"Ted K" Screens at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on March 31 | Film | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

click to enlarge "Ted K" Screens at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on March 31
Sharlto Copley portrays Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, in Tony Stone's new film "Ted K."

A biopic about the Unabomber? Well, why not?

Theodore Kaczynski was not your usual bloodthirsty terrorist. He graduated from Harvard in 1961, received a PhD from the University of Michigan, taught for two years at Berkeley, then retreated to a cabin in the deep woods of Montana. Living without electricity and running water, he launched a bombing campaign that led to the largest manhunt in FBI history. The “Una” in “Unabomber,” incidentally, is short for universities and airlines, the first targets of his wrath.

In the style of `70s movies like Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon, Ted K, directed by Hudson resident Tony Stone, is a portrait of an “antihero” (played by Sharlto Copley) who walks the fine line between criminal and visionary. (“Ted K” was how the Unabomber signed irate letters to local newspapers.) Scrupulously based on Kaczynski’s 40,000-page journal, the feature film feels like a documentary.

If you've ever lived in the deep country, you know how sensitive one becomes to sound. A pickup truck a quarter-mile away is an intrusion. The Unabomber had an extreme case of aural sensitivity—to the point of shooting a rifle at helicopters. On the simplest level, Kaczynski was a guy shouting at snowmobiles: “Get the hell off my land!”

We see him coolly pouring screws and razor blades into his bombs; these are anti-personnel weapons, designed to tear human flesh. His mail bombs killed three people and injured 23. But the Unabomber seems to take no pleasure in his murders. He reports on them in his journal as if they were science experiments. If no one died in the explosion, he would write: “only adequate.”

Kaczynski was trained as a mathematician, and sees the world with the clear, precise logic of an algebra textbook. A minus A equals zero. Kaczynski tried to subtract techno-civilization from itself, and failed. His moment of hubris was publishing his manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” in the Washington Post. His brother recognized Ted’s prose style and contacted the FBI. Without the lust for self-publication, Kaczynski might still be quietly manufacturing exploding boxes.

Do mad bombers like Kaczynski secretly wish to get caught? We are all hypocrites, but the Unabomber’s hypocrisy is more noticeable than most. He rides on buses and stays in motel rooms to mail his bombs, and his ultimate goal is to be on the 6 o’clock news. Ted K joins the urban industrialized civilization he hates, by writing the definitive attack on it. As the Situationists say, he becomes part of the spectacle.

click to enlarge "Ted K" Screens at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on March 31
Ted Kaczynski (Sharlto Copley) working on his manifesto at his remote shack in Montana in "Ted K."
The movie was made as slowly and painstakingly as the Unabomber constructed his handmade bombs. It was filmed over the course of a year on the exact tract of land Kaczynski lived on. Filmmaker Stone wanted to follow this recluse through every season. The FBI famously impounded the Unabomber’s cabin, but they left a number of the original outbuildings, which are in the film. Also, local townspeople play some of the roles—and some play themselves.

Having an unknown actor (unknown to me, anyway) as the protagonist creates a more vivid illusion. If Tom Hanks had played Kaczynski, I would have been giggling through the movie. Besides, Copley bears a resemblance to both Henry David Thoreau and Abraham Lincoln, which adds resonance to Ted K. “We tried to make something timeless,” Stone remarks.

Some urban scenes in the film were shot in Albany and Schenectady. Stone built a replica of Kaczynski’s nearly-windowless hut himself, in Hudson, where he lives. (Stone is the co-founder of Basilica Hudson with this wife, Melissa auf der Mar.)

For Generation X, I suppose the Unabomber is a source of nostalgia. The `90s was a simpler era, when the biggest danger came from some crank in a cabin, not the President of the United States trying to foment a fascist uprising.

The Unabomber was against industrial civilization before we were fully aware it was destroying our climate, dooming thousands of species to extinction. He was literally a voice in the wilderness. If he hadn’t killed an innocent computer store owner, he might well be a hero today. Stone remarks: “When I started thinking about this film 10 years ago, people didn’t understand why I wanted to make a movie about that guy, and as time went on, it became quite clear.”

In the last scene we see Kaczynski’s current home, the supermax federal penitentiary outside Florence, Colorado—a long soulless industrial-looking box. How ironic that the ultimate nature-lover should end his days there!

Ted K will be shown at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck on March 31, followed by a Q&A with Tony Stone. It is also available for streaming on various platforms.

Comments (0)
Add a Comment
  • Bloodlines Interwoven Festival

    @ Kaatsbaan Cultural Park

    Wed., June 12, 6-7:30 p.m., Thu., June 13, 6-7:30 p.m., Fri., June 14, 6-7:30 p.m., Sat., June 15, 12-6 p.m. and Sun., June 16, 12-6 p.m.

  • or

Support Chronogram