“The Pill Scene” from Limitless: The scene from Limitless where NZT first takes affect.
This essay will be analysing a scene from the movie Limitless (2011, Dir. Neil Burger, US). “The Pill Scene” is a pivotal moment in the plot as it is the first time we see the effects of the drug “NZT”, a pill that allows you to access 100% of your brain, when we normally only use 20%. It is a pivotal moment as the film focuses on the main character, Eddie Mora (played by Bradley Cooper)’s exploits while he is using NZT.
Throughout the film, you have a voiceover from the main character to help you understand the plot. It could also be because the book it’s based on is written in a first person perspective.
He is given the pill by his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon, who is an “ex” drug dealer. After Eddie, who is a writer, tell Vernon of his sever writer’s block, Vernon hands Eddie a single pill of NZT, telling him that it will solve all of his problems. After Eddie initially refuses, not wanting to take drugs, Vernon gives it to him for free, telling him that a pill usually costs “800 bucks”. On his way home, Eddie figures his life couldn’t get any worse, so he takes the pill.
Just before Eddie reaches his apartment, he’s stopped by his landlord’s wife who begins to rant at him for not paying the rent. This is the point where the pill kicks in. To represent the other 80% of his brain kicking in, we see another Eddie walk into the original one, as if he were a ghost as the cinematography goes from gritty and shaky (Image 2), to colourful and sturdy (Image 1). An effect achieved, in part, by using a tripod/dolly/etc. when he is on NZT and using a camera by hand when he’s not, emphasizing his proficiency and efficiency when on NZT.
Eddie then proceeds to talk much more quickly and confidently (even the voice over speeds up a bit) and is able to talk his way out of the situation before going home and being extremely motivated to clean his apartment.
The scene is also shot in almost POV style. In that, when we see Eddie, we are looking up at him, as if we were the landlord’s wife (Image 4), and when we are looking at the wife, we are looking down on her, as if we were Eddie. However, they never look into the camera, so we aren’t QUITE seeing it from their perspective. Also, if we look at the scene before, the same technique is used when one character is stood up and another is sat down. We’re looking up at the standing one and down at the sitting one.
Just before the drug takes affect, the camera wanders about a bit, going in and out of focus as the main character feels uneasy, but as soon as the drug kicks in, everything is bright and we get some extreme close ups of the landlord’s wife, probably to show us that, now the drug has kicked in, Eddie is more attentive, this is proved when he brings up the fact that the landlord’s wife is in law school. When she asks how he knew she accuses him of being a “creep” and following her. Denying the accusation, he tells her he saw her law book in her back as she retorts that he could only see the corner, so there’s no way he could have know what it was. We then hear a voiceover explaining that Eddie had seen the book years before, twelve years ago in college, showing that NZT can also access longterm memories that you never had access to before. He then uses previously un-accessed information from some museums and half-watched documentaries to seduce her, showing what the drug can do to your memory and charm.
Once the drug has kicked in and he is confident, there is no music in the scene until just before we cut to him in his apartment. The song that begins is a fairly high tempo song, “Walking” by Ash Grunwald. As the song kicks in, he starts to clean his apartment with this newfound surge of motivation. While cleaning his apartment, we get a shot of his apartment as there are several Eddie’s in the apartment tidying up. The multiple Eddie’s show how quickly and efficiently he’s tidying his apartment. What’s clever about these shot is that Eddie looks like he’s helping himself tidy up. It also includes a panning shot with multiple Eddies in it, which is pretty impressive.
While shooting the scenes that Eddie was under the effects of NZT, Bradley Cooper’s eyes are a much brighter shade of blue, achieved through contact lenses and CGI, possibly to make him seem brighter while using the drug.
A quick voice over tells us that Eddie “wasn’t high, wasn’t wired, just clear. I knew what i had to do and how to do it.” giving us a little more insight to the effect of the drug, that it does just make you clearer and access the whole of your brain and motivate you. (Note: And alternative name for NZT is “The Clear Pill”).
With his motivation, Eddie turns his attention to the book he needs to write. As he types quickly, CGI graphics of alphabetical letter fall around him as he types quickly (Image 3), showing how efficiently he is working and how the words are just pouring out of him. We then see an extreme close up of his hands typing. The footage has been sped up to give off the effect that the drug has allowed him to work extremely quickly.
As Eddie wakes up the next morning, the drug has worn off and we are back to the gritty, handheld cinematography. This trend continues for the rest of the film and works extremely well in making the film interesting, while also letting the audience know if Eddie is currently using NZT or not. The film also plays a lot with cinematography to try and give off the effects of NZT, playing with steady-cam, colour, lenses, editing and angles.