Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 56 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone.
I will make a suitable companion to help him.”
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on a housetop.
If you were entranced by the love story in James Cameron’s Titanic, you will enjoy director Morten Tyldum’s love story set in space. It takes place in the not too distant future (judging by the ordinary-looking clothing of the characters). The starship Avalon is 30 years into a voyage calculated to take 120. Sound asleep aboard is a crew of over 200 plus 5000 passengers. The latter have been chosen and trained to settle a planet dubbed Homestead II. Due to a run-in with a large asteroid-like object that penetrates the ship’s force field, there is a system failure that affects just one hibernation pod, the one containing Jim Preston (Chris Pratt).
Confused when he wakes up from suspended animation, he is quickly disappointed to discover that he is the only human awake, the movie thus reminding me of Castaway, thanks to the shaggy beard Jim grows, similar to that of Tom Hanks. However, Jim does find a better companion than that of Hanks’ (“Wilson,” a sports ball). In the huge space ark’s posh bar Arthur mixes the perfect drink and dispenses common-held advice. He looks and speaks like a human, but a downward pan of the camera reveals that Arthur’s bottom half is machinery mounted on wheels, the latter explaining his quick, smooth moves from one end of the bar to another.
Even the “conversation” with the android cannot dispel the frustration Jim feels when his scanning through the various technical manuals fails to turn up any possibility for him to re-enter a state of suspended animation. Thinking that corporate HQ back on earth might help him, he hopefully sends a message, only to be told that the time for sending and receiving an answer will require 55 years! The loneliness Jim feels after several months of using the gym, reading, watching the movies, or going on space “walks,” leads to a deterioration of his mind. No wonder that at one point he comes close to ending his life, because he knows that he will be dead before the ship arrives at his destination in 90 years.
What saves him is Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), the sleeping beauty in the pod that catches his eye one day. Everything about her that he learns by reading her digital record attracts him, even though she is far above his status as a mechanic. He ponders the ethics of awakening her, even talking it over with Arthur. At last his desire for companionship overcomes his qualms. She too is confused at first at waking up, and then dismayed when she learns how many years they are from Homestead II.
They barely relate to each other during her first days awake, but do grow closer when they eat together in the large dining hall built for 5000. Apparently, a stratified form of capitalism exists on the ship (like that on the Titanic), as we see when Aurora remarks on the spare breakfast Jim is eating, and he replies that this is what he can afford. Over his objection, she orders on her account from the automated kitchen a sumptuous meal of bacon, eggs, and fruit. Each day they go through their routines of exercising, reading, and (his) tinkering with gadgets. They talk about their past and aspirations. When she mentions how she used to love looking at the Chrysler Building, he surprises her by making a model of the edifice. Their friendship soon blossoms into love, a highpoint being his coaxing her to don a space suit with him and stepping outside.
Making sure they are tethered to the ship, Jim asks her if she trusts him. Holding on to her, he pushes them out into space, the brilliant stars seeming to fly by them as they follow the rotating ship. It is one of those aha moments like the lovers perched on the prow of The Titanic, or Superman flying Lois Lane at night around the brightly lit towers of Manhattan.
No doubt Jim feels guilty as he hears Aurora express her disappointment that she will not get to participate in the colonization of a new world, but he feels safe that she will not learn that he was the instrument of destroying that dream. He has told Arthur not to mention anything about her awakening. But can an android be trusted?
There is much more, including the awakening of the ship’s captain Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne). There are many dangers ahead, so that one could argue that the awakening of the three was providential for the success of the mission.
The film offers plenty of food for thought, from the need of humans for companionship and the urge to venture into the unknown to escape an unpleasant or stifling situation, to the ethics of messing with the life of another in order to fulfill one’s own urgent need. The special effects are impressive, both those inside the huge spaceship and the star-bedecked scenes outside. The actors effectively run through the range of