By: Kayla Caldwell
TED K, directed by Tony Stone, and starring Sharlto Copley, is hauntingly beautiful, and deeply unsettling. The visuals are stunning, in stark contrast to Ted's angry and disturbing words and actions.
TED K tells the story of the infamous Unabomber, in his own words, from his own coded journals, autobiographies, and manifestos. If you're worried that means the movie sympathizes with Ted, or celebrates him, that is not the case. Ted is surprisingly honest in the way that he describes himself, even saying at one point, "I never said I was an altruist." And that, he is not. TED K follows Mr. Kaczynski as he tries to leave the world behind in his Montana cabin, fights with his family via pay phones, and commits acts of local terrorism against companies he believes to be disturbing his peace.
This is an artistic, stylistic look at a serial bomber. The visuals are gorgeous, and you can almost empathize with Ted for not wanting technology and construction destroying it. However, he's got a temper. He's socially awkward, because his intelligence made him so separated from his peers. I mean, he entered Harvard on a scholarship at age 16. At one point the man screams at his mother about how he's never touched breasts. He has this idealized version of the world in his mind, where everyone respects nature and shuns technology. And he gets violently angry when in reality, that turns out not to be the case.
Stone displays Ted's fury and discomfort sonically, as well as via dialogue and voiceover. The first seven or so minutes of the film, the only sound you hear is the obnoxious sound of snowmobiles. It's really unnerving, especially when contrasted against the soft, white snow. You can understand why Ted hates them. When Ted walks into a computer store, his nightmare, the audio is so stressful, it made me want to fast forward.
Most people have probably heard about Ted K, and know about the bombings. However, there was much more than that. Ted would disguise himself and destroy equipment of local construction sights, etc. In one memorable moment, he chops down a power line as if it were a tree, and runs away as sparks fly.
Like many white, male serial killers, Ted hated women. Of course, he also desperately wanted to connect with them - in his head, at least. But when he interacted with them in real life, they were often just faced with scorn and derision. Unfortunately, what he lacked in social etiquette, he more than made up for in brains. TED K shows us the most resourceful mad scientist, tinkering away until he finds the best method and best bomb to cause the most damage. Because, as he said himself, this is about revenge. He's not putting his all into these bombs because he thinks they'll make a change or a statement. He's just mad. Who does he target? A man who makes a living selling something Ted despises. Someone from the airline that flies loud planes over his sanctuary, etc.
It's scarier because of how smart he is. He mails packages, and then travels to where he wants to set off the bombs, so there are no records there of him buying any supplies. He shaves facial hair, dyes hair, and at times, curls it until it looks like he has a perm. At one point, he dons those infamous sunglasses and black hoodie. He's a bit like Ted Bundy in the sense that he knew how to make minor adjustments to his appearance so that he could go unnoticed.
TED K is a visually stunning film that takes viewers into the mind of a vengeful killer. He's a complex man and TED K does a brilliant job of studying him, without softening or erasing his rough edges. He's not a man to be praised or absolved. He was brilliant and self-aware, and knew what he was doing was wrong - but it was like a game to him, just like when he was throwing chainsaws in a lake or destroying construction gear.
If you are interested in movies based on true crime or just fascinated by the human condition, and why people do what they do, TED K is a great character study. And did I mention how beautiful the film is? It almost makes me want to go camping... and trust me, I am not a camper.
TED K releases in theaters and on digital February 18, 2022.