Posted on 2/17/12 01:40 AM
If indeed the crackpots are all somehow right about 2012 being our last year on the Earth as we know it, Hollywood is at least choosing to celebrate it with a bang. Not only are many highly anticipated sequels arriving in theaters, but several new original properties will be showcased throughout the year.
And what a beginning to the new year has it been! Even while suffering through the usual crap that gets dumped off in January, we still had movies ranging from worthy to great leftover from the holiday season, including Sherlock Holmes, Mission Impossible, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Then in January we experienced our first George Lucas project in decades that wasn't related to Star Wars, which didn't totally suck either (I still think Red Tails got an unfairly bad rap from critics, as if they were too eager to tear the film apart). And now, something totally unexpected has popped up: a found footage film that isn't schlocky horror, and in fact is an early contender for the best original property of the year.
Chronicle's story is simple enough: three teens discover a strange object, possibly of celestial origin, which gives them telekinetic powers. As their new abilities grow to awe inspiring and dangerous proportions, how they choose to use those powers begins to diverge, until an explosive finale becomes a necessity.
Oh, guess what? There be spoilers below.
To go into greater detail *skip to the end of the brackets if you're not interested in the synopsis*: [[[Andrew is a withdrawn, troubled teenager who decides to start filming everything. Most of the film takes place from the perspectives of the cameras he wields. The footage he shoots is interspersed with footage recovered from local security cameras and others' personal cameras. He has a cousin, Matt, who's more "normal," if the term may be applied. Matt is uncomfortable around Andrew, due to Andrew's strange mannerisms (a repeated line throughout the movie is how weird Andrew is for wanting to film everything.) However, deep down Matt does give a damn, and it shows in his attempts to get Andrew involved in more friendly interactions with other students. The third principle player in the movie, Steven, is the "popular" guy, a teen so popular and good with people he declares that he wants to go into politics as a career (instant sympathy points for anyone who wishes such a masochistic goal upon themselves!) Steven gets introduced at exactly the right time to get the plot moving; he knows Matt better than he knows Andrew, but approaches Andrew for the video camera when he and Matt discover a hole out in the woods while attending a party at an abandoned farm.
Andrew reluctantly accompanies Steve and Matt down the hole in the woods, where they find a reject from a Superman set-basically, a giant glowing crystal which very obviously and deeply affects them physically.
In the following days and weeks, the trio discover the telekinetic powers the crystal has bestowed upon them, and learn how to develop and control their abilities in much the way that any teens would-through silly pranks and games.
However, while the worst consequences that Matt receives for playing with his powers are some questions from- and a budding relationship with- his classmate Casey (the strong female archetype unfortunately being the most we see out of her character), and Steve only suffers worried voicemails from his girlfriend, Andrew's life, which is already rough, gets even worse. See, Andrew's mother is dying of cancer, and his father, who also suffered a disabling injury as a firefighter, copes with both issues by drinking all day and hurling abuse at Andrew. The abuse gets worse as Andrew's father notices his strange behavior, then discovers the camera (which is said by him to be worth 500 dollars.) Due to the ever increasing abuse heaped on him by his father and his classmates, Andrew loses the last shreds of empathy he has for other people (a process first exhibited when he deals with an aggressive driver honking his horn at the trio's car by flicking it off the road and into a river) and adopts the idea that he's become an "apex predator," a superior being who shouldn't be saddled with responsibility not to harm others. This culminates in a confrontation with his father, a temper tantrum in which he accidentally kills Steve with lightning, an attempt to rob money to pay for his mother's medication, and finally a final attempt to murder his father, followed immediately by a final, citywide battle with Matt, who finally realizes that Andrew can't be saved, and can only be stopped. Andrew's rampage is only stopped when Matt impales him on a spear thrown telekinetically from behind.]]]
One can't help but sympathize with what these kids go through. They didn't ask for these powers, they weren't given a manual, and Andrew especially never received the love and support he would have needed in order to deal with his powers responsibly. The abuse his father and peers heap on him has left him understandably hostile and bitter. Knowing what we do about his life, we can't help but feel the tragedy of Andrew's descent into violence and rage. And with Matt, we get the unexpected blossoming of a superhero origin which rivals the best comics have offered in the last 50 years.
Thankfully, the movie doesn't overdo it on the philosophy or psychoanalysis. It establishes exactly what we need to know in order to understand why the characters we see act the way they do, and leaves the heavy thinking to us. We don't need to have a long monologue to explain Andrew's motivations; we see it spelled out in his temper and rage, reactions to the injustices he suffers. The poor kid would give anything to be left alone, to not be criticized, ordered around, pushed back and forth, picked on, beaten or yelled at. We've all been there; perhaps our situations aren't as extreme as Andrew's, but we feel his pain. That's what makes a movie about telekinetic teens so realistic.
And really, even the ending is realistic and touching. Matt may have had to kill Andrew, but the message he delivers into the camera at the end is one of quiet regret that he never got to tell Andrew that he loved him. It is at this point that the point is driven home: we are not to hate Andrew, or ridicule him. We are meant to understand the tragedy of his life, feel his pain and learn from it.
After all, it's quite possible that a little bit of empathy can save lives, even if the one who needs that empathy isn't a telekinetic Superman.
Overall, even though it's incredibly early in the year, it's probable that Chronicle will remain as one of 2012's most important movies. It is one that many of us will be better off having watched.