The Philosopher’s Review for the Movie Chronicle (2012)
I liked Chronicle — one of the most realistic movies involving outlandish super powers. This time the super power involved is telekinesis. I will say a little about what I liked and didn’t like about the movie in additional to discuss some of the philosophical implications.
What I liked — It is very realistic compared to other movies with similar elements. It can be compared to Heroes, Unbreakable, Hancock, The Butterfly Effect, Jumper, and the Twilight Zone episode Prime Mover.” The acting was very good, the special effects were very good, it showed them having fun with their powers, it had male bonding, and it was a character-driven story. Moreover, it made more sense than I expected. (I already knew that someone would become something like a “bad guy” in the movie.) Finally, I like that it presents us with important philosophical questions.
What I didn’t like — The movie was very good, but it could have been great. The movie would have been better if it kept things low-key like Unbreakable or the Butterfly effect. The “grand finally” of the movie is like a fireworks display similar to the movie Akira — and it’s done about as well as possible. It is fun to watch, and it wasn’t unmotivated. It shows us how completely awesome telekinesis can be. Even so, I would have preferred not to have it happen.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie more than Jumper and Hancock, but not as well as Unbreakable or the first season of Heroes. I would give it an 8/10.
How it relates to philosophy — Like H. G. Well’s Invisible Man and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Chronicle is a take on the “Ring of Gyges” — discussed in Plato’s Republic — where a man finds a ring that makes him invisible and results in absolute unaccountability. The man decides to abuse this power by murdering the king and becoming the new king. According to Plato, Glaucon uses the Ring of Gyges story as a thought experiment to illustrate that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Or, more precisely, we must be held accountable for our actions or we will do immoral things.) Socrates disagrees and argues that a wise and virtuous person would try to do the right thing, even if they are never held accountable. What we do in secret would be an indication about how wise and virtuous we are.
Chronicle seems to mostly side with Socrates. Someone under a great deal of stress could be driven mad by power, but well-adjusted people would not need an outside force (e.g. the police) to put them in their place. We care about people and we are not murderers simply because of laws or the police. Even those under stress are likely to regret hurting people and abusing their power.
Do you agree with Chronicle or Glaucon? Do well-adjusted people need to be held accountable by an outside force in order to behave morally? Or would someone need to be unusually virtuous and wise to resist the temptation to abuse our power?
Update: I confused the Twilight Zone episodes “The Mind and the Matter” with “Prime Mover.” The title above is now correct.
- H. G. Well’s Invisible Man
- Plato’s Republic
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s piece on Thought Experiments.