I didn't start off having much sympathy for a movie like Chronicle. Its format as another “found footage” movie (in line with Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity) is starting to really wear on my patience. However, I was very much surprised by how gripping the story actually became. It is the story of three high school students, Andrew, Matt, and Steve, who undergo a great change that causes them to deal with some serious moral issues. The three are initially quite unconnected, and so the film begins by following Andrew alone. He's a social misfit in high school who lacks any social skills and begins to video tape his surroundings in order to escape his inadequacy. The taping does not go well, not least of which because of his abusive father who does not approve of his son pursuing this line of hobby. Andrew's father, an out-of-work fireman who dropped out of the force to care for his wife who is afflicted with cancer, becomes a central element in Andrew's story. Andrew's psychology is introduced in very small vignettes such as those involving Andrews' father, but creates an important foundation for what will happen afterward.
The change begins when, at a party with Matt, Andrew's cousin who spouts Schopenhauer in the first scene of the movie, and Steve, the charismatic class president, Andrew just happens to be in the same place with the other two at the right time. The three encounter a mysterious object that causes changes each of their lives. This object grants the characters preternatural powers to move objects with their minds. Initially, they cannot do more than nudge objects but, as their power grows, (they suppose because they are “exercising” their invisible mental muscles) they begin to move larger objects with more dexterity. At first, they perform “magic tricks” and pranks using these new-found skills. Soon, though, they realize how they could use this for social gain. They stage an elaborate magic show to boost Andrew's lacking social credibility and, for a time, Andrew has everything he's ever wanted: friends and respect.
The next step is the most interesting: Andrew's father tries to stop this meteoric change he sees in his son's self-confidence. Without giving much away, this occasions a moral crisis in Andrew and in the group. The question of what the powers they have been given are “for” and whether there are any limits to them becomes immediately relevant. A horrifying scene with a spider highlights this climax. After that shift in Andrew, the friends try to maintain cohesion, but quickly realize that the powers they have been given do not merely allow but inadvertently bring about the externalization of all of their desires, no matter how dark. It develops into a realistic account of how “superheroes” and “supervillans” develop. The answer: moral choices in everyday life. It is at that point that the outcome of the movie is inevitable.
The movie is engaging, although the format of the storytelling might not be for everyone. The moral psychology is a bit slow in gearing up, but provides a really interesting subject for what could have otherwise been “just another” amateur superhero movie. Instead, it shows how small moral choices really re-orient people into “good” or “evil” characters. The superpowers just serve to make their moral character external in a big way. The message, in the end, is summed up in Matt's summary of Schopenhauer at the beginning of the movie: “basically human beings have to recognize themselves as beings of pure will... all emotional and physical desires can never be fulfilled.” While not a very Catholic idea that we are just beings of pure desire, it does bring up a valuable moral point that we are all motivated by love and its how or what we love that determines our character. If I love only created objects or only myself, I will be perpetually unable to fulfill the desires I have for an infinite object of happiness. To quote Augustine, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” Chronicle, in that sense, is at root a story of unrequited love.
My Rating: 6 out of 10