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.
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