking this down. One thing no one said, and correct me if I am wrong. At the end conversation with Robert De Niro, he said twice that his lab was shout down. I know he said he was off of the pills, but right before he also said, “You don’t think I would be smart enough to have 3 or 4 more labs!” Maybe he perfected the pills, maybe he is off of them? My thoughts are that he was still taking them, just as he was the whole movie. Remember, he gave the chemist 6 months to finish the pills. He offered him I think 6 million. I think a KEY part of the film no one is mentioning is that he gave the chemist 6 months to finish the pills. REMEMBER what it said at the beginning of the end we are all discussing, “12 MONTHS LATER!” I say he is still on the pills, LOL

22 08 2011
Dustin

Very interesting take – now I want to rent it and rewatch it! Thanks for the additional perspective! 🙂

26 08 2011
S

Eddie, protagonist, triumphs over the antagonist… the pill. I think he has a diluted form in a kind of multi vitamin so his girlie wont know, but has the kinks worked out on the withdrawl. remember the chemist can identify what is in it and how much, but not how it was made or what is a safe way to do it. He found a better way, lower dose, he is not off, but he certainly scared deniro away.

26 08 2011
Dustin

Another great theory! Maybe we’ll see a sequel and get some of our questions answered – thanks for the comment! 🙂

26 08 2011
AhdMeUp

Dustin my interpretation is this it’s simple to me, basically Ed might have tweaked the pill to have no side-effects or he may have cut dose and come off it all in all there is not much to say except maybe the ending is related to the title, that ultimately he IS In actual fact LIMITLESS ? Thoughts? I’m on YouTube Twitter etc. Holler me, you know if ya like 😉

28 08 2011
Dustin

Once again, another good take on the ending! I REALLY need to rewatch this movie – it’s been months, and all these theories keep coming in – time to rent it! 🙂 Thanks for the comments!

29 08 2011
wendy

I totally agree with chadsandlin. Eddie is still on the drug. When Robert De Nero approaches Eddie, he is so nervous at first and shut the door. He even follows Robert to his car only changes his mind later.

Plus, his apperance changes a lot at the end. Wrinkles are all over his eyes. His bf said that it is his haircut, but obviously, it is not.

30 08 2011
Dustin

I didn’t notice the wrinkles – good call! The more and more I think about all the theories and complexities of the ending, I now HAVE to see this again! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

21 09 2011
popealicious

just watched film and i agree he is still on it as he gave the chemist 6 months to finish for a substantial amount of money and it was 12 months later.Tthere was no need for the emphasis to be put on 6 months or even that scene being filmed unless it has some relevance to the end of the film.

28 02 2012
Dustin

Good point!

12 11 2011
Brendan

If he gave the chemist six months for the pills to be done, which im assuming means recreate the pills as they were, that leaves another 6 months to perfect them, which he could do himself with his smarts, and possibly get off them with permanant effects. I think the whole walking him to the car thing was for effect, to kind of play with de niro. He didnt change his mind, he probably knew from the moment his old boss walked in how everything would go, whether or not he was still on the pills, cause either way he still has his super brain. I also think he was just proving a point by saying he could have had other labs, just to emphasize that he would always be steps ahead. Also, his girl wouldn’t have been with him if he was still on the pills. He could still be on them and lying to her, but i think that would be too in depth for the ending, since there is no evidence of that whatsoever. I take them being together as evidence that he did get off of the pills, I think she was just a symbol of hard work and honesty, the things she believed in. She basically said get off the pills or get off of me earlier in the movie, and earlier than that she left him because of his lack of work ethic.
I looked it up and all of the foreign language in the movie is pretty bad, so there really was no difference in his linguistic abilities from the earlier french he spoke to the chinese at the end.
Don’t you think if he were that smart he would think to not put the pills in his jacket if he is going to give it to people to hold or put it in coat rooms (or whatever he said)? Or at least not leave the jacket out of his sight if they had to be in the jacket! I dont have any brain steroids like he did, but im pretty sure i would think either not to leave my jacket places or have a better place than my jacket, such as pants or under garments, if that was my way of staying alive. He didnt protect it well even with his smarts for it being so valuable.

