I saw Limitless recently, produced and acted by The Hangover‘s talented Bradley Cooper. I had read the book it’s based off of, The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, some time ago.
Traders won’t like this film for the simple reason that the secrets of making millions of dollars within days are never actually revealed. (Unless you can get your hands on some of that NZT-48.)
So the premise of the movie is pretty simple, it’s all set up in the trailer here.
In a nutshell: loser writer with motivation problems is offered an illicit performance-enhancing drug… starts trading… makes millions within days. Rinse and repeat until bigger fish take notice. (Also, the pill has the rather irritating side effect of giving you blackouts and turning you into a homicidal maniac, but a small price to pay for decent alpha, right?)
Now, in the book version, the author actually goes to some length to explain how the character, Eddie, makes his money trading. Basically, his heightened awareness lets him see that his day trading buddies are wildly overestimating some of the stocks they are jumping on, so he shorts the hell out of them. And other traders take notice, joining him in the short killing spree.
He can also read a prospectus in a matter of seconds, and learn a new language within a couple days, which always helps when doing your due diligence.
The movie version takes the typical Hollywood shortcut: he sits down at a laptop, numbers fall from the sky Matrix-style, and boom, he’s attracted the interest of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro’s character from Casino, basically, except conscripted into modern-day Wall Street.)
Even the book version leaves something to be desired in the specifics of his “advanced” trading, and his newfound understanding of sexual attraction, business dynamics, and interpersonal relationships.
I mean, shorting super-shady biotech stocks is not exactly genius level stuff. Pretty standard, actually.
I guess any author comes up against the old problem I first learned in one of my college writing classes: the one thing you CAN’T create as a writer is a protagonist who is more intelligent than you are. More brave? Or more interesting? Absolutely.
But you can’t make a fictional character smarter, because you’re always drawing off of yourself and your own competence is the fixed ceiling there.
Did you see Limitless yet? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments section at the bottom.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form over on my blog, Outlaw.