Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The anti-Carries: 16-plus benevolent pop-culture telekinetics

Illustration for article titled The anti-Carries: 16-plus benevolent pop-culture telekinetics

1. The Tomorrow People
The big-screen return of Stephen King’s wallflower-turned-psychic-monster Carrie White—this time taking the form of a pig’s-blood-smeared Chloë Grace Moretz—also marks the return of an old genre-fiction standby: the telekinetic bent on avenging her rejection from society by harming those who’ve harmed her—with her mind. Coincidentally, the release of the new Carrie coincides with the latest television iteration of The Tomorrow People, whose genetically advanced protagonists aren’t exclusively distinguished by their abilities to teleport and communicate telepathically—they also belong to a smaller club of fictional characters who use their telekinetic powers for good. Specifically: protecting themselves and their fellow members of the species Homo superior from forces seeking their extermination. On prior versions of the show, such tricks were beholden to the vagaries of British TV funding, but in the pilot of The CW’s new Tomorrow People, star Robbie Amell halts a villain’s bullet in midair with positively cinematic flair. Fitting for the themes of the franchise, The Tomorrow People continues to evolve.

2. Olivia Dunham, Fringe
While Fringe’s central mythology held together better than most, the show could be a little fuzzy when it came to the special abilities of Olivia Dunham. Dosed with experimental wonder drug Cortexifan as a child, Dunham could, at various points, travel to a parallel universe, self-heal brain damage, unlock a series of psychic puzzles, and keep her suit immaculately pressed and shirt artfully rumpled even in the most harrowing of chases and shootouts. But the power that seemed to come and go was telekinesis. A flash-forward shows a middle-aged Dunham levitating heavy objects with her mind, while one of the shows most affecting scenes is a flashback to Olivia as a scared child, huddled in the corner of a blackened room she just blew up with her super-powered brain. Though past and future Dunham are telekinetic, present-day Dunham only uses her power once—which is treated as a breakthrough—before it’s quickly forgotten. Oh well, at least it’s for good when she foils one of mad scientist Robert Jones’ traps.

3. Cameron Vale, Scanners (1981)
Scanners posits a secret war between good and bad “scanners,” combo telepaths/telekinetics whose powers are the result of an experimental morning-sickness drug prescribed for their mothers during pregnancy. Scanners can read minds, but the most highly evolved among them—the film’s hero, Cameron Vale and his arch-nemesis, Darryl Revok—have such powerful brains that they can take control of physical objects and other people’s bodies. Darryl decides to use his abilities for evil, like when he causes a man’s head to explode. Cameron, however, harnesses his power for good, disciplining himself and controlling his abilities so that he can prevail in the film’s climactic psychic-duel showdown, a spectacle of gross-out special effects even by the standards of director David Cronenberg.

4. Gillian Bellaver, The Fury (1978)
Brian De Palma’s follow-up to the 1976 version of Carrie asks the question “How can innocent telekinetic psychics remain unsullied in a world of people who want to put their powers to vicious uses?” Amy Irving plays Gillian Bellaver, a high-school student who only wants to be a normal kid—and who sometimes use her psychic abilities to power toy trains. But she is targeted by black-ops chief and satanic majesty John Cassavetes, and enlisted in Kirk Douglas’ search for his telekinetic son, who Cassavetes has abducted so that he can be trained to kill. In the end, Gillian is unable to rescue anyone, but she does score a point for the forces of good by using her mind to blow Cassavetes up.


5-6. Tony and Tia Malone, Escape To Witch Mountain (1975)
Escape To Witch Mountain is one of the more successful items from the slagheap of ’70s Disney live-action features. Based on a novel by Alexander Key, it was also the only Disney film from that period to even hint at the influence of the “dark” YA fiction from writers such as Key and Robert Cormier. Tony and Tia are orphaned siblings who are picked on for being “different” and pursued by evil millionaire Ray Milland, who wants to exploit their psychic and telekinetic abilities. It turns out the Malones’ tormenters at the orphanage don’t know the half of it: Tony and Tia are extraterrestrials who survived the crash of a spacecraft. In a climax similar to the later, adult-oriented Starman, they must flee to the mountains to rendezvous with a spaceship coming to take them to their home planet. Along the way, they hitch a ride with a kindly Eddie Albert, and Tony demonstrates his powers when Albert’s RV suddenly takes flight.

