The Earth is dead and we have to find a new home, a plot that has perhaps officially become trite and rather bleak to watch in entertainment, is the set up for Voyagers, Neil Burger’s newest film starring Tye Sheridan (the X-men franchise), Lily-Rose Depp (The King), and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk).
Humanity has located a potential new home for life. The only catch is it’s 86 years of travel away. Too far for one crew to make the journey. So they set about creating a generation ship, manned by a crew literally bred for that purpose – children who will be the first generation aboard the ship, but not the last. Their children’s children will be the explorers of the new world – if they can make it there. Along for the ride, at least the first leg of it is Richard, played by Colin Farrell a scientist and therapist who hopes to help the children.
But what happens when the kids discover they’re being drugged? And what’s that noise outside the ship? And why should they listen to anyone anyhow? As these doubts, fears, and justified frustration creep into their daily lives, 10 years into their journey, it all begins to crumble.
While the neon glow and young bodies across the marketing may have you thinking this is some sort of Euphoria-in-space, the movie itself is surprisingly tame, which works for the better all things considered. Tame might be a good word for a lot of this movie.
I’m not sure if actors enjoy this sort of role, where they’re given a pretty clear direction (play numb, subdued) but I think it gave everyone a clear path to follow and work within, possibly for the better for a cast dominated by younger faces. Their body language subdued, arms held low to their sides, tamed. When they begin to break free they race with a thrill in their hearts.
Simple words are often spoken, ‘protect’ for instance, and it packs so much meaning that the innocent crew are unable to fully understand what is meant by it. We, the worldly audience, understand what Richard means when he says he wishes to protect the children, but those children who can’t escape some instinctual fear of an ‘other’ believe it to mean something else.
It’s that kind of process throughout the movie that works really well. Simple language is used, the most basic building blocks of larger ideas, that while the characters might not be able to understand them in a larger sense, the audience can.
This can grate on you if you’re not in the mood for it. You’ve lived a whole life on this godforsaken rock and you’ll see where certain characters go wrong long before they do and their mistakes will exasperate you. Hindsight is 20/20 after all and you wouldn’t be so stupid as to be tricked or fooled or angered like this. But you haven’t been bred from a test tube for this express purpose. To work, and serve, and nothing else. You have had freedom these kids never had.
If you’re not open to it, you will get bogged down by these characters and their mistakes, after all, these are mistakes and decisions we see so many people make in the real world. But, if you can accept that Voyagers is that sort of examination of human civilization under a microscope and dialed up to 11 you’ll enjoy your time with it.
Surprisingly compelling in its simplicity. The central conceit is well-trod by now perhaps, but by building the story around innocents who lack experience and understanding ideas get examined in really intriguing ways. Characters say they want to “touch,” or “protect” but only because they lack the vocabulary to process what they’re really feeling and what they really want. This makes for ideas and moments the audience can reflect on with different levels of understanding and introspection
It’s far from great but I am truly surprised by Voyagers. Voyagers is like an onion, and as a certain ogre taught us, onions have layers. Even if those individual layers are almost sheer, when laid one after the other they become opaque, depth beneath thin and flimsy layers.
Also, Colin Farrell is Space Daddy.
Voyagers is in theaters now.