Ted K is an intimate portrayal of a dangerous recluse who would eventually become the FBI’s longest terrorist investigation. Theodore Kaczynski, better known as the infamous Unabomber, maimed and killed through sophisticated mail bombs over a twenty-five-year period. Sharlto Copley plays Kaczynski from 1971 to his capture in the late nineties. The film was partially shot on Kaczynski’s Montana land and uses dialogue taken from his prolific writings. It paints an ugly picture of an educated, but angry and misogynistic loner who relished murder.
Ted K begins in remote Lincoln, Montana. Theodore Kaczynski (Copley) rages at the snowmobiles that spoil his pristine wilderness with their grating noise. He vehemently despises modern technology. Vandalizing nearby cabins of wealthy neighbors and the equipment of logging companies. He bitterly narrates his grievances against the world. Typing coded journals in his tiny shack, he curses humanity over radio news feeds. Kaczynski calls his brother and mother from telephone booths. Begging for money while criticizing their lives as pawns in a rotten system.
We watch as Kaczynski hones his explosive craft. He takes odd jobs to buy seemingly innocuous electronic equipment for his bombs. He also steals when the opportunity arises. Kaczynski, a Harvard mathematician, goes to great lengths to conceal his identity and thwart authorities. He revels in the attention his bombing spree has achieved. Ted K wants his poisonous ideology spread far and wide. He taunts the FBI but has a different request for the major news outlets following his trail of violence.
South African actor Sharlto Copley teeters on a razor’s edge of fury. Kaczynski is consumed by perceived slights and wrongs. His only respite is nature’s solitude. But that’s constantly interrupted by the machinery of men. The film also takes a deliberate look at his sexual repression. Kaczynski hated women and treated them with little respect. A telling scene has him railing against his lack of sexual contact. He channeled his negative energy into perfecting more lethal devices.
Cinematographer turned director Tony Stone (Peter and the Farm) uses aggressive tactics to show Kaczynski’s unstable behavior. Ted K is not Henry David Thoreau calmly exploring and documenting nature. Kaczynski’s primitive survivalist lifestyle has an accompaniment of disturbing sounds. There’s a cacophony of discordant classical music, opera, and machines buzzing. The screen turns blood-red as Kaczynski plots the details for his next targets. Stone also visualizes Kaczynski’s bizarre nightmares as described in his diaries.
Ted K’s reliance on voice-over narration treads monotonous as the film progresses. The script uses Kaczynki’s own words to frame his state of mind. His homicidal intent and calculating personality are clearly established in the first act. Another method was needed to express his thoughts; rather than always explaining to the audience. The voice-over dialogue feels less severe the more brazen he gets. Ted K works best when we see him coldly interacting with the environment and himself. Kacynzski was a psychopath who feigned normalcy to scout his targets.
Sharlto Copley is front and center in almost every frame. He nails the disturbing traits of a remorseless individual. I was concerned that Ted K would give a merciless killer some modicum of empathy. It gives no credence to the Unabomber. Ted K is a production of Heathen Films. It will have a concurrent VOD and limited theatrical release on February 18th from Neon.