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Film / Chaos Walking (2021)

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Viola: It's strange to see everything you're thinking.
Todd: Well, it's strange for me too, not knowing what's going on in your head. I mean, I don't know, you might not like my dog, or you want to hit me over the head with a rock or something.
Viola: I like your dog.

Chaos Walking is a 2021 American dystopian science fiction action film. It is based upon The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. The film was directed by Doug Liman and the screenplay written by Ness and Christopher Ford.note  It stars Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley and Mads Mikkelsen.

On the planet of New World, a devastating war between human colonists and the native Spackle resulted in all the women and half the men being wiped out, while the surviving men are afflicted with Noise, a condition that means everyone can see and hear their thoughts. Todd Hewitt (Holland) is one such survivor, living in Prentisstown under the leadership of the power-hungry David Prentiss (Mikkelsen), but everything changes when he meets Viola Eade (Ridley), a girl who crashlands on New World and is unaffected by Noise. Together, Todd and Viola uncover a dark secret that will change both their worlds.

After several years in Development Hell, the film was released on March 5, 2021.note 

The official trailer can be viewed here.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the book, Viola is shot and badly injured by Davy; Todd manages to bring her to Haven for medical treatment, only to find David has taken over and he is forced to surrender to him to save Viola. In the film Todd and Viola never make it to Haven; they find the remnants of the first colony ship and repair the antenna so Viola can send a distress signal to the second ship. Viola battles and kills Aaron, while Todd fights David to give Viola time to send the signal. Todd is the one who gets shot, Viola arrives in time to save him from David and the newly-arrived colony ship provides Todd with medical treatment.
  • Adaptational Self-Defense: In the book, Todd attacks and kills the Spackle in the river in cold-blood, assuming it would attack them. In the film the Spackle attacks Todd first, dragging him from his hiding spot, and he fights back with his knife.
  • Adaptation Deviation: While the basic premise is the same, the film changes up a lot of the plot details from the book. This includes:
    • In the book every male creature on New World has Noise, including the animals. In the film animals don't appear to have Noise, only human and Spackle men.
    • Todd isn't under the impression that the Spackle were all wiped out in the war; the men frequently go out on Spackle patrols and Todd tries to ensure he and Viola stay away from Spackle villages.
    • The inciting incident of the book is Todd stumbling across a patch of swamp that has no Noise and accidentally revealing this to the town; this never occurs in the film and the inciting incident is instead Todd finding Viola after the crash and helping her escape.
    • Todd is never concerned about inadvertently infecting and killing Viola with the germ that caused Noise, as in the film the Spackle are said to have killed the women in a direct assault and it's established that Noise is harmless to women early on (this isn't revealed until much later in the book).
    • The battle on the bridge doesn't occur.
    • The fight with Aaron occurs differently; Todd isn't stabbed and Viola isn't kidnapped.
    • In the book Ben explains the truth of Prentisstown to Todd and Viola; in the film he does so more indirectly by giving Todd his mother's journal.
  • Adaptation Inspiration: The film is recognizably an adaptation of The Knife of Never Letting Go; it has an identical premise and the main cast are mostly the same (aside from some characters being Demoted to Extra or Adapted Out), but the way the events play out and the story's ending differ greatly from the book, while also incorporating a few plot elements from the second and third books. It's been noted that the film's ending in particular would make it extremely difficult to adapt the other books given it kills off the main villain and largely resolves most of the conflict, whereas the book ends on a huge cliffhanger and the protagonists in dire straits, thus setting things up for the sequel.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The film is largely based upon the book The Knife of Never Letting Go; the Chaos Walking title comes from the overarching name of the trilogy. There is some logic to this given that the film also draws on some elements from the other books.
  • Age Lift: In the books, Todd and Viola are both around thirteen years old. They're clearly much older in the film, presumably intended to be in their late teens (Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley were both in their twenties during filming and definitely don't pass for young teens).
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: For the most part New World looks no different from Earth save for it having planetary rings and much longer days; its atmosphere is breathable for humans and plants from Earth can be cultivated there. The weird part is that everyone's thoughts can be heard and seen.
  • Awful Truth: Todd and Viola eventually learn that his mother and the other women weren't killed by the Spackle; they were murdered by the men of Prentisstown and Todd was lied to his entire life. He briefly has a Heroic BSoD when finds out and when he's reunited with his adoptive father, he demands to know why he didn't tell him.
