Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I think we can keep adding to Caroline’s excellent post on the canon of publishing movies. Today’s addendum: Limitless. Only peripherally a publishing movie, Limitless might end up saying more about what the industry means to people than a lot of movies that directly thematize the business.

As it happens, I saw it with a colleague. I should’ve been writing my launch presentation for the next day, but he suggested the movie, and I, never one to pass up a mediocre sci-fi flick, agreed. “All I know about it,” he revealed ominously, “is that this is the number one movie in the country.” “Oh, no.”

The movie’s conceit, you probably know, plays off the medical myth (debunked—kind of—at Snopes) that we use only a small percentage of our brainpower. In the movie, Bradley Cooper stumbles on a miracle drug that allows him to “access all of [his] brain.” Whatever that actually means, in the world of the movie it turns him into a total freakin’ rockstar from Mars.

“Let’s just hope,” my friend fondly hoped, “he doesn’t work in publishing.”

Prescienter words are rarely spoken. Bradley Cooper plays a writer who is late delivering his manuscript. He is dumped by his editor girlfriend (no, she’s not his editor, there just happen to be lots of editors in this movie), played by the terrible Abbie Cornish; at the movie’s beginning, she’s just been promoted: “I have my own assistant!” she gloats.

When he scores NZT (the drug’s name eerily recalls a certain “male enhancement” pill), Cooper’s character finishes his book in a four-day writing binge that looks a lot like a coke spree but less sweaty. And on the fifth day, he plops his manuscript on his stunned editor’s desk. “Just read the first three pages,” he says. “If you don’t like it, I’ll return my advance.” He may be an Übermensch, but his agent would never let him talk like that.

The bulk of the movie takes place in the couple weeks after Cooper’s character improbably delivers his book. Then he takes his superbrains and goes into mergers and acquisitions. (Wouldn’t you?)

Toward the end of the film, we skip providentially ahead Twelve Months Later: foregrounded in the scene, but forgotten by the plot of the movie, is a finished copy of the novel. It appears as if by magic, attended by total irrelevance. Which is, to be fair, probably how these things seem to happen in the real world.

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