“Most people, they slowly decline and decay,” Darren Aronofsky tells us over Zoom on a particularly gloomy Tuesday evening.
Taken in isolation, that remark might read like a nihilism-tinged line from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but the Oscar-nominated director of Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream and Mother! – three movies that deal with decline and decay in different ways – is here speaking about death in a refreshingly optimistic sense.
Aronofsky’s new Disney Plus series, Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, is all about delaying the inevitable. Or more specifically, it’s about living longer and dying better. Fronted by its titular Thor: Love and Thunder star, the show provides a crash course in unlocking the full potential of the human body, using Hemsworth as a (mostly) willing test dummy to prove the efficacy of small-but-important lifestyle changes.
“[Limitless] is about teaching you how to maintain your health for as long as possible, until it’s your time,” Aronofsky explains. “I think the tagline of the show,” which the filmmaker can’t immediately remember because, in his words, he’s “just rolled out of bed” (“Sleep! That’s one of the things [for people to take away from the series]. I've been trying to get my eight hours religiously”). The tagline is ‘live longer better’, we remind him. “Yes! That idea is about encouraging people to stay as healthy and in good a shape as they can be. So when their time comes [to die], it’s quick. You decline quickly. It’s about making the curve sharper, not flatter.”
That all sounds suitably rosy on paper, but how does Aronofsky’s latest series actually help you lead a healthier life? The answer is six-fold. Limitless finds Hemsworth taking on various extreme challenges in a bid to improve his management of six key lifestyle areas: stress, shock, strength, memory, acceptance and diet. These challenges include swimming across an Arctic fjord in nothing but swim trunks, climbing a rope suspended from a cable car 100 feet in the air and going four days without so much as a scrap of food. Each task is designed to activate an otherwise dormant area of the actor’s body, which should – according to the experts helping him along the way – work to extend his life.
Sure, every challenge is suitably hardcore – as befits the God of Thunder himself – but they’re all accompanied by helpful illustrations and commentary that describes the relatively simple ways in which non-superhero folk can heed their teachings.
“These challenges are extreme examples. But [the series] is almost like a barometer,” says extreme adventurer, ultra-marathon swimmer, chart-topping author and Limitless series expert Ross Edgley, who apologizes for the swimming-induced bags under his eyes when we speak. “If they can get people to shift just one degree of what they think is possible, and what they can implement in their lives, then the whole show will be worth it. You don't have to swim in an arctic fjord wearing nothing but swim trunks and a smile. But after you shower: 30 seconds, make it cold. That’s exactly the same [principle].
“Even looking at behavioural science,” Edgley adds, “if you don't like the particular hobby or event that you're doing, you're destined to fail. What was really nice with the rope climb was that it got people thinking: ‘Okay, if I don't like the gym, what else can I do?’ Whatever you want! Running, cycling, ballet, tennis – take your pick. It’s trying to get people thinking outside the realms of conventional sport. You’re looking for that physiological adaptation – how you get it is completely up to whoever’s watching. That’s going to be such a big takeaway [from the show].”
The human touch
So how did Darren Aronosfky – a celebrated director of hard-hitting and technically ambitious character dramas – find himself in the company of leading health and fitness experts for a Chris Hemsworth-led docuseries on Disney Plus? As it turns out, the idea for Limitless was born out of a long-held friendship – and Aronosfky’s third feature film.
“I became friends with Dr. Peter Attia [one of the series’ experts] many years ago,” he tells us. “We were just friends for a long time, and I had done a film back in 2006 called The Fountain, which is about longevity science.
“The film was really in the realm of science fiction, but I've watched over the last couple of decades as [longevity science] has become a kind of a mainstream science. It’s very popular [now] – there’s a lot of money and interest in that world. So it all came together for me to go, ‘hey, there really needs to be a show on longevity science out there. What would that look like?’”
Limitless isn’t so disassociated from Aronofsky’s existing filmography, either. The director has history in the nonfiction space, having already produced two documentaries for National Geographic: One Strange Rock and Welcome to Earth. And his feature-length projects all share a thematic link with his new Disney Plus series, too: humanity.
When we suggest to Aronofsky that a large number of his movies might be safely described as psychological thrillers, he’s quick to protest: “I don't know if I agree with you. I've done a lot of different stuff. I wouldn't call The Fountain a psychological thriller, nor would I count Noah as a psychological thriller. Maybe Black Swan? I'd say The Wrestler was a drama. Pi, maybe a psychological thriller? Requiem could be psychological horror, maybe? Mother could be a psychological horror? And The Whale [his next film] is definitely a drama. So, I don't know – I’ve tried to do a bunch of different movies.
“But I've always really been focused on two things,” Aronofsky continues, “human connection and trying to portray characters that are complicated; not just good or bad, but all different types of things. Seeing how others live their lives actually does help people, because I think by showing real stories about real people – and not just superheroes or people that are heading towards a happily ever after – I actually feel like that’s more helpful than the Hollywood cliché of how a lot of entertainment seems to end.”
Ironically – given the above statement – Aronofsky chose an actor best known for his on-screen superheroics to front his human-focused science series. But as the show quickly reveals, Hemsworth is in fact just as human as the rest of us – and that, ultimately, is the point of Limitless. It’s a truly universal Disney Plus series, one whose episodes feature life-enhancing lessons that anyone, anywhere can implement into their daily lives.
Has Aronofsky heeded the advice of his own show? Sort of, he admits. “I don’t do cold showers – I don't do that. But the sauna is a big part of my life. Ice cold plunges are part of my life. Good sleep is important, definitely. Diet is important. Exercise, of course. I’m doing my best to practice what I preach, you know?”
We’re with you on the cold showers, Darren.
Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is available to stream now on Disney Plus.
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Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.
Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.