  • Beyond Redemption: The citizens of Farbranch consider the citizens of Prentisstown to be this after they murdered all the women in their town, to the point that they have a law stating that any man from Prentisstown who comes to Farbranch will be hanged. They even hold Todd prisoner and seriously consider executing him just for being from Prentisstown, but they ultimately decide to spare him as he's both innocent and ignorant of his hometown's actions. It's one of the main reasons Ben and Cillian don't come with Todd though, as they know they would be considered guilty.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Todd's dads, his dog and several other innocent people were killed, but he's able to protect Viola and help her contact the ship. He finally learned the truth about the death of his mother and the other women which, while hard to hear, was necessary; he and Viola defeat David and get justice for the women, and they can both start a new life with the help of the colonists. The rest of Prentisstown are still out there but the colonists' superior technology and numbers (and the fact they're now leaderless) may succeed in repelling them.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Todd and Viola start to grow closer after they both learn they're orphans; Todd's biological father died before he was born and his mother died when he was a baby, while Viola's parents died several years ago. Todd does have adoptive parents though he's separated from them for most of the film and loses both of them too.
  • A Boy and His X: Before meeting Viola, Todd's only friend is his dog Manchee. Although he acts annoyed or dismissive towards him, it's obvious he cares for him and Manchee loyally follows the two protagonists on their journey until he's killed about halfway through.
  • Broken Pedestal: Todd starts out admiring David as a war hero and role model, constantly seeking to impress him. However, he begins to turn away from him due to the threat he poses to Viola and his family, and he turns against him fully after he learns that David led the massacre of Prentisstown's women, including his mother.
  • Bury Your Gays: Gay couple Ben and Cillian are both killed by Prentiss over the course of the film (Cillian fairly early on, Ben near the end). They seem to get killed off mostly because they're the adoptive dads of a young adult dystopian protagonist, who disproportionately tend to have dead parents.
  • Childless Dystopia: New World for humans, as all the women were killed and reproduction is impossible. Todd is mentioned as being the last child to be born in Prentisstown and he wonders what will happen when he's the only one left. It's later subverted, as other settlements that do have women also have young children and babies; it's only Prentisstown that's slowly dying out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the film's climax, Todd and Viola are headed for the settlement of Haven to contact Viola's ship, with Prentisstown in close pursuit. They just so happen to stumble upon the first colony ship along the way, which they can use to send the signal instead.
  • Covers Always Lie: Many of the posters for the film depict the main characters in front of a night sky. In the film, there are no scenes taking place at night (the closest being a few short scenes taking place in outer space) and Viola even makes a point of noting the sun never appears to set on New World.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Though she does need Todd's help sometimes, Viola is pretty good at getting herself out of trouble. On one occasion Todd rushes in to save her from a man menacing her, only to find she's already got him tied up and gagged.
  • Daydream Surprise: At one point while they're resting in the woods, Todd and Viola have an intimate conversation that ends with them kissing passionately. However, it's then interrupted by Viola incredulously asking "What are you doing?" It turns out that Todd was just imagining the kiss, though because of the Noise, Viola also saw the whole thing play out along with the audience, much to both Todd and Viola's embarrassment.
  • Death by Adaptation: Seemingly David Prentiss. He's very much alive at the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go, while here he's seemingly killed when Viola shoves him off the edge of a crevasse into the lower levels of the old ship. However, we don't see a body, so he could possibly have survived.
  • Demoted to Extra: Davy Prentiss Junior (played by Nick Jonas). In the book he has quite a significant role, including Todd choosing to spare his life and Davy shooting Viola near the end. In the film neither of these incidents occur; the only notable things Davy does is inadvertently helping Viola escape and initially serving as a rival for Todd.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The entirety of Prentisstown are revealed to have murdered the female population from misogyny and paranoia. In doing so, they've doomed the town to die out, because no women means no children and the fact they're murderers caused every other settlement to turn on them, cutting them off from any outside support.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation:
    • Viola's parents. In the book they were killed during the shuttle crash on New World. In the film Viola mentions they died of illness on the colony ship, long before they even reached New World.
