Based on Patrick Ness’ sci-fi trilogy of the same name, Chaos Walking adapts its story from the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and is set in a dystopian world where there are no women and all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts via images, words and sounds. The people in this world call this projection of thought “noise”. Things get really interesting when a woman crash lands on the planet near the male dominated settlement, a young man decides to help her escape from the men of his community.
I have to admit when I first heard of the premise for this movie, I thought it sounded a little silly and it wasn’t high on my list of movies to see. I’m glad I pushed past my initial doubts and caught this at the cinema as Chaos Walking proved to be quite an interesting sci-fi adventure that explores the impact on society if we all knew what everyone else was thinking.
Throw in a futuristic Old West vibe on another planet and what you get is an anxiety inducing eye-opening reality of what it would be like to know another person’s thoughts and have them know your thoughts while going on an action adventure with a girl you fancy. Oh, and she’s the first girl you’ve ever met. There are many laughs to be had.
The simple life of Todd (Tom Holland) and the all-male inhabitants of his colony far from Earth is turned upside down when a woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley) crashlands onto the planet. Distrustful of her because women don’t have “noise” and therefore can’t have their thoughts read, the men are not welcoming of their new guest. When Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) decides to use her knowledge of an incoming spacecraft for his own purposes, Viola must escape to another settlement if she has any hope of making contact with the ship.
Having been raised on a spaceship her entire life, Viola isn’t equipped with the skills to live off the land and survive the dangerous journey. Fortunately for her, Todd, who has never seen a woman before and was raised on the planet, has decided he will help her contact the ship and accompany her across the dangerous path ahead. But with Mayor Prentiss and his hunting party in hot pursuit as well as other obstacles that are part of mother nature, Todd and Viola will have their hands full if they are to survive this adventure.
Tom Holland gives a strong performance as Todd, a resolute young man raised on another planet in a society closed off from the rest of humanity. Despite wanting to do right by Mayor Prentiss who he looks up to and yearns praise from, Todd knows that doing the right thing is to go against his own kind and to help Viola escape. Sure, part of what drives him is that he’s attracted to her and wants to be around her. But despite the drive he gets from his underused hormones, he’s a man of morals and will help Viola despite not wanting her to leave.
What makes this role so interesting – and comedic – for Holland is that we know what’s happening inside his character’s head in addition to what he says and what he does. On the outside he projects a noble, heroic man whose actions contribute to saving a woman in need. However, because we the audience – and Viola – are privy to thoughts he struggles to conceal, we learn about his inner conflict, his selfish desires, his decision making, his fears, his embarrassment, his instinct and his memories.
It’s such a simple idea, though one that works fantastically to create a three-dimensional character where we see that his physical actions are heroically simple, yet what drives him to take action is not simple. When we see what he wants for himself and what he will do to help others, we learn how courageous he really is.
Daisy Ridley also gives a great performance as Viola, the woman who has only known life on a spaceship and now finds herself on a planet where she knows all the immediate thoughts of the men around her – especially the thoughts of the young, smitten Todd traveling with her. She’s never experienced rain or eaten food that comes directly from an animal or been exposed to deal with life and death violence. Yet despite her lack of planetary experience, she’s not naive to recognizing danger posed by her fellow human being.
Highly educated and resourceful as well as having a personal drive greater than Todd, Viola is quick to identify that despite Mayor Prentiss’s welcoming demeanor, she is in danger and needs to get away. It’s a fantastic female role where she is just as capable as her male co-star – albeit with a different skill set – and Ridley really nails it.
Director Doug Liman has done a solid job telling an engaging story that feels like an American frontier western yet is set in the future on another planet. Even though this is a sci-fi adventure, it is strongly driven by character – especially with the element of “noise”. Because people are thinking all the time, we are constantly exposed to the thoughts of all male characters in the story.
So even though there are constant special effects showing “noise”, it’s handled in such a way as to compliment the actor’s performance instead of distracting the audience with the visuals. All this contributes to exceptional character development despite the overall plot being relatively simple.
Whenever I’ve thought about what type of superpower would be cool to have, reading people’s thoughts is definitely up there on the list with being able to fly or breath underwater. Chaos Walking shows us that being able to know what other people are thinking wouldn’t actually be a nice ability to have – especially if you couldn’t turn it off or on and everybody had it. Liman has done a great job showcasing the anxiety, guilt and stress this ability might have on people.
Chaos Walking is an awesome sci-fi adventure that gives the audience some truly interesting ideas to ponder while still offering all the adventure and fun you’d expect in a futuristic, dystopian survival story. While there are a few plot points that don’t work (which I won’t reveal, lest I ruin the twists), this is still an expertly directed film with great performances from Holland and Ridley that I’m glad I was able to catch at a real cinema once again.