In the near future of Voyagers, the climate crisis has reached such dangerous velocity that a plan develops to search the stars for a habitable planet. The journey, though, will be long, and the fear of losing the participants in the search has inspired another plan to keep them safe: Children will be bred on the ship, and by the time the vessel reaches a planet that has been identified as safe, those children will have had grandchildren that can pave the way for new life to flourish on the planet. Writer-director Neil Burger’s film begins with this fascinating and probing concept, but unfortunately moves forward with its least interesting ideas.

The more interesting ideas are there for the taking, and Burger’s screenplay at least flirts with them. In order to engineer the society to perfection, the captain of the ship, Richard (Colin Farrell), has been tasked with providing them a blue drink with a secret ingredient that will diminish their libido. At the same time, the plan has always been to breed these children to grow up and procreate. Christopher (Tye Sheridan), one of the trio of central teenagers here, notices this strange hypocrisy within the mandate of the mission, and unfortunately for everyone, so does Zac (Fionn Whitehead).

One can perhaps figure out the problem. By limiting the progression of puberty and sexual growth, the craftsmen of the mission forgot about a little thing called human nature. We are curious sexual beings, even within the strictures of something this clinical. The other problem occurs when Christopher and Zac decide to stop drinking the blue liquid. Christopher simply becomes a little more curious about the human form, specifically that of Sela (Lily-Rose Depp). Zac, who also pines for Sela, exposes that old adage about what happens when sexual education is limited simply to teaching about abstinence. A lack of understanding anything about the process of procreation leads to other things – a lack of understanding consent, for instance.

These are bold ideas, and the opening act is genuinely subversive and risky in how it approaches the idea of a society that is both sexless and somehow meant to procreate. With a strange inevitability, though, something else happens: Richard’s time on this ship is cut short, and two questions are immediately raised: What, exactly, led to the events on the outside of the ship, where one of the teenagers saw a black, shapeless force take Richard? More importantly, since he was the only adult on the ship (this seems like poor planning by any stretch of the imagination), what happens now in terms of leadership?

These are far less interesting and more mundane concerns, and the answers are as routine as one might anticipate. Richard’s death seems mysterious until a predictable twist confirms our suspicions about one character, and when elections are held and Christopher is voted ship’s captain, we also fully expect a mutiny as well as a third-act scramble to reassert his authority.
Those fascinating ideas only take hold in a few moments that confirm the film’s bleak view of human nature, such as when a pair of teenagers, Peter (Viveik Kalra) and Phoebe (Chanté Adams), are victims of Zac’s increasingly totalitarian vise grip. The point is clear: In the beginning, a society is prone to violent oppression and sexual control. That is certainly a bold idea, but Voyagers only teases without following through on its promise.

Begins with a fascinating and probing concept, but unfortunately moves forward with its least interesting ideas.
50 %
Unfulfilled Promises
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