The 400-Word Review: Voyagers
By Sean Collier
April 10, 2021
The futility of control is a recurring theme in science fiction. Michael Crichton built a whole writing career around it; among the key bits of pop philosophy espoused in “Jurassic Park” is Dr. Sattler’s exclamation, “You never had control! That’s the illusion!”
So when the earliest scenes of “Voyagers,” a spacebound thriller from writer/director Neil Burger, depict an attempt to engineer and supervise a group of interplanetary pioneers — starting at their birth, and continuing all the way to a deep-space death — you can assume things will not go according to plan.
You could also casually observe that sending a bunch of confused teenagers onto a mission from which they’ll never return is a recipe for a messy flight.
It’s 2063, and the circumstances are stock stuff: Earth is warming, resources are scarce, we’re gonna need a new planet. Scientists identify a likely candidate, but it’s 86 years away; the genetic material of Earth’s brightest is combined into a fleet of honors students, who will be tasked not with populating the new world, but populating the ship en route to it. The third generation down will end up doing most of the colonizing.
The kids are meant to go alone, but their sad-sack mentor (Colin Farrell) is unexpectedly sent along with them. When the interstellar teens get bright enough to realize they’re being controlled — a substance in their food is keeping them docile, compliant and (uh-oh) disinterested in sex — a slow-burning rebellion starts, which will pit the crew’s alpha male (Fionn Whitehead) against the quiet, wise one (Tye Sheridan) and the logical medical officer (Lily-Rose Depp).
“Deep down, maybe this is our true nature,” muses our villain, as he advocates for assuming leadership by force of will. “Voyagers” is ultimately a somewhat pessimistic movie, one that suggests that human beings shifting from routine to freedom will inevitably default to violence — particularly when it’s time to compete for romantic attention. It’s a bit misanthropic; no matter how things turn out, you’ll likely leave the theater suspicious of your fellow moviegoers. (Or at least any teenagers you see.)
Somewhat grim outlook aside, though, “Voyagers” is a gripping, tight thriller. The so-called “sad space” subgenre — bemoaned by many, loved by me — is frequently defined by journeys where little happens; on this trip, things escalate in a hurry. Don’t be surprised to find yourself clutching the armrests.
My Rating: 7/10
“Voyagers” is playing in theaters. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, consider visiting an outdoor cinema.