Ted K


Ted Kaczynski mulls over his alter ego.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Super LTD/Neon) Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Christian Calloway, Tahmus Rounds, Kate Scott, David Ward, Lois Keister, Teresa Garland, Nicole Welch, Andrew Senn, Megan Folsom, Brandon Seaman, Vincent James Carnevale, Ian Primus, Ben Fundis, Bobby Tisdale, Joe Felece, Amber Rose Mason, Travis Bruyer, Robert Braine, Nancy Rothman. Directed by Tony Stone

We are aware of those folks who for whatever reason choose to withdraw from society. We envision them, in their lonely cabins in the wilderness, shouting at the universe, their rage echoing harmlessly off the walls of their place of exile, taking no effect on the universe or those living in it. There are those, occasionally, who venture from their lairs and do real damage.

We are informed in a pre-credits crawl that Ted Kaczynski (Copley) was a math prodigy who got his PhD in mathematics at age 16 and was well on his way to a brilliant career as a college professor when after a year he withdrew from his university and went to live on the land near Lincoln, Montana, in an isolated cabin he built with his brother Dave.

Ted’s natural reverie is interrupted by the noise and damage of snowmobilers. Ted waits until they are away from their luxury cabin, when he breaks in and takes at their things with an axe. One gets the sense that Ted is a powderkeg of rage just waiting to explode, but he turns out to be more of a slow-burner, one whose frustration and anger percolate and simmer, releasing from time to time in acts of violence – constructing homemade bombs that would kill three and injure 22, some horribly. His acts of domestic terrorism, aimed at random targets he felt were advancing technology which he thought would destroy the human race, or defiling nature, would earn him the name he is better known as – the Unabomber.

If you’re looking into insight about what makes Ted click, you won’t find it here. Although the film uses Kaczynski’s own words (from over 25,000 pages of writing found in his cabin after his arrest) for the voiceover narration. Kaczynski’s writing style can be dubbed radical academic. A brilliant, literate man, he was nonetheless a pompous writer.

Stone, who previously directed the lyrical documentary Peter and the Farm, utilizes cinematographer Nathan Corbin’s talents extensively, creating beautiful and often bucolic images of life in rural Rocky Mountain Montana. He also utilizes the electronic noodling of Blanck Mass to often create a disturbing, discordant background. Stone doesn’t use the narrative tropes of your average biopic, but rather intersperses surreal dream images in an effort to give audiences a taste of the madness that Kaczynski was experiencing, including manufacturing a fantasy woman figure (Mason) to illustrate Ted’s simultaneous longing for companionship and misogyny.

We are not meant to understand what turned a brilliant mathematics professor into a remorseless, heartless bomber and Stone wisely doesn’t try. We get the broad strokes that Kaczynski left behind in his manifesto, but no sense of how the transformation actually occurred. We are left, then, to wonder at how someone so rational could change so radically that any logical thought he had – and it’s clear Stone believes that he had some – were suborned by acts of chaos. We never feel sympathy towards Ted Kaczynski, but we get the sense that Stone is saying that just because the Unabomber was insane doesn’t necessarily mean he was wrong.

REASONS TO SEE: Copley is mesmerizing. Wonderful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re looking for answers as to what made Kaczynski tick, you won’t find any.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, plenty of profanity and some sexual situations including brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A good deal of the production was filmed where Ted Kaczynski’s cabin actually once stood (it has since been torn down).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews; Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Hour Photo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
A Banquet

Transcendence


Johnny Depp's salary for the film is displayed behind him.

Johnny Depp’s salary for the film is displayed behind him.

(2014) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Cory Hardrict, Falk Hentschel, Josh Stewart, Luce Rains, Fernando Chien, Steven Liu, Xander Berkeley, Lukas Haas, Wallace Langham, James Burnett, Sam Quinn, Olivia Dudley. Directed by Wally Pfister

Our attitudes towards technology tend to be split down the middle. On the one hand, we appreciate the wonders of it and become addicted to our laptops, our cell phones, our microwaves and our GPS devices. We eagerly speculate as to what amazing discoveries will be a part of our daily lives ten or twenty years down the line,

On the other hand, technology terrifies us. We tremble at the thought of atomic bombs, killer drones and artificial intelligence deciding that humanity is superfluous and wiping us all out like Skynet and Judgment Day. It isn’t hard to imagine our own hubris creating the seeds of our extinction.

