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‘Voyagers’ Explores the Core of Humanity Whilst Hurtling Through Space

April 9, 2021
3 min read time

Voyagers is set in the not-so-distant future when Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable and humankind needs to seek life on other planets. The story follows a space crew solely made up of young people who were bred and trained for this mission since birth. They are to spend 86 years on a spacecraft in the hopes of colonizing a new planet with their grandchildren. The plan goes wildly astray when the crew begins to defy the rules laid out for them and rely on their primal instincts to lead them instead. Driven by their want for pleasure and power, chaos consumes the ship. Life quickly turns from peaceful and sustainable to survival of the fittest. 

Voyagers writer-director Neil Burger says that the inception of the film sprang from two images that came to him.

“The first was a group of young people sitting around inside a spaceship. They were disheveled, zoned out, and looking like predators resting after a hunt,” he said.

The second image was “that same group of people chasing another crew member down the narrow corridor of the ship, pursuing him like an animal.” 

Those images stuck with Burger; he continued to think about them and he felt that there was something meaningful there. What were these young people doing on a spacecraft? He wanted their story to be based in reality. He created an idea about children who were born in captivity and cultivated for this mission. From there, a theme started to emerge about human nature and human nature in a vacuum. This poses the main question of the film: Who are we at our core?

Burger’s writing process for the film was simply to "keep writing," and not let himself stop. He avoided writer's block by moving between many elements of the film. 

"It might be research, or it might be something like scientific research on the engineering of the thing, or it might be something on character. Or I might work on the ending, or I might work on the beginning, or I might work on some character's backstory," he said.

"I just try to keep writing and I just kind of spew it all out. And then there's a long process of kind of going through all those notes and different passages. And sometimes there are just lines of dialogue and things like that, and then putting them in some kind of order that then I can use. I have outlines that are like, 100 pages long because they encompass all these different ideas. And then it's a matter of forming them into a more finished script."

Burger's extensive research for the film included speaking to astrophysicists and people at NASA. One of the most interesting things he did was visit SpaceX with his production designer, Scott Chambliss (whose impressive body of work includes Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III,  and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2).

"We hung out there for a little bit and they were very generous with their time ... giving us access to their engineers, and really even sitting in their mock-up of their capsules. And it was incredibly impressive, actually, and informative and useful in the process."  

In the beginning of Voyagers, the crew obediently takes a daily dose of “the blue,” which, unbeknownst to them, suppresses all their most human desires and instincts. What is “the blue” of our world?

"It's all of those kinds of constraints that are put on us from … outside authority. Prescription drugs is kind of an obvious one, but sort of on the nose. I think ... it's more about, as you said, societal norms ... that you're supposed to behave this way, and do this, and act this way. So it's really just symbolic of that,” Burger said.

Voyagers could be seen as a futuristic Lord of the Flies. While Burger has read the book a number of times, it was not an influence on the idea for the story. However, when he finished the first draft, he realized the two were connected.

"I had the choice then to either … try to move away from that and pull out anything that felt like it was too connected to Lord of the Flies … or I could lean into that. And I decided to lean into it. I mean, I loved the book and I loved the movie by Peter Brook. And so I just decided that it was actually kind of an important and relevant connection to the story. And I thought that … the existence of those references would be useful."

As for his answer to the film’s main question about human nature  are we innately good or innately evil?  Burger is optimistic. 

"I'm an optimistic person, so I think we are [innately good]. I mean, look, I think we have both in our natures and then it becomes the pull of ... people trying to survive or ... people have a hunger for power, for control. And so then what are they willing to do to get that? ... How much are they willing to suppress, perhaps their innate goodness … to satisfy their desires or their appetite or whatever it is? … I think that on the whole, we tend toward the good, but there's …. a strong sort of countermeasure to that as well," he said.

Although Voyagers was already in post-production by the time the pandemic hit in 2020, many of its themes of confinement and rule-following for the greater good feel extremely apt to our current lives and what we’ve lived through over the past year. 

"The initial image really was about these characters in a confined, isolated, locked-down space. And then that's just become, as you say, very relevant to what's happening now. In the movie, they're isolated and it's claustrophobic. And ... when they have a moment to kind of break free from that, they go wild and then all hell breaks loose. It feels very of the moment.”

Voyagers premieres in theatres on April 9.

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