Chronicle (now available on Blu-Ray and DVD) takes the best of found footage films like Cloverfield, the original heart of the quality-sagging series Heroes, and gives us a more intimate look at the superhero craze sweeping Americana with a more realistic view of what might happen if great powers happened to average boys. Instead of taking the sarcastic approach of Kick-Ass, Chronicle takes a sobering stance on absolute power, like a nightmarish remake of The Boy Who Could Fly. It also brings the action to my native Seattle, making it all the more personal and enjoyable. On the way, it presents some intriguing notions about three great topics: rules, naturalism, and human nature.
“We need rules, okay? Rule number one…”
Not long after these boys interact with something unusual that gives them special abilities, their mischief goes too far and someone gets hurt. Matt suggests they need rules to constrain their newfound freedoms, like the Ten telekinesis Commandments. Andrew pushes back that he can’t just have “rules” imposed on him, and what gives Matt the ability to make or enforce them anyway? The unspoken idea between them (and almost all of us) is that there is some kind of social contract, a code of conduct, that governs our behavior. Problem is, the pranks they’ve already played might not have physically harmed people, but what kind of trauma will a girl terrorized by a floating teddy bear grow up with? Who sets the boundaries? Who determines the extent of conduct and constraint? Left amongst subjective peers, Andrew Detmer naturally resists… and since his cousin Matt is already the pseudo philosopher, Andrew does some of his own research:
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading, you know? Like, online about, like, just evolution and natural selection and how like there’s this thing, right? It’s called the apex predator, right? A lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, right? You do not feel guilty when you squash a fly… and I think that means something. I just think that really means something.”
Is there REALLY something wrong with Andrew, or is he simply the wisdom of our age taken to a natural conclusion? Even if you argue he’s still part of the same species, he’s not out of bounds in regard to survival of the fittest. Just like Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the X-Men series, they aren’t out of line with a godless universe view, where the strongest species dominates. While not as charismatic or capable as these other archetypes, Andrew’s argument shouldn’t be shrugged off. While there are some reasoned arguments made by agnostics or atheists about how we determine morality and ethics, why we help the starving or underprivileged, the average person with a purely materialist view of human existence has little to offer in way of argument (without ultimately appealing to some kind of intrinsic, objective morality or higher power). If Andrew can will himself to power, why not? Because it goes against our cultural sensibilities? Because it’s anti-social? Uncivilized? What makes ANY of these concepts good or bad? It’s a great conversation starter to unveil how and why we each probably assume we’re a “good person”.
“You’re not a bad person. I know that. That’s all that matters.”
Matt looks at the chaos in Andrew’s life and defends his character, despite mounting actions that might speak to the contrary. If not Andrew himself, then who is to blame: the boy’s drunken, abusive father? The bullies at school? The pain of seeing a mother withering away from cancer? Or is it society itself, a broken system that sets all this in motion? Or should we blame the strange force that gives abilities to a young man too immature to steward them properly? “This thing, it’s just becoming a part of me now…” Andrew confesses in a cemetery. He’s been given gifts that set him apart from the rest of the world and they’re spinning out of control, more curse than blessing.
Many today will instantly take a side and polarize this issue, arguing that the person is responsible and accountable for their actions, while others will say they’re acting out of brokenness: a victim of our culture. Some argue for punishment, others loving rehabilitation. A unique facet of the Christian view is its ability to juggle these in a complementary orbit. It declares all of us have fallen short, individually and corporately. Since the first humans, we’re all varying degrees of victims and victimizers. It’s both/and.
Not unlike the boys in the film are given a gift that sets them in a different category, ALL humans have been given a gift that sets us apart from the rest of all creation: imago dei, the “image and likeness of God” according to the Book of Genesis. We’ve been given a special place at the pinnacle of creation to reflect God and exercise a loving dominion. However, in small ways and large (demonstrative like Andrew’s actions in the film, and subtle like the systemic influences that helped create him) we’ve taken God’s special honor and blessing and used it in ways that bring about curse and death. Our smaller, less “Hitler-like” daily abuses of this gift simply play into the systemic evil that eventually manifest in the more obvious “Andrews” of the world.
There’s something wrong with all of us.
God put us at the apex to reflect Him, not become the various shades of predator we manifest, lording our lives over others and loving ourselves more than God. In Chronicle Andrew is victim and victimizer, obviously wrecked and now wreaking havoc, and as the film nears its climax we look at his cries and see what resembles a rabid dog, something that needs to be put out of its own misery for himself and others. It’s tragic, yet he’s also accountable. You wish he could be saved, but know he needs to be stopped. Is there not something of Andrew in all of us, and how do we deal with that tension between accountability and redemption? We even make rules, or try to follow commandments, but all end up falling short and willfully choosing otherwise.
Early in the film, one character literally falls from the sky and is rescued dramatically by the seemingly good Andrew Detmer. However, as Andrew subsequently spirals hopelessly downward into sorrow, vengeance and evil actions – destructive to himself and others – is there no one to catch him? There are few movies that so aptly capture the essence of “there but for the grace of God, go I.”