When I first rented Thoughtcrimes, I thought I was going to get one of the usual B-level Orwell knockoffs. The opening did not help much, given that it screams to the rafters that this film was intended as a television pilot. However, in this day when Chris Carter can drag out a series to ten seasons in spite of running out of ideas in the first, or when Joss Whedon can gain a reputation as a guru in spite of putting the audience members most like his characters to sleep, Thoughtcrimes would have made for one hell of a television series. In contrast to Serenity, in fact, it makes a very watchable feature film. Thoughtcrimes kicks off with a setting right out of a teenie soap drama. We even get a mother (I think) telling her daughter that sixty-five percent of prom dates end in sex. I always thought it was closer to ninety-eight percent, but what the hey. Unfortunately for Freya, sex turns out to be the least of her worries that evening when she suddenly becomes aware that she can hear the thoughts of everyone else in the hall.
From there, we fastforward through the local mental hospital (mis)treating her for several years until one day, a doctor by the name of Michael Welles takes over her case and starts training her to control her telepathy. It is this point that earns the show five points right off the bat. We have all seen science fiction films in which telepathic characters can simply project their thoughts and ideas into the minds of others, or read the minds of others. To my knowledge, I have never before seen a film or television series featuring psychic or telepathic characters in which said characters have to struggle to come to terms with their gift, as some call it. Even the recent X-Men adaptations, which strike me as the pinnacle of a story about "those who are different" on film, did not invest this much effort into the pre-mastery element of the story. There is one moment in the film when Brendan, the more conventional hero of the piece, expresses anger at having his authority superseded by a girl who looks like she is barely out of school. Welles' response is to play him a MiniDisc of thousands of voices all layered over the top of each other. This, he tells Brendan, is what Freya has endured for the best part of a decade.
Never, in all the years I have seen films trying to deal with the subject of how the mentally ill, autistic, or just plain neurologically divergent live, have I seen the film hit the nail on the head so hard without even trying. Sometimes, I wonder if certain elements of the psychiatric profession did not slip a few bucks to the right people to keep this pilot from becoming a series, or becoming a wide-release film. It graphically shows how out of touch the medical profession, even those on the proverbial final frontier, have become with the "first, do no harm" philosophy that has guided medicine for thousands of years. There is some contention as to whether government agencies such as the NSA would be better at addressing the needs of Aspies or High-Functioning Autistic individuals, but Freya's attempt to escape also inadvertently highlights that those of us on this final frontier are in such a desperate situation that we need to take help wherever we can get it. If these demonstrations are intentional, then kudos to the writer and director for making them.
Like all television pilots, however, it does suffer a few weaknesses. Plot tangents such as the process of Freya reconciling with her sister are left loose, and we never get a definitive answer as to the fate of the main villain. Joe Morton, on the other hand, makes a good possibly-evil leader simply because the character is written to suggest he is quite ambivalent, and Morton is proficient enough to take advantage of such writing. Joe Flanigan is competent, but this episode allows his character little chance to be anything other than a frustrated straight arrow, and he as an actor does nothing to fight it. Jocelyn Seagrave plays June McAllister in a very 90210-esque spoiled teen style in spite of the fact that the character has apparently put herself through law school. The real surprise is Navi Rawat as Freya. We Aspies have a saying that goes something like "if this guy is not an Aspie, he is doing a great job of impersonating one". Navi does such an awesome job of impersonating a schizophrenic and later a telepath during this piece that she should have won an Oscar at the least. With the right agent, she would be unstoppable.
I gave Thoughtcrimes an eight out of ten. It is not perfect, but it is a great way to spend ninety minutes. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who knows what it is like to fall through the cracks of the current health system. And that is probably the best recommendation I can make.