7. Barney Springboro, Zapped! (1982)
When high school students on the low end of the popularity charts suddenly find themselves in possession of telekinetic abilities, the results can often prove catastrophic for the cliques who’ve treated them poorly over the years. Science nerd Barney Springboro—played by Scott Baio, attempting to avoid typecasting in the midst of his long run as Chachi on Happy Days—isn’t exactly avoiding comparisons to Carrie when he busts out his powers in the middle of senior prom. But as a rule, he does what many a heterosexual telekinetic boy in a teenage sex romp would do: He uses his mind to have fun, tease the popular kids, make a little money, and remove girls’ tops whenever the opportunity arises.

8. Gloria Dinallo, Misfits Of Science
Trying to make your way in the world as a teenaged telekinetic isn’t easy to begin with, but Gloria Dinallo had it particularly bad: Not only did she have to deal with her mother being in a mental institution, but she was also assured her father was an alien. The 16-episode run of Misfits Of Science didn’t give the series a chance to explore Gloria’s backstory and confirm the veracity of her mother’s claim. Fortunately, the show’s brief stint on NBC did provide plenty of opportunities for Gloria to recover from a history of juvenile delinquency by teaming with the so-called Misfits Of Science, using her abilities in a more positive way. Alas, most of those abilities came across on-screen in less than impressive fashion, as the series’ budget necessitated using flash cuts followed by objects sliding or flying through the frame with the assistance of fishing line.


9. Matilda Wormwood, Matilda
A very special kindergarten-aged child with a very disgusting family, Matilda Wormwood is one of Roald Dahl’s most charming characters. The protagonist of the 1988 novel Matilda (and its subsequent cinematic and theatrical adaptations), Wormwood is a brave and tiny girl who battles her wealthy, anti-intellectual family and feels alone until she starts attending school. There, Matilda meets Miss Honey, a teacher whose life has been negatively affected by her own wretched family member: the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. The realization that Miss Honey has been wronged causes Matilda to put her excess brainpower to even better use, resulting in a stunning display of chalkboard-writing that drives Miss Trunchbull from both the school and the town. After the rest of the Wormwoods flee due to some shady used-car dealings, Matilda moves in with Miss Honey and is promoted to the sixth grade in school—ultimately so academically and emotionally stimulated that she loses her psychokinetic ability. It’s a sweet and happy ending, and a reminder that even the littlest people can do immense amounts of good.

10. George Malley, Phenomenon (1996)
In the 1996 sapfest Phenomenon, a bright light in the night sky seemingly imbues small-town mechanic George Malley (John Travolta) with several new abilities, one of which is telekinesis. Everyone in the town is duly impressed as long as he’s intuiting the location of sick children, solving crop-infestation problems, or predicting earthquakes. But when he starts moving things with his mind—or rather, doing experiments with energy—things get messy. Despite all his good intentions, the townspeople turn on George, and after he breaks a classified code using only his shortwave radio, the federal government gets involved, too. In its inevitable scheme to capture and study George to discern any scientific explanation for his these new abilities, the government discovers it was a tumor stimulating George’s brain function, and he dies after making Kyra Sedgwick fall in love with him. If the federal government has found any other tumor-patient telekinetics, it has managed to keep it under wraps. So far.