Will Caster (Depp) is one of the planet’s most brilliant minds, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. He and his wife and lab partner Evelyn (Hall) are on the verge of a major breakthrough, creating a machine that  will not only think analytically but feel emotions, thus having more brainpower than the combined intelligence of every human that ever lived. Scary stuff.

A little too scary for some. A group of what I guess you’d call technoterrorists – a group of angry young people out to stop technology from taking over our lives at all costs – launch a coordinated attack on artificial intelligence labs all over the country. Decades of research is wiped out in the space of hours and the possibility that the scientists will never reach their goal looms large. Worse still, Will was shot – well, grazed – but the bullet that grazed him was coated with a radioactive isotope that will kill him in a matter of weeks. You can’t say these terrorists didn’t learn well from the KGB.

Evelyn kind of loses it. She wants to save her husband but knows his body is doomed. After reading some research from a scientist who was killed in the attack, she realizes that consciousness can be uploaded into a computer – he had done it with a rhesus monkey. With no other option, she determines to follow this course. She needs help and recruits Max (Bettany), a fellow scientist and close friend to both Will and herself.

Because this untested research would never be sanctioned in any reputable lab, particularly with FBI Agent Buchanan (Murphy) keeping a close eye on things. Their mentor, Dr. Tagger (Freeman) is unlikely to be supportive either. As Will’s body deteriorates, the attempt is made. Eventually, Will’s body dies. Did his soul?

At first, it seems the effort went to naught but a single line of text – Is Anybody There? – tells them that their experiment was a success. In fact, better than; Evelyn is convinced that everything that was the essence of what Will Caster was lives on in this machine. In a sense, she has become a modern Frankenstein.

But is this really Will? When circumstances force her to upload Will to the Internet, things begin to take a sideways step. Will manipulates bank accounts and stock, allowing Evelyn to create a kind of data fortress in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. Will has started making breakthroughs in cell regeneration, allowing those who are infirm to be healed. However, the down side is that Will’s source code is also uploaded into these recipients of his generosity, making them in essence worker bees with greatly enhanced strength and speed.

Evelyn watches this with horror despite the apparently benign intentions of the new Will machine. However, if he is making fundamental changes to the DNA of the people of this town, will he use this ability to control them? And if so, will there be any true humans left?

Depp has had a string of missteps on the big screen lately and this one, according to the box office figures, isn’t going to break that string although in terms of quality it is certainly an improvement over his last couple of films. This is intelligent sci-fi, raising questions about our increasing reliance on technology as well as how much we’re willing to give up for comfort and safety. These aren’t easy questions to answer nor do the filmmakers make much of an attempt to give you any.

This is one of Depp’s most low-key performances in ages. Caster talks in a kind of monotone, probably because he’s so busy thinking. We rarely see any emotion out of Depp and therein lies the problem; Caster is already robotic by the time he becomes a machine. The change isn’t terribly noticeable. Hall, with a Cambridge education, seems overly hysterical here in playing a rational scientist although if I’d seen the love of my life waste away after being shot by terrorists, I might be a bit hysterical too.

Only Bettany acquits himself nicely here, although Murphy and Freeman are solid in small roles. The acting here doesn’t really stand out but the special effects and set design do. There is a sleek futuristic look to the Caster compound and the digital effects, while not breakthroughs, are at least wow-inducing for the most part.

I do like the concept although the film isn’t always true to its inner logic and at the end of the day, falls just shy of being a much better film than just merely entertaining. There is a lot to digest here and while it’s no 2001: A Space Odyssey it is at least better than some of the more visceral sci-fi entries of recent years.

REASONS TO GO: Great effects. Nice concept. Keeps you guessing.

REASONS TO STAY: Misses the mark. Occasional overuse of technobabble.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some action and violence (some of it bloody), a bit of sensuality and occasional foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Pfister’s debut as a director. Previously he has been a renowned cinematographer working for such directors as Christopher Nolan and Kevin MacDonald.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lawnmower Man

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Heaven is For Real