28 02 2012
Dustin

So very true, Brendan. I like the idea of possible “permanent effects.” And yes, you’d think he’d find a better hiding place, for sure!

20 11 2011
Tyler

Anyone else notice the easter egg at the end? Name of the book he wrote is Illuminating the Dark Fields. Was this a part of the novel or a shot at the author and pointing out that the book made it to the silver screen?

20 11 2011
Tyler

I just read more of the comments, Dustin, killer review.

Eddie is definitely still on the NZT. Deniro gets his shot at the guy earlier in the movie in the ‘test’ scene and the audience is supposed to be relieved by Eddie sticking it to him in the end. Surprising how much sympathy there is for a Wall Street giant who has been put to shame by a relatively young entrepreneur – whether he’s on drugs becomes irrelevant because of his success.

Go to the scene of Eddie’s ‘test’ when he’s sucking because he’s off the NZT. Deniro says, referencing his contributor, ‘Where was Atwood two years ago?’ Eddie says, ‘Nowhere.’ Deniro looks directly at the camera and quips,
‘Two years ago he wasn’t even on Forbes’ radar.’ Ha! Coincidence? Well maybe, maybe not. This is likely a shot at Bailey himself, who, despite successes, was never a leading box office man until The Hangover, which came out … (head scratch), two years ago.

Bailey himself had a BA in English out of college. Now Hollywood, or ‘Forbes’, takes him seriously. If I had one message for Bailey, who holds the executive producer cred on this film, I’d say: Keep it up – just don’t let this clear little pill define you.

28 02 2012
Dustin

Good catch! I didn’t see that! And nice insight into the possible real-world connection – thanks for the comment, Tyler!

20 11 2011
Tyler

Bradley* Cooper. Not Bailey.

29 11 2011
MikeM

1) The author of this article was spot on with his overall assessment of the movie. There are a lot of great comments too.

2) I agree with the person that said it was absurd that he didn’t just pay the loan shark back immediately once he made 2 million dollars in one week. Ridiculous. While we’re at it, what did he need the 2 million for anyway? He said he had a specific plan that “required capital,” yet it didn’t seem like it. Was it just to get an audience with De Niro?

3) I agree that the murder plot line was strange and should not have been in the movie if he wasn’t going to have any difficulty getting out of it. What really happened anyway? Did he murder that woman or not? If not, who did? Who was she? And who stole his pills while he was at the station? What the heck?

4) I thought one of the silliest aspects of the ending was that his ex-girlfriend took him back. Regardless of whether he was on the pills or not at the end, he was acting as if he was, which is what would have mattered to her. The whole reason she left him in the first place was that his personality and mind had been altered by the pills and that she wasn’t experiencing the real him. And yet she sits there and smiles as he rattles off some mandarin and runs for president? It makes no sense and wasn’t even necessary for him to come out a winner overall, which seemed to be the goal.

5) I’m nitpicking here but the blood drinking part was so far-fetched even though it was a clever idea. He drank what, a tablespoon or two of blood? There’s 1.5 gallons of blood in a body. Assuming the drug was evenly distributed throughout his bloodstream, that’s a 0.25% dose, minus however much of the drug had been metabolized or was stuck in that guy’s brain attached to receptors or whatever. There’s no way that would have worked, especially since the main character must have had a high tolerance to the drug at that point. Anyway, it was still a great scene and a very interesting movie overall, so I should be quiet now.

28 02 2012
Dustin

You make some great points, Mike, and thanks for the props! The issue with the girlfriend taking him back is definitely troublesome. And I hadn’t even thought about the blood-drinking scene that way, but your point is very valid – good catch!

5 12 2011
sushant

one more thing…
If Eddie finds a way to make himself permanently off the pill, then he must have told Lindy about it and in that case she should not be suspicious of him having taking the pill, as in the ending scene in the restaurant.

4 01 2012
eightstar

What if his girlfriend is on the NZT as well at the end? Maybe she got hooked on it after she had to take it that one time? They both looked “bright” – pardon the pun. And they both looked like they could be hiding something from the world by the look on their faces at the end.

28 02 2012
Dustin

Good observation, sushant – that ending certainly leaves a lot open for discussion! Eightstar – maybe she IS on it…? Who knows!

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