The Bock’s Office: ‘Chaos Walking’ a wildly uneven yet insightful parable
For Craig Press
To be alone with your thoughts can be an opportunity for self-reflection and growth for the best of us or an assault of vicious notions and mental masochism for others.
Either way, be glad you have some sense of quiet, since the people of “Chaos Walking” don’t have that luxury.
In the 23rd century, civilization has moved beyond Earth in an attempt to preserve mankind. A colonized planet known as New World provides a hospitable atmosphere for humanity with only one major hitch.
The Noise is a mutation unleashed by the planet that amplifies thought patterns and vocalizes them in a form of uncontrollable telepathy, a condition that appears to affect only males. Growing up in a village of just men, Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) has never known a life with women nor one in which his every thought isn’t always being broadcast for everybody else.
However, his existence is about to change forever with the arrival of a young woman (Daisy Ridley) who crash-lands on the planet as part of an expedition from a larger space fleet.
“Chaos Walking,” rated PG-13
2.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir
Besides being mystified by someone who’s not afflicted by The Noise, Todd is amazed by the immediate effect she has on everyone around him, which is not for the better, prompting him to help her find a way to get off the planet.
Though he’s gotten familiar with having a superpower after five Marvel movies as Peter Parker, Holland is more in X-Men territory here as teenage Todd consistently tries and fails to harness the sixth sense he’s inadvertently acquired. With a CGI purple swirl around his head at nearly all times to represent The Noise, his voice can be heard constantly with every minor thought, most of which are him just trying to calm himself and control it.
Even though the kid is already unable to keep a secret to himself, it only gets more awkward when he sees a girl for the first time — yellow hair, yellow hair, yellow hair…
Looking drastically different with bright blonde tresses compared to her most famous character’s dark-hued poms, Ridley is in fine form as the exasperated gal Viola, who finds herself attached to the well-meaning but leering teen who, through no fault of his own, can’t comprehend the idea that someone can think something without accidentally shouting it.
Naturally, she’s centuries ahead of most of the men she encounters, nearly all of whom have gone so far backward they treat their new planet like the Wild West in attitude and stereotypes. Western tropes abound, including the wise yet shady mayor (Mads Mikkelsen), his spoiled and violent son (Nick Jonas) and most notably a fire and brimstone preacher (David Oyelowo) who takes misogyny to new levels and fully embraces the effects of The Noise as the voice of God.
It’s worth it to note that in some sci-fi franchises, this particular time period has warp drives, teleportation and Starfleet Academy, but then again Captain Kirk and company did visit a lot of Podunk planets…
Patrick Ness’s young adult dystopian trilogy gets some significant changes in the adaptation of his first installment, “The Knife of Never Letting Go” — Because why would you want a title that compels anyone to pull it off the bookshelf? — given that Holland is significantly older than the book’s 13-year-old protagonist.
Other elements, such as Todd’s adoptive fathers (Demián Bichir, Kurt Sutter), why New World looks like what might happen if the Pacific Northwest spread across the entire globe, and the presence of a native race known as the Spackle — which settlers arrogantly and ironically call “aliens” — are barely touched upon in the screenplay by Ness and Christopher Ford.
Director Doug Liman seems a little more intrigued by the visual possibilities afforded by The Noise, which, when wielded correctly, allows its users to mentally project important images they either can’t put into words or fantasies they’d like to see come true.
We’re lucky that most guys have learned to suppress their id enough that we don’t have to be subjected to their worst thoughts.
Seriously, just consider the most evil thought you’ve ever conjured up and imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t stop screaming it. Then imagine if that were everybody’s burden. All the time.
When we’re all doing it — by choice or otherwise — it becomes normal, and the bar for decency continues to sink.
The main hypothesis of this story — that when left to their own devices in an unfamiliar environment, men won’t take long to exploit it and screw it up — is hammered home, especially once Todd and Viola begin exploring more of the planet and start gaining some perspective.
The title of “Chaos Walking” barely means anything other than describing the mess that is the human psyche, yet it seems apt enough a name for such a movie, which is 90% premise and 10% plot. Even so, it’s an intriguing watch both because of its message that the future is female and the painful reminder that New World is not too far off from modern sensibilities in the darkest corners of the internet.
Remember, every time you visit a message board, The Noise wins.
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