When I saw the trailer for Chronicle, I just thought it looked cool. Three high school buddies make a discovery that leads to supernatural telekinetic capabilities. They’re on some Magneto type shit. The tagline for the movies asks, “What are you capable of?” Chronicle examines this question as well as the circumstances that teenagers face as they try to navigate the difficult path to adulthood.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is a withdrawn high school senior. His nights are spent caring for his dying mother while fending off an abusive father, and his days are spent being bullied at school. The lone bright spot of his day seems to be when his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) picks up him in the morning. Like Andrew, Matt also rejects the social norms of high school, but their similarities don’t go beyond a shared disdain for the social pecking order. Andrew lacks the social skills necessary to form meaningful friendships with most of his peers. This deficit is highlighted by his decision to chronicle his life experiences at home and school. Originally it seemed that he just wanted to document his father’s abuse, but he ends up taking a video camera to school and filming his peers, which doesn’t always go over well. Andrew is thoughtful and passive, hardly deserving of the stream of abuse he seems to get from everywhere. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, and the depiction of his torment is especially relevant in this age of bullying.
Matt tries to get Andrew out of his shell and persuades him to attend a party, where he encounters Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan, Red Tails), the most popular guy in school. Steve is one of those rare guys that actually is smart, popular, ambitious, and…nice. Despite his athletic prowess and immense popularity, he is genuine and friendly. He takes a liking to Andrew even though their paths never cross at school. I thought this was a little unrealistic, because teenagers aren’t known for their willingness to step outside the box and transcend the clearly defined social roles they occupy. Keep in mind that the movie is a chronicle of Andrew’s life, and the story is always told through the lens of his camera and his perspective. Steve tells Andrew that he and Matt have found something cool that might be worth filming. They take him to an open field near the house party where they see a huge crater that has formed a tunnel beneath the ground’s surface. Eventually Andrew follows Matt and Steve underground where they encounter an otherworldly source of light and sound. As they get closer their noses begin to bleed, and eventually they are scared off.
A short time later, the boys realize that their experience has left them with telekinetic powers. They have the ability to move objects with their minds. Think Carrie mixed with the aforementioned Magneto. Initially their powers are weak, but the more that they use them, the stronger they get, and very quickly. They spend a Saturday practicing their powers by playing pranks on unsuspecting shoppers at the mall. It’s harmless, but it shows their willingness to screw with people without regard for their feelings. Matt makes a teddy bear chase a little girl in a toy store, which is not funny – it’s terrifying. In a bit of foreshadowing, when it is Andrew’s turn for a trick, things take a turn for the worse. As the guys are driving home, an impatient vehicle begins blowing its horn behind them. With a small waive of his hand, Andrew sends the vehicle careening off the side of the road into a lake. The driver survives, but Matt is compelled to lay down some ground rules after the incident. He doesn’t want them to use their power on other people or in public. Matt and Steve are content with their existing strength, but Andrew has been victimized his whole life and this new ability is wildly empowering. Their unique bond solidifies their friendship, but Andrew’s abusive past has left him unequipped to deal with his new powers, with devastating consequences.
I enjoyed Chronicle because it showed how the seduction of power can corrupt even the meekest among us. It can be difficult to display humanity when your life experiences have not been very humane. Likewise, the movie also showed the difficult choices that must be made when a friendship becomes toxic. It captured the angst, uncertainty, foolishness, and blissful naiveté of the teenage years, and posed some very thoughtful questions. Visually, there was some stunning imagery, including a scene where the boys play football in the clouds. Good movie.