Monday, February 20, 2012

Chronicle



Another "lost footage" film? Haven't we had enough of the shaky camerawork and first-person perspective? How many Paranormal Activity movies do we really need? And who keeps finding this footage? (They clearly have great editing technique and a lot of time on their hands.) Isn't the genre beginning to fade?

Then a little film like Chronicle comes along and reignites the genre's dying coals.

A teen-driven "lost footage" super hero film, Chronicle is the Carrie for the YouTube generation. The opening scene is a camera focused on a white bedroom door with a mirror attached. No cameraman is seen. An enraged voice screams through the door, suddenly pounding with ferocity. We learn that this is the voice of the drunken father of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), the lonely teen behind the camera. "I'm filming everything now," he quips. A social outcast, Andrew documents his life for...what? To have others finally see him? To keep a record of the wrongs committed against him? Because he's a bit of a film geek? All of the above?

Andrew's only friend is his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), a popular senior with a penchant for quoting philosophy. Matt convinces Andrew to join him at a party--his first, it seems--and try to have some fun for once. The fun ends rather quickly for Andrew, who finds himself crying and alone in the woods outside the rave. Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the extremely popular and friendly senior class president candidate, finds Andrew and invites him to take his camera on an adventure. There's a hole sunk into the middle of a field deep in the woods. It's pulsing and humming, and they cannot see the bottom. Being teenage guys, Steve and Matt jump into the hole. Lighting the path with the glow of their iPhones and Andrew's camera, they discover something. Crystalline and glowing, the object emits a force so powerful that the camera goes black.

In the next scene, the three teens can make objects levitate with their minds.

What happened down in the hole? Who knows? Who cares? These guys can control things with their minds. It's called "telekinesis" (Matt looks it up on Google). If a group of teenage boys suddenly acquired super powers, what would they do?. The guys initial reaction: play pranks as they stretch their telekinetic muscles. It's typical teen boy stuff--throw stuff at each other, mess with people in department stores, play football at 10,000 feet, etc. This first half of Chronicle is a delight, with some genuinely humorous moments as the guys learn how to use their newfound powers. Steve is particularly warm and funny, well-liked by everyone both on- and off-screen. No wonder he's so popular. And no wonder Andrew isn't. He is brooding, awkward, and hostile. His constant filming puts him at a distance from others. Steve notes that the camera almost creates a barrier between Andrew and people. "Maybe I want a barrier," Andrew murmurs. His darker side is revealed when Andrew mentally slides a tailing truck right off the road into a river. As Matt and Steve frantically try to save the passengers and call the police, Andrew only continues to film, moodily muttering that it wasn't his fault.

Andrew is hurting. A drunken abusive father, a mother dying of illness, and a lack of friends and popularity all drive Andrew into dark and lonely places. Much of the film's perspective is told from his camera, which he learns to float and direct around him (a cool effect, and another new twist on the found footage genre). The camera becomes an extension of himself, a third eye with Andrew at the center of attention. Andrew is like any hurting teenager; he wants to be liked, to be understood, to find belonging, to have a sense of hope in the midst of a painful reality. The film is painfully absent of adults who are involved in these teens' lives. I wish Andrew had someone who was there for him, who loved him and could walk with him through the hurt. The adage rings true: hurt people hurt people. Imagine when that hurt teenager has telekinetic powers.

Filmmakers Josh Trank and Max Landis create some authentic teenage moments in Chronicle. The interactions between the teen guys feel genuine, and I think the entire film benefits from having a young cast and filmmakers; both Trank and Landis are 26-years-old, and the three lead actors give phenomenal performances, particularly DeHaan as Andrew. They've also used the found footage genre in a new way, offering a bit of a commentary on the YouTube generation's fascination with being on camera. From online confessions to the desire to go viral, we love putting ourselves out there on the Internet, hoping we get "liked." One female character in Chronicle has her own video camera for her personal blog. We see snippets of her footage throughout Chronicle, giving a creative second perspective on Andrew's viewpoint, as well as furthering the point that cameras are everywhere. As part of the climactic final scene--an impressive action sequence for a small indie film--Andrew mentally pulls dozens of camera phones out of bystanders' hands, creating a cluster of cameras that orbit him, documenting his every move. Like Andrew admits, our obsession with screens creates a barrier between us and the people in our lives. Is it possible to be fully present and fully authentic when I am documenting my every move?

Who is the hero of Chronicle? Who is the villain? A superhero movie surely must have these elements. Andrew commits some desperate and violent acts. But does that make him evil? Would I respond any differently, given his situation? Perhaps the villain of Chronicle is isolation. In feeling isolated from others, Andrew chooses--consciously or not--to further that spiral of isolation. He creates barriers that block intimacy, distrusts even when others try to help, and lashes out when confronted with the truth of his sinful actions. Like Adam in the garden, he chooses to hide, with only a hovering video camera for comfort. For all its wonderful connections and networks, the electronic world cannot fully save us from this isolation. We need Someone greater to save us even from ourselves.

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