Voyagers in theaters today is a gorgeous reboot of Lord of the Flies. It doesn’t carry the emotional weight as the source material, but it does offer fantastic imagery and a more optimistic view of our future.
Voyagers, which has been gathering dust since the pandemic began, finally got its theatric release today. The striking sci-fi thriller is indulgence at its best. It has been compared to Lord of the Flies endlessly and found lacking by more than few critics. Unfortunately, most of the cast’s intentionally wooden performances were misunderstood, and the complete departure from the ending muddied the best comparisons. Voyagers isn’t exactly Lord of the Flies, but it does share a lot of the same DNA.
Lord of the Flies has been put on a pedestal for a long time. Often acclaimed for its rhetoric on the state of nature and its commentary on our society, The Lord of the Flies is taught in pretty much every high school literature class, and for a good reason. It’s an easy read with surprising complexity for a story based on just a bunch of kids stuck on an island. If you were asleep during this class or just never got to reading it, here’s a quick recap.
Although it’s not explicitly stated, the all-boy class is presumed to fall somewhere from 12 to 5. On a school field trip, the boys crash onto a deserted island with no adults. What follows is the thesis for the story; the ultimate fall from civilization and the evolution of savagery within their group. The story is incredibly thought-provoking and well-deserving of its place in the classics. It has been reimagined in more ways than I can count, with Amazon’s The Wilds being the latest one to get it right.
Neil Burger, the director of Voyagers, built his island on the big screen, replacing the island with a spaceship, kids, young adults, and an all-boy cast for a mixed group of genetically modified superhumans. The story starts with a brief exposition on why the world they’re sending children into space. The Earth is dying; we are running out of resources, same old story. The teens are made from test tubes essentially with handpicked genetics. They are routinely given what’s called the “Blue,”; a cocktail of brain-altering chemicals to help reduce irrational and overly emotional behavior. This brings us to the first motif mirrored from its island comparison.
In the Lord of the Flies, a conch shell is used to uphold structure and leadership. It helps keep the boys organized and focused on survival and being rescued. Gradually, the shell loses its power, and the boys turn into aggressive tribesmen who’d much rather fight and kill than worry about trying to be saved. In equal parts, the “Blue” loses its effect on controlling the crew of the spaceship, thanks in large part to the antagonist Fionn Whitehead who plays Zac in the film. When Christopher, a dewy-eyed Tye Sheridan, and Zac decide to stop taking the supplement, they strip it of its ability.
Zac plays the carbon copy version of Jack from Lord of the flies. He aggressive, impulsive, and feeds on power. His struggle for control of the crew with Christopher builds the majority of suspense and action of the movie. Where Christopher is more focused on surviving and continuing the mission, Zac would rather explore his new emotions and feelings. For most of the crew, this means wrestling, running, and indulging their newfound sexuality.
The match that lights this black powder keg isn’t Zac; it’s Roger’s comparison Kal(Archie Madekwe). In a fit of jealousy after seeing another crew kissing his girl, Kal beats the crap out of him with a wrench. Much like Piggie’s glasses after they break, the blood-covered wrench is the crew’s loss of innocence and punctuates the creeping dread Christopher held. Kal isn’t a central character in the story, but he is nonetheless an important one. Fighting and strength become more and more critical. Voyagers version of the “beasts” from the island are aliens that “infect” the crew. A vicious mob lead by Zac brutally beat and kill one of the crew. This opens the flood gates. The two groups on the crew, led by Zac and Christopher, fight for control, with Zac finding guns but ultimately dying in the fight.
The film’s ending takes a more positive spin on human nature. Rather than the bleak view of falling into savagery when we leave civilization, the movie argues it has more to do with our leaders than anyone else. With Zac gone, the crew regroups under new leadership. While incredibly abrupt, the sunnier ending makes more thematic sense with Burger’s script. Voyagers always set out to tell a story about deception and repression being a problem, not civilization, especially when genetically superpowered children were bred to be civil.
Some wholes could have used more fleshing out. We aren’t ever told what happens to Kal, who almost finished a classic crime of passion. We have no idea how they fix all of their food storage issues; I mean, for god’s sake, half the damn room was filled with laser beam holes. But most importantly, it gives us zero commentary on how Sela turns out to be the better leader, or at least the one the crew votes for in the end. No reason is given for why she is picked in the aftermath. Perhaps women are better leaders. A recent study from S&P Global Market Intelligence found that companies with female CEOs or CFO’s were more profitable. With new-age feminism on the rise, it seemed an easy swish for the film.
In the end, Voyagers is still an amazingly stunning movie. The special effects are superb. The transition from the “Blue’s” effects feels more like you’re watching an episode of the Real World than a sci-fi version of a classic novel, and that’s not to its detriment. Everyone can relate to their teenage years, with a mix of fighting internally and externally and a shit ton of sexual urges. The movie does an excellent job of following the adage “show don’t tell” and brings the authenticity needed to bring the whole thing together. Overall I’m impressed with just how close they came with replicating this classic novel in space. Neil Burger is definitely a director to keep an eye on in the future.
Obsessed with the old gods and everything that resembles Lovecraft, Zach spends his days exploring the twists of horror films and can’t wait to discuss the latest explanations of any story