    • Aaron. In the book Viola stabs him and shoves him off a waterfall. In the film she sets him on fire; he also dies much later in the climax..
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Todd is instantly drawn to Viola and quickly vows to protect and help her. In fairness, she is the first girl he's ever even seen so he finds her fascinating, though he also empathizes with her situation.
  • Egopolis: Mayor Prentiss has very modestly named the town he is leader of Prentisstown.
  • Endless Daytime: Viola remarks that the sun never seems to set on New World and it indeed remains daytime for the entire movie. In a deleted scene, Todd says that the only time he remembers the sun setting was ten years ago, which lasted months and killed off a lot of their crops.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Technically-speaking, the movie takes place over one long day given the sun doesn't set nearly as often on New World as it does on Earth (it doesn't set once through the whole film). Because of this, it's hard to tell how much time passes exactly, though seeing as the protagonists are shown stopping to sleep a few times, we can assume that at least 48 hours must've passed.
  • The Film of the Book: It is largely based upon the 2008 novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first installment in the Chaos Walking trilogy from which the film takes its title. It also draws on elements from the other books in the trilogy (The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men), though it most closely follows the first book.
  • Fur and Loathing: Main antagonist David Prentiss wears a large, brown fur coat; some of his lackeys also wear furs.
  • The Future: Onscreen text reveals that the film is set in 2257 AD (236 years later than the film's release date of 2021).
  • Gendercide: All the women in Prentisstown were killed years ago during a war with the Spackle, the natives of New World. Todd is shocked to encounter Viola because she's the first girl he's ever seen. It becomes evident that women aren't extinct elsewhere: Farbranch, the closest settlement to Prentisstown, has loads of women, which is a big hint that there's something suspicious about the story Todd was told.
  • Generation Ship: Viola reveals she was born on the second colony ship headed for New World and has never been to Earth; her grandparents boarded the ship with their children to make a better life for their descendants.
  • Gut Feeling: Although David is friendly enough with her and offers her help, Viola instinctively distrusts him and is quick to escape when she sees an opportunity. It turns out this was a very good idea.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: When Todd refers to the Spackle as aliens, Viola points out that this is their homeworld. So it's humanity that is the aliens here. Todd, hating the Spackle for what they did to Prentisstown says that no, the Spackle are the aliens.
  • Kick the Dog: Aaron does this nearly literally; after Viola and Todd escape his grasp in the river, he seizes Manchee and drowns him as Todd futilely tries to save him.
  • Master of Illusion: Some of the men can use their Noise to create convincing illusions. Todd uses his to scare Davy with a fake snake, David can create fake walls and duplicates of himself. This particularly comes in handy later on; Ben is able to create a fake Viola as a distraction while the real Viola escapes, and in the end Todd creates illusions of the women David killed to distract him long enough for Viola to intervene.
  • Mercy Kill: Todd has to deliver one to his horse after he breaks his leg falling down a cliff.
  • My Greatest Failure: Ben considers his greatest failure to be not doing more to stop the other men of Prentisstown from massacring the women; it's indicated he and Cillian didn't actively take part or agree with what happened, but they didn't try to intervene either. Ben and Cillian promised Karyssa they would care for her son before she was killed and they later help Todd and Viola escape as atonement, giving their lives in the process; Ben explicitly tells Todd he's sorry he didn't do more.
  • Never Learned to Read: Todd can't read because Aaron burnt all the books, stating that the Noise provided them with all the knowledge they need. He initially hides it from Viola out of embarrassment; he eventually comes clean when she questions why he doesn't want to read his late mother's journal and she offers to read it for him.
  • No Romantic Resolution: It's made very clear that Todd has romantic feelings for Viola, though while she becomes fond of him it's left ambiguous if she reciprocates. At the end of the film Todd's Noise once again loudly indicates he wants Viola to kiss him; they don't kiss nor does he ask her verbally, but rather than be annoyed or embarrassed like before she just smiles at him.
