Limitless (read our review), the latest film from director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) based on the book The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn, could be considered a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to hard to reach the human potential – not to mention the risks associated with mind (and body) altering substances.
Of course, the NZT pill that unchains untapped portions of Eddie Morra’s mind in Limitless isn’t the first substance in the history of cinema to showcase body-altering possibilities when filmmakers and science fiction (or fantasy) writers get together.
As a result, we thought it would be fun to feature some our favorite body (and mind) altering movie consumables. As usual, we constructed a rigorous set of rules for the list:
A) The body-altering substance must be willingly consumed – not forced upon a subject such as the Joker’s Smilex gas assault on the citizens of Gotham City in Batman.
B) Similarly, the substance must be easy to consume and doesn’t require injections, radiation, or elaborate experiments such as what created The Abomination in The Incredible Hulk.
C) Finally, the substances cannot be fictional or real-world illegal narcotics such as Pineapple Express in, well, Pineapple Express or Nuke in RoboCop 2.
As mentioned, these are merely our favorite choices (and aren’t listed in any particular order). We realize there are countless other body and mind altering substances in film history – so feel free to share your own choices in the comments.
Limitless [NZT Pill]
Eddie Morra has hit rock bottom. After getting dumped by his girlfriend, the unemployed writer unlocks the full potential of his mind with NZT, an experimental drug that provides Morra with near-superhuman focus. The brain-boost isn’t just limited to Morra’s IQ, increasing his confidence, providing him with a photographic memory, as well as the ability to make money – lots of money.
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility – and great trouble.
Jekyll and Hyde (1941) [Elixir]
There are countless interpretations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Each adaptation has handled the effects of the Hyde elixir a bit differently – with some focusing on a monster-like physical transformation while others present Hyde as nothing more than the dark and uninhibited, though physically identical, side of Jekyll.
Victor Fleming’s 1941 classic adaptation starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner dabbled in a little of both.
Alice In Wonderland (1951) [The “Eat Me” Cookie]
There are plenty of consumables in the various Alice in Wonderland iterations that cause some form of physical transformation, including the garden carrot and “Drink Me” potion which both shrink Alice to mere inches in height, as well as the Caterpillar’s mushroom which turns the titular character into a giant for a short time.
However, no magic potion or physics-defying vegetable can top the “Eat Me” cookie, which not only possesses a dangerous transformative power, it is (apparently) also delicious – since Alice elects to eat the cookie a second time, in spite of the adverse effects, for no strategic purpose but to satiate her appetite.
The Matrix – [The Red Pill]
Speaking of Alice in Wonderland: long before Eddie Morra used the NZT pill to unleash his mind in Limitless, Mr. Anderson was faced with a (somewhat) similar choice in an iconic scene in The Matrix. The pill, itself, doesn’t directly give Neo the Superman-like abilities he later-enjoys in the film but it’s the first step in a lengthy mental transformation/process of self-empowerment.
If that’s too meta-physical, the red pill is also a bioelectric tracking device that not only awakens Neo in the real world – it allows Morpheus and his crew to pinpoint their future savior’s location.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) [Fizzy Lifting Drink]
Much like Alice in Wonderland, the world of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is wrought with body-bending consumable substances including: Three-Course-Dinner Gum (which turns Violet into a person-sized blueberry) and the Everlasting Gobstopper (which will rot your teeth for eternity).
Despite their various benefits (and subsequent drawbacks), only one Wonka product allowed Charlie to defy gravity – the Fizzy Lifting Drink. Apparently, the people at Topo Chico Sparkling Mineral Water couldn’t resist either…
Altered States [Tincture]
By far the most dangerous substance in our list, Dr. Edward Jessup’s Ayahuasca tincture, used in conjunction with a sensory-deprivation tank (at first), causes the researcher to unhinge his consciousness from our reality and experience a number of physical (and non-physical) forms including a primitive man, an amorphous primordial mass, and a proto-consciousness with almost no physical form.
Later, Jessup begins to spontaneously transform, without the tincture, meaning the solution isn’t ultimately a necessity but, similar to Neo in The Matrix, afforded the scientist a much needed push – to free his consciousness from known reality.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [Polyjuice Potion]
In the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter, where everyday items carry ancient curses and it only takes a few ingredients to make a sweet treat that can turn someone into a canary (Canary Creams), there’s no shortage of body-altering substances. That said, by far the most useful of the lot was introduced in Potter’s second year – polyjuice potion. Despite its wretched taste, the concoction allows a person to physically take the form of another human – assuming the brewer can supply a sample (hair, etc) of the person they intend to impersonate.
The potion doesn’t have universal utility as it will not work on half-breeds, such as Hagrid, and only allows subtle alterations to the human form (i.e. no full-on animal transformations). Though, for some reason, it does allow for gender-switching – and hybrid animal forms.
The Tooth Fairy [Shrinking Paste & Invisibility Spray]
At first, shrinking paste might sound like just another mass-altering substance but coupled with the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a blue tutu and fairy wings, we can only assume that the magic paste also has some significantly psychotropic properties as well.
That said, the bizarre visual mix of Samoan muscle, hockey pads, and pixie dust could just be a side effect of The Tooth Fairy’s other list entry – Stephen Merchant brand invisibility spray.
Limitless opens in theaters this Friday, March 18th.