The ‘Limitless’ possibilities in movies


Eddie Morra didn’t immediately recognize the man in the chic suit.

With the audacity of a rich man helping the poor, the man in the suit, who Morra soon recognizes as his ex-brother-in-law, forces a usual, clear pill into Morra’s hand that he claims will change Morra’s life around for the better.

The deadbeat, science-fiction writer from New York City, with nothing to lose, takes the pill and is unleashed to the potential of science and the imagination of Hollywood.

The plot to the film “Limitless” — a sci-fi thriller that explores the possibility of a street drug that unlocks the potential to use all of the brain, as opposed to only 20 percent, as the movie claims, is not all that farfetched, said University of Minnesota physics professor James Kakalios.

“It’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” he said. With medicine such as Prozac that can change the neurochemistry in the brain, humans are becoming more aware of the functions of the mysterious mind.

However, Kakalios, who served as a consultant for the superhero film, “Watchmen,” is quick to point out that humans don’t just use ten or 20 percent of their brain, but all of it.

“Of all good fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero movies, the good ones only require one miracle exemption from the Laws of Nature,” Kakalios said. “And then they play fair.”

More and more filmmakers are relying on academia to be consultants for films, said Kakalios.

“They want to know what’s around the corner of a long hallway even if the audience doesn’t go down that corridor,” he said. “The more they know the basics that undergird the fictional reality, the more likely they would be able to make a believable, fake reality.”

The pill in the movie, however, is far from factual.

“It shouldn’t make you smarter than you are already,” Kakalios said.  

But the idea of a pill that can change the neurochemistry of the brain to help retrieve items from long or short term memory is not impossibly farfetched.

David Nichols, a professor at the College of Pharmacy at Purdue University, agrees that a drug which can improve memory functions is something that is definitely possible in the future.

In the current age, with the right amount of money, one can access groups of chemists in China with the expertise to design specially modified drugs, many of which end up being street drugs, Nichols said.

With the current advancement in technology and access to labs in China, it wouldn’t surprise Nichols if a drug that helps improve one’s memory could be stumbled upon. 

If this memory drug could be created, it would quickly become the drug of choice for college students, Nichols said jokingly.

Decades of research have gone into drugs that have the potential to benefit the user, as opposed to giving them a high, Nichols said. 

Research into LSD was conducted by the United States government in the 1950s to see if the drug would allow people to think outside the box.

The U.S. military has also been known to provide Provigil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy, to soldiers to keep them awake during long missions.

For Alix Borkowski, a first-year student at the University of Minnesota, the promise of vast knowledge and incredible memory by simply swallowing a pill every day is tempting, but he is hesitant to say the least.

With little information regarding side-effects Borkowski wouldn’t accept the pill as a life-changing supplement.    

Borkowski feels he would be alienated from society and friends if all of a sudden he possessed this new power.

“It’s still something I would think about [taking the pill or not] for a long time,” he said, who mentioned he wouldn’t mind taking the pill just to finish his academic semester strong.  

“It’s all in the service of entertainment,” Kakalios said of movies such as “Limitless.”

“At the same time, it provides some education, so it’s a win-win,” he said.