Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Lucy" - a study in imagery

A challenge to every writer is to create setting effectively; to make the reader not only see but feel, taste and smell the world the writer is creating, to physically transport the reader there.

For the science fiction or paranormal writer, there's the double challenge of creating new worlds that are completely unfamiliar to the audience.  There's no common point of reference, so how do you make the readers feel what you want them to feel, to experience what you had in your own mind when you created that world?  The imagery has to be clear and vivid.  The reader is experiencing it for the first time, and you have to describe the events and alien landscapes vividly and fluidly enough to let them see it clearly, even if they don't fully understand what they're seeing.  Film obviously has an advantage over the printed word when it comes to imagery, but if the script isn't well-written, then the most expensive special effects in the world won't get the producer the desired effect.

The euro sci-fi thriller "Lucy" has topped the box office in the States.  Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character in a film that is both bloody and beautiful, the latter particularly in its startlingly artful visual imagery.  The film might also serve as an avatar of our society's evolving sexual attitudes, given all the hullabaloo the film has generated regarding female action heroines, but let's focus on the imagery for the moment.

The film begins like a modern, edgy graphic novel in which we see the title character as a rather na├»ve young woman still trying to figure out what she wants out of life and letting her stringy-haired, two-faced bum of a boyfriend pull her into the international drug trade.  The bullets fly, blood splatters wildly, and the bodies pile up fast as Lucy is forced at gunpoint to become a drug mule for a Taiwanese cartel, a radically experimental new drug surgically implanted in her stomach as the escalating action takes her on a wild ride from Taiwan to Paris.   Naturally, the drug balloon in her stomach bursts and the massive surge of the experimental drug into her system stimulates her brain to levels of activity light years beyond normal human capacity.

Once you get past the blatantly negative Asian stereotypes and unrelenting misogynistic violence, the film does visually flow in a captivating action-adventure/science fiction yarn about human potential set against the dark back-drop of human brutality.  Like any science fiction story, this one has to fight against the dreaded undertow of  expository.  In this case, Morgan Freeman shoulders the onerous task of being the expository character, a benign, soft-spoken college professor who explains to his students (and, the audience) just what is going on as Lucy's brain activity evolves, level by level, towards her ultimate potential, whatever that might turn out to be.  As she develops, she realizes life isn't about figuring out what you want from it, but the miracle of life itself.

The performances are strong, but the strength and magic of this film is definitely in its artful use of imagery.  The film at times seems self-satirizing,  like an Andy Warhol-like collage of pop culture images.  We see bits of The Matrix, as well as scenes that look like a cross between Stanley Kubrick's "2001" and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

 But, the imagery builds with Lucy's increasingly startling psychic visions of the universe, and her miraculous power to warp time and reality, hurtling in her thoughts across millions of years, finally building up to a searing visual crescendo that is truly breathtaking.  From dinosaurs and primal humans to the galactic spiral to gorgeous visuals that look like a marriage of sea life and stellar formation, the conclusion is a work of art.  The story depicts the rapid evolution of a human being into a god-like superior intellect.

In my novella "Black Goddess," I tried to do something similar, taking my character Joshua Sinclair on a dark journey of self-discovery that takes him to a higher level of cosmic being.  Like "Lucy", "Black Goddess" visits dark human realms too, dealing with loss, guilt, war and torture, and their dark scars on the human soul.  I relied heavily on the inner space of the main characters and their personal struggles, but also built towards a visual crescendo with strong imagery derived from research into theories of cosmic formation.

The images I described were derived largely from artist's conceptions found on the Internet:

Multiple flaring white suns seared brilliantly…a whiteness pure and piercing against a burning blood-red gaseous nebular sky…
Luciana glanced over at Lark, the burning crimson of the primal sky painting her anguished face bloody red through the observation port. “He’s regressed…” Luciana said, glancing from Lark to the instrument panel in front of her, the radiation counters ticking wildly. “To within about three hundred million years of the Big Bang.” She couldn’t help but look with wonder on the scene around her. The radiation measurements informed her the lab was still shifting rapidly backwards through time, tens of millions of years every minute. “Those are first generation stars, about 100 times the size of our sun.”
Outside the viewport, the infant suns merged into a flattened disc of swirling, brightly glowing gas with twin spiral arms.

And, how do you visually depict coming face-to-face with God?  I gave it a shot like this, borrowing slightly from the Hindu religion:

At the center of time, as the still unified cosmic force flowed outward…where thought and reality were one…
Joshua stood before the searing white light of existence in its purest form, its power flowing through him…pure energy, power too intense to tolerate the limited, petty constraints of matter.
Then, he saw Her. Like a gargantuan black shadow rising against the cosmic dawn. Tall and terrible, huge as a giant, her cruel eyes blazing with cosmic fire from the black face of the void.
He trembled before Her terrible greatness. Time began and ended in Her, the bones of dead futures adorning Her terrifying countenance. Her bloodied sword raised, dripping the spent lifeblood of fallen matter.

Stories like "Lucy" and "Black Goddess" are ones I particularly like because they find a connection between the individual, the every man or woman, and the universe.  Character development and story are, as always important, but sheer imagery can be the deciding factor.  Cover art is important, too.  Case in point:

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