Director: Tony Stone
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Christian Calloway
Runtime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Theme)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 15 September 2022
Synopsis: From the mind of acclaimed director Tony Stone comes TED K - a bracing, cinematic journey into the tortured mind of The Unabomber. Deep in the American Rocky Mountains lived a man who sought refuge from modern society. His dark writings forewarned of a society ruled by technology. As the outside world encroached on his mountain sanctuary, he slowly became radicalized with rage. What began with small acts of sabotage, culminated with deadly bomb attacks, national media attention, and the largest manhunt in American history.
Few movies aim or succeed at depicting their subject with as much verisimilitude as ‘Ted K’. In order to immerse his audience into the mind of Ted Kaczynski, better known as the infamous domestic terrorist ‘Unabomber’, director Tony Stone painstakingly recreated his subject’s original cabin in the Rocky Mountains near Lincoln, Montana, where Kaczynski had lived alone without running water or electricity for 25 years. And for the most part, ‘Ted K’ is an intriguing character study, anchored by a harrowing performance by Sharlto Copley that grips you from start to finish.
For the uninitiated, between 1978 and 1995, Ted’s homemade bombs resulted in a number of horrible injuries and three deaths, his targets ranging from an airline executive to a computer shop owner to a lobbyist. As the opening information crawl says, Ted was a brilliant student who skipped grades to attend Harvard at the age of 16 to earn a PhD in Mathematics. Yet a year into his professorship, Ted turned his back on society and went to live up in the mountains, where his disdain for technological progress and anger at the environmental destruction he was witnessing around him drove him from small-scale sabotage to some of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in US history.
Of the many ways he could have chosen to make a film about Ted, Stone decided to try to do so by dramatizing his psychological state. Told entirely from his point of view, we descend into Ted’s mind through voice-overs of sections of his extensive writing. These narrations by Copley are sobering to say the least, in particular that from his 35,000 word manifesto called ‘Industrial Society and Its Future’ where he muses about the harmful process of natural destruction brought by technology that not only forces humans to be subservient to machinery but also in time creates a sociopolitical order that suppresses human potential.
Ted’s state of being is also glimpsed through a number of one-sided phone booth conversations with his estranged brother. It is no secret that his brother was the one who tipped off the FBI, leading to his arrest and current lifetime incarceration, and these conversations show just how much he resented yet depended on his brother. There is also one other conversation early in the film with his mother, through which we learn he blames for his resulting lack of sexual experience by putting him ahead two years at high school. As with ‘Joker’, Ted constructs a fantasy world with an imaginary girlfriend known as Becky (Amber Rose Mason), another sad reflection of his loneliness and yearning for companionship despite his deliberate isolation.
It is intentional that ‘Ted K’ comes across more as a mood piece than a well-plotted crime thriller. Through cinematographer Nathan Corbin’s stunning outdoor scenery and composer/producer Benjamin John Power’s (aka Blanck Mass) thundering electronic score, Stone underscores his subject’s grandiose delirium. On his part, Copley delivers a tour-de-force performance of visceral intensity, conveying not just his character’s palpable fury but also Ted’s fragility. Watching Copley recreate Ted’s monastic routine is nothing short of fascinating, and it is credit to his dedication to the role that we ultimately feel a tinge of sympathy for a man whose misgivings about modern society while misplaced have proven somewhat true.
‘Ted K’ isn’t an easy or comfortable film to sit through, but those willing to dive into the world of an iconoclast will find themselves rewarded with an intriguing portrait of someone so disenchanted with the world that he decided that he could no longer do nothing about it. It may not be as nuanced as some may expect it to be, but ‘Ted K’ is still an expressionistic character study that is often absorbing and at times downright compelling. At the very least, it will remind you of a time not so long ago when with hindsight, we should have been more circumspect about the impact of our actions on nature and the environment, as well as more sceptical about how technology would come to shape modern society as we know it today..
(Told with absolute verisimilitude, this unblinkered portrait of the domestic terrorist known as the Unabomber is an intriguing character study of disenchantment, vulnerability and wrath)
Review by Gabriel Chong