11. Max Fiedler, Modern Problems (1981)
Modern Problems offers many delights: Chevy Chase’s character snorting a trail of “demon powder” like it’s cocaine, Dabney Coleman’s partial list of favorite things, Nell Carter’s wince-inducing portrayal of the voodoo housekeeper. But the plot of the movie revolves around the mishaps of Chase’s Max Fiedler, a hapless, recently dumped air-traffic controller. One night, a truck unloads nuclear waste on Max, transforming him into a telekinetic. Though at first he uses his new abilities to strike back at those who tormented him and to make Coleman’s egomaniacal blowhard look like an idiot, Max eventually realizes the powers are turning him into a nightmarish subhuman, so he transfers them to his friends’ maid—but not before gifting his girlfriend with one hell of an orgasm.

12. Jean Grey, X-Men
Few comic-book characters can compete with Jean Grey when it comes to confusing backstories. One of the five original X-Men, Jean Grey discovered her psychic powers when her best friend was hit by a car, sending a mental shockwave that left Jean in a coma. When Professor Charles Xavier revived the redhead, he shut off her telepathy but maintained her telekinesis, bringing her aboard his teenage mutant task force as its sole female member. With an ability perfect for combat, Jean took on the identity of Marvel Girl and helped her male partners take down villains like the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants—but her story would become very complicated as she grew up. Her benevolence was tested when the Phoenix Force seemingly took control of her body and turned her into a cosmic weapon of destruction called Dark Phoenix, but it turns out that was just a copy of Jean’s mind and body causing trouble, while her real self was stuck in a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay. She came back, then died again, and is currently represented on the X-Men by her teenage self, who has been pulled from the past to help fix the future of mutantkind. Between time travel, repeated resurrection, and clones, Jean Grey has been victim to some of the most overused plot devices in superhero comics, but her psychic abilities make her one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful mutant players.

13-14. Matt Garetty and Steve Montgomery, Chronicle (2012)
Chronicle’s Andrew Detmer begins the film as a high school loner, lamenting his mother’s slow death from cancer and his father’s physical and emotional abuse. But for a brief period of time, his cousin Matt Garetty and schoolmate Steve Montgomery cheer him up, and when their encounter with a mystical crystalline object yields telekinetic powers, they’re linked by that secret ability. During the first half of the film, the trio uses its powers for petty pranks like making a teddy bear dance, moving a car in a parking lot, or turning on a leaf blower to lift girls’ skirts. But when Detmer deteriorates into a deeply disturbed villain, it forces a dramatic confrontation—though Garetty and Montgomery would be more contented by the simple pleasures of moving objects for a good laugh, or occasionally soaring through the clouds.


15. Alex Mack, The Secret World Of Alex Mack
All teenagers want to prove that they’re special—until they’re doused with an experimental chemical on the first day of seventh grade and become the transfiguring, electrically charged, telekinetic quarry of the corporation that caused the whole mess in the first place. Such begins the double of life of Alexandra “Alex” Mack, whose day-to-day existence as an “average” kid—first jobs, learning to drive, helping friends conquer stage fright—has a sci-fi flipside, where those problems are occasionally alleviated by her ability to squint at an object and make it levitate. The show resonated with its audience thanks to the notion its classroom plots reinforced over four seasons and 78 episodes: Sometimes feeling like one-in-a-million means also feeling like a freak of (chemically enhanced) nature.

16-plus. Jedi order, Star Wars
Being a Jedi comes with a lot of perks. The chosen few can jump really high, come back to life as wise holograms, and command drug dealers to go home and rethink their lives. (And that’s to say nothing of the concealed-weapons license, which allows members to keep a glowing death stick under their robes.) But the real prize benefit of belonging to the order has to be the telekinesis. Responsible space samurais that they are, the Jedis only really use the power in a pinch, pulling a dropped lightsaber back into their hand during combat or throwing the contents of senatorial chambers at belligerent Sith lords. But given that the Force isn’t some mystical element, but the byproduct of tiny, symbiotic parasites in the blood—thanks, Phantom Menace—maybe catching some cool mind powers is as easy as eating a truck-stop egg salad sandwich. No-hands channel surfing is just a ringworm infection away!


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