  • No Woman's Land: Karyssa Hewitt's journal paints a grim picture of Prentisstown for women; many of the men slowly turned on them due to never knowing what they thinking while they couldn't hide anything they thought. Aaron worsened this, preaching that women lacked Noise because they have no souls among other things. David introduced a curfew for the women and their lives became increasingly restricted, ultimately culminating in the men murdering all the women.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Having been raised in a small, all-male community that emphasizes survival above everything, Todd thinks nothing of stripping off all his clothes in front of Viola - a girl he barely knows - to jump in a river. Viola can only stare at him in silent disbelief.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Downplayed. Todd and Viola having a romantic connection is made a lot more prominent here compared to the book (mostly from Todd's end); while they're close friends in the books their relationship is largely platonic until Monsters of Men. It may partly be because of the Age Lift; in The Knife of Never Letting Go Todd and Viola are both around thirteen, while here they're in their late teens.
  • The Reveal:
    • All his life Todd was led to believe Prentisstown was the only human colony left after the war with the Spackle, only for his adoptive parents to provide him with a map revealing the location of other settlements, the nearest being Farbranch. They instruct Todd to take Viola there for her own safety. It turns out that Farbranch has a significant female population and is even led by a woman.
    • The women in Prentisstown weren't killed by the Spackle; some of the men, led by David and the preacher, went crazy and massacred them.
  • The Rival: Todd and Davy Jr. are rivals to each other for Mayor Prentiss' approval. Both compete to prove themselves as 'real men' to Prentiss, who is Davy's father and a father figure to Todd. Prentiss openly favors Todd due to him having better self-control and wits, including better control of his Noise, with a frustrated Davy trying desperately to win his father's affections. This dies down after Todd disobeys Prentiss to help Viola, while Davy remains loyal to his father and helps pursue the protagonists, though without much success.
  • Sanity Slippage: Many of the men of Prentisstown slowly began becoming unhinged and paranoid living in isolation from other communities, unable to hear what the women were thinking while they had difficulty shutting off their own thoughts. David and the Preacher inflamed their distrust of the women, leading to them turning on them with deadly consequences.
  • Sinister Minister: Aaron, Prentisstown's preacher, is a fanatical, misogynistic and not entirely sane man. He doesn't even obey David half the time, going off to do his own thing. In particular, it's revealed he helped stoke the men's paranoia around the women due to their lack of Noise and he seeks to personally hunt down Viola, referring to her as an "angel".
  • Sole Survivor: Viola is the only survivor of the scout ship crash early in the film. She's initially so traumatized she doesn't speak or trust anyone.
  • Space Western: The movie has elements of this subgenre. It revolves around people setting up colonies in a place called "New World" (in this case an alien planet rather a different continent). The colonists came into conflict with the indigenous population, with some of the colonists demonizing the natives. Although they have some high-tech weaponry, most people use more primitive equipment for farming and hunting, and horses are the primary source of transportation; several people even wear cowboy hats. Due to the colonies being quite isolated it becomes easy for the corrupt Mayor Prentiss to seize near-total control over the town, until the arrival of Viola - another colonist seeking a new life - shakes up the status quo.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the book, Todd ends up stabbing a Spackle he fights with to death, while here Viola persuades Todd to spare him.
  • Stern Chase: A lot of the movie revolves around Viola and later Todd as well being chased through the wilderness by the inhabitants of Prentisstown: Viola needs to reach another settlement to warn the incoming colony ship of the threat Prentisstown poses.
  • Telepathy: The Noise is actually a kind of inversion of this; all men afflicted with Noise automatically project their thoughts to everyone else (women, who don't have Noise, can also see and hear their thoughts). This manifests as audible mental chatter and a colored 'aura' that forms visual representations of their thoughts. With enough practice and concentration, they can hide their Noise or use it to create convincing illusions.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Prentisstown. Everyone but the youngest members are aware that the town's men, spurred on by David, were really the ones who killed all the women and essentially doomed the community to extinction. Todd, the youngest member of the community who only a baby during a massacre, grows up believing the Spackle were responsible and his adoptive parents are forbidden to tell him the truth.
  • Uniqueness Decay: Viola's appearance on New World is treated as a huge deal because she's the first and only human woman on New World in nearly two decades, but also because she's the only human there who lacks Noise (which doesn't affect women) and so her thoughts are far more private. About halfway through the movie it turns out that there's a whole town full of Noiseless women (which the trailer itself spoiled to an extent) so Viola‚Äôs presence isn't so big a deal, though she still has a bit of a unique factor in that she wasn't born or raised on New World and is the only one who can communicate with the colony ship.