Voyagers is a new scifi movie that had the unfortunate luck to be released at a time like this. Why do I say that? Because this movie is really pretty damn good. For lot of reasons.
The story goes something like this: In the future (duh) humanity is in dire straits (always) and a mission is dreamed up to send a spaceship full of colonists to a world far far away. Physics being what it is and all, its gonna take a few generations to get there. Meaning anyone we put on this ship is going to essentially live and die there in the full knowledge that they won’t see the end of the mission.
So they raise up a bunch of kids in isolation, under the tutelage of Richard (Colin Farrell) with one goal in mind: prepare them for this mission, and literally nothing else. He convinces mission control to allow him to accompany them on the trip. They successfully launch and everything is pretty cool…
… until these kids grow up a little. They start to develop into full-fledged human beings, with hormones and desires, curiosity, and unfortunately that means they also get the shitty emotions: jealousy, fear, anger, etc. To help mitigate this, they are given a daily concoction called “the blue” that keeps them on point for the mission.
Eventually though, a few realize what’s happening, and they stop taking it. One thing leads to another, and they start to ask questions, start to actually face these newly discovered feelings and emotions.
And all hell breaks loose.
Richard winds up dying in an accident, which is played into an “alien invasion” by Zac (Fionn Whitehead) in an attempt to gain followers to his faction. Meanwhile, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) frantically try to figure out exactly what happened to Richard, while maintaining some semblence of order as the ship descends into teenage frathouse style chaos.
Now, you might read that and think, “well that’s kind of dumb” and the trailers, well, honestly the trailers I saw didn’t do much to counter that first impression. But you know what?
There’s more to it than that. A lot more. Let’s just recount a couple of references and callbacks to classic scifi and literature for a moment if we can.
First off is the obvious callback to THX-1138, with the drugs keeping the crew “in line” and their emotions and all that in check. In a similar spiral to that movie, our main characters start to “come out” of their shells once they stop taking the blue. They discover who they really are, and they start to develop feelings for each other, and all the jealousy, rage, lust, and whatever else a sudden surge of teenage hormones might bring about, especially if those have been suppressed for literally years.
Once the factions start to solidify, its patently clear that we’re now in an interstellar scifi version of The Lord of the Flies, as the crew starts to splinter and they are forced to essentially develop a functioning society on their own.
OK, sure, the big question is: Why would anyone think this wouldn’t eventually happen? Did they really think that a ship full of teenagers would just “do what they’re told” by default? Even if they’re all drugged into submission, the odds of that happening without incident are pretty slim. Yeah its a plot hole, but you’re just gonna have to run with it.
Another “thing” that happens is Zac inventing this myth of the alien monster to keep people scared and under his control. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this is an obvious jab at religion and politics all in one go, and for me it just works. Just goes to show that even in our most basic and base modes, we are hard wired to do this kind of crap. Sucks but there it is.
Then there are the philosophical conundrums that arise from this. What do you do if you realize that you’re living a meaningless existence, with the only task of surviving into adulthood and making more humans. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yeah, its the entirety of human existence boiled down to its core. What are we but just pawns here to perpetuate the species? With a driving desire to be so much more than that….
You’ve also got to put yourselves in their shoes. Remember being a teenager moving into adulthood proper and realizing that …shit, you’re on your own without much help, that there are people out to get you, but that some people actually do care… There are just so many things that happen to these kids that is relatable…. Even if its condensed into some really brief moments, these are things we all had to go through at one point or another.
And the kicker to me, is that Voyagers does all of this, asks all these questions, explores all these topics, and it does it in a really smart way, and without relying on excessive profanity, or excessive gratuitous sex and violence… Sure there’s a lot implied. A whole hell of a lot, but they could have went one direction with it, and they didn’t. Proof that you don’t need that stuff to tell a good, semi-deep, insightful story.
Look, I don’t want to gush too much about Voyagers, but I honestly think this movie could stand up against those “Golden Age” movies from the late-1960’s and early 1970’s. I would like to see us look back on this as an undiscovered classic and take it for what it is. I fear that its just going to get swept under the rug, and remain relatively unknown.
Voyagers premiered April 9th in theaters, but at this point its available via various pay-per-view type outlets. I recommend you go give it a watch, maybe even two just to get all the nuances and less obvious themes and references. I think it’s that good.
My final verdict? I’m probably going to raise a few eyebrows and give Voyagers a full-on 4.3 / 5. I liked it that much. I was not expecting to like it, but once I started noticing the undertones and themes, I couldn’t help it. I don’t know why this only has a critic score of 26% on RT, because I thought it was well-thought out and well-executed. Could it have gone further? Sure, but then the movie would have been four hours long and had a strong R-rating. As it is, with the somewhat simplified themes and PG-13 rating, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Voyagers as an introduction to “smart” scifi, or even to these types of themes and concepts, even into the classroom.
Is it a PhD-level thesis on theses topics? Not even close, but its otherwise a great way to get you thinking, and that’s what scifi is supposed to do.