Chronicle – A life lived (and lost) on camera
I think that Chronicle may end up being one of my favorite movies for 2012 because it was so surprisingly complex. What I’m about to write is not a review of this film but rather some observations about the way the film told it’s story and used it’s medium to such tremendous effect. Because of that, there will be spoilers. Lots of ’em.
Chronicle combines two of the more popular genres in filmmaking today – the found footage film and the super hero film. Obvious statement, yes, but what I find interesting is the way the filmmakers used the idea of found footage within the film. They could have just had one of the characters in the movie filming everything and (obviously) they did. But as the movie progressed they made a film that took the act of recording everything and turned that behavior into an integral piece of the story.
When we meet Andrew at the beginning of the film, we see him as he has decided that he is going to film his life. Why is he doing this? When his dad knocks on the door, we think that Andrew is looking to chronicle abuse. If that were the case, though, you might expect him to go to the police to ask for help. That never seems to be his intent.
In fact, the camera becomes an obsession with him. As his powers develop, one of the first things he does is figure out how to remotely operate the camera. Near the end of the film, he surrounds himself with dozens of cameras, all recording what is going on. Yes, it was absolutely done so the movie could remain a found footage film even though Andrew no longer had a camera. But knowing that storytelling necessity, he made a decision that was in character
So what is Andrew doing? The film doesn’t come right out and say it but it seems that he is using the camera as a way to detach himself from the world. By creating a video chronicle of his life, he doesn’t have to be a direct participant. He reaches the point where he is unwilling to engage in an important conversation without having a camera there.
Well of course. This is a found footage film and we need to see the important conversations. Given the conceit of the found footage film, one wouldn’t have any issue with the “important” conversations being filmed. Except all the other characters in the film notice the camera. And they comment on it. And they ask him to stop.
His obstinance when it comes to filming everything is what really caught my attention. They didn’t have to make the fact he filmed everything such a big deal. But they did.
The found footage genre has arisen lately because it is so easy for anyone to film everything. We can film ourselves with our computers, our cell phones and yes, even video cameras. Telling a story through footage we make “ourselves” makes sense to us because most of us are, in effect, telling our story on camera all the time.
Before this film began, Andrew was not filming himself at all. He makes a conscious decision to start capturing his life and that decision has ramifications throughout he remainder of the film.
He gets his powers because Matt and Steve wanted their discovery captured on film. He follows his darker impulses because Steve captures an embarassing moment on camera. At some point, Andrew has reached the point that he desperately needs the camera there. The behavior borders on an addiction.
In the third act of the film, the camera comes to represent the way Andrew detatches himself from everyone around him. He doesn’t feel alive if he is not on camera. When he feels he no longer has any friends, the camera becomes his companion. The irony is that the camera itself is what is preventing him from connecting to the friends that are trying to reach him.
The reason I note all this is because I think it represents a remarkable amont of thought by Max Ladis and Josh Trank. A film like this doesn’t need to dig that deeply into Andrew’s motivations to film himself. We could simply see his horrible life and we’d find it relatively easy to understand how he could slip from a troubled young man into a super criminal. Yet, they chose to add that extra dimension.
That dimension doesn’t just deepen Andrew’s character, it deepens the entire film because it is no longer “just” a found footage film. It is also a film about why the footage exists in the first place.