The Common Good
April 2012

A Sci-Fi Take on Adolescence's Brutal Truth

by Gareth Higgins | April 2012

Along with the silent film The Artist, Haywire, and War Horse, the smartest wide-release recent movie is Chronicle, a kinetic fusion of Breakfast Club-style teenage angst with ...

Along with the silent film The Artist (a delightful evocation of how the creative urge, when repressed, can deaden the soul), Haywire (a fantastically entertaining but politically troubling thriller about the interconnectedness of security states), and War Horse (a vastly underrated, beautiful, profoundly anti-violence film), the smartest wide-release recent movie is Chronicle, a kinetic fusion of Breakfast Club-style teenage angst with post-9/11 violence-as-a-way-of-life (or at least way-to-be-noticed). It’s one of those movies following The Blair Witch Project that purports to be a documentary but isn’t. Everyone has a camera in Chronicle’s Seattle. The protagonists may not have been born when Kurt Cobain died, but they represent the sarcastic, nerdy, depressed, exploited, and economically disenfranchised generation he sang for just as well as their parents, if not more so.

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In the film, three teenagers discover a mysterious underground chamber, develop telekinetic power, and experience what it is to live with inordinate responsibility. At first, it’s just a good laugh—making Legos fly, stopping forehead-directed baseballs with a well-chosen thought—but things eventually take a troubling turn. Chronicle tells much the same story as many high school films: the soon-to-be class president who doesn’t have to ask anyone for anything, the jock who learns courage the hard way, the geek who lashes out to overcompensate for his own vulnerability. But its great strength is to take the geek more seriously than the jock and the popular dude.

Dane DeHaan, looking like a younger, skinnier, angrier Leonardo DiCaprio, plays the central role for all it’s worth. He makes the audience both identify with his pain (loneliness, a violent father, and a mother whose serious illness is subject to the absurdities of a broken health care system) and accept some responsibility for his eventual violent failed catharsis. He has an advantage, because each of us knows that we have mistreated people like him before (and some of us, of course, have been him)—people who don’t fit in with the way masculinity is expressed, or how sexuality is “supposed” to work, or what makes a “good American.”

Chronicle does a brilliant job of reminding us that the transition to adulthood is hard, and learning to deal with your own power may be the hardest task of all. Some elements of the solution will appeal to Sojourners readers (let’s just say it involves international travel, pacifism, and meditation), but the journey there provides both an immensely exciting action film and a story about just how difficult it is to grow up in a culture that often treats young people as merely consumers, potential economic machines, or objects of fear.

Gareth Higgins, a Sojourners contributing editor and executive director of the Wild Goose Festival, lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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