Limitless – 90% Bullshit, 10% Fun

I saw the movie Limitless recently. If you haven’t, don’t sweat it. The Trailer pretty much gives it all away.

So the dude from A-Team plays a bad writer until he gets his hands on a secret drug that boosts his brain. From there on, he becomes a successful investment banker. All seems to be going swell until reality catches up with him and things start falling apart. But of course, through ingenuity our hero prevails and gets the girl in the end.

On a basic level, the premise of this movie is insulting. I just don’t know which part is more insulting. The idea that success in finance in the result of intelligence or that smart people are drawn to working in finance. Either way, I’m left to wonder what kind of writer writes a script where he defines his own job as something only dumb losers are interested in.

But there is even more. The premise is even build on some really annoying, common fallacies. Not many people are aware that the 10% myth is plain wrong. Let me spell it out. WE USE 100% OF OUR BRAIN. There is no hidden potential. You don’t even need to be a Neurologist to see that it’s bullshit: it doesn’t even make any sense evolution-wise.

And that’s not the only one. The protagonist suddenly becomes Superman and is able to perform things completely unrelated to intelligence. For example, he instantly learns martial arts just by remembering Kung-Fu movies. Or he learns playing the piano. Or he is able to drive a car very fast. Again, that’s bullshit. Everybody, who did a dancing course once knows exactly what the problem is. Knowing and remembering a certain dance move is something completely different from being able to execute it. Dancing is something you do with your body. You need to physically learn the move by repetition. Or let me put it a different way: you can read all the books you want about how to ride a bike. It won’t stop you from falling over the first time you actually try it. Martial Arts, piano and racing are the same way.

And that’s not even all of it. The protagonist is not only smart but incredibly charming and popular. Back in the real life, going to an actual University you quickly learn that brains and charisma are actually quite unrelated.

To be fair, there are no claims in the movie on how the drug is supposed to work. For all we know it may re-wire brains to excel at each of those things. And yes, if you accept all that bullshit, the movie is actually enjoyable. It has some solid cinematography and some watchable acting. I’d say good rental.

And then there is a weird aftertaste. After all, even though the premise is dumb and insulting, I’m having a hard time to dismiss it’s allure. I’m reminded of the Culture on Drugs post. The drug in the move is the perfect Caffeine. It a magic pill to keep us awake, motivated, focused, organized, inspired. It’s all those things we crave in a society where most people are doing some sort of a desk job. At the same time, it perpetuates the belief that if we just managed to get all those this, we would be instantly rich and beloved. It paints a picture that perfectly caters to this time’s work culture. It’s attractiveness is difficult to deny.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Limitless – 903 Bullshit, 103 Fun”

  1. Igor Hardy

    Too bad. I was hoping this could be something more experimental on the topic of how our minds work – like Memento. The film’s concept is definitely still alluring though. ;)

  2. Matt

    I had the exact same feeling from the trailers. I’m not going to watch it but there is one thing I’m curious about. If this world changing wonder drug has the ability to make anybody perfect, how does some normal guy get it? Wouldn’t it be completely monopolized by people who already have money? Or why even mass produce it in the first place? It would benefit the makers more to use it themselves instead of having a bunch of super geniuses out there to compete with.

  3. Caroline

    Matt, I saw the movie last night and can tell you how he got the drug.
    First, it was a street drug, very hush hush, not many people knew about it. Apparently Cooper’s ex-brother in law is a drug dealer and gives it to him, telling him its FDA approved and on the up and up. After the first use Cooper wants more, this is when he discovers its really not FDA approved and what not. He turns into the ex-brother in law’s bitch boy in order to get more drugs. After picking up breakfast and dry cleaing, Cooper returns to a dead ex-brother in law. He calls the police, and then looks for the drugs (as the killers had already done so the apartment was already a wreck). He finds them and keeps them to himself.
    And it wasn’t being mass produced. The guy just had a sufficient stash.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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