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Review: Voyagers (2021)

Voyagers (2021)

Directed by: Neil Burger

Premise: An uncredited adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In the near future, humanity sends a crew of children into space to colonize a distant planet. When the crew has reached their teenage years, disruptions of their routines lead to chaos.

What Works: The past few years have seen several science fiction movies about interstellar colonization with many of the films dramatizing the technical challenges. These pictures are a response to climate change and this planet’s unfolding ecological crisis; these are stories about starting over with the hope of redemption and second chances. Voyagers implicitly asks a provocative question: if human nature is consistent, why would we expect that a new human civilization would turn out any differently than the old one? This film uses William Golding’s Lord of the Flies as its template (although Golding is not credited). That novel was about British school boys stranded on an island and gradually turning savage. Voyagers relocates the action to space with a multiracial and multigender crew but the narrative works through nearly all the same beats. This is an impressive adaptation and filmmaker Neil Burger finds ways to repurpose the elements of Golding’s novel without them seeming shoehorned into the story. And in some ways the scenario of Voyagers makes the premise more credible. The young people aboard this spacecraft have been denied the moderating influences of socialization and they are psychologically incapable of dealing with the urges of adolescence. Voyagers also refutes contemporary (and wrong) interpretations of Lord of the Flies as about toxic masculinity. The fact that the crew is both male and female and of various ethnicities suggests that savagery and tribalism are a product of nature rather than nurture.

What Doesn’t: One widely criticized aspect of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is its ending. The conclusion of the book is sometimes regarded as a copout. The ending of Voyagers is the one place where the movie diverges considerably from its inspiration but the filmmakers create their own problems. After destabilizing life aboard the spacecraft, the filmmakers opt for a tidy conclusion that restores order and ends the story more or less happily. While it is a different ending from the source material, this is also a simplistic resolution that forces the violence and chaos into retreat without really dealing with the implications of what’s happened. The finale undermines the most provocative and interesting implications of this story.

DVD extras: Featurettes.

Bottom Line: Voyagers is an interesting spin on Lord of the Flies. Although the end is compromised, this is a mostly successful adaptation and the science fiction setting allows for some new perspectives on the material.

Episode: #870 (September 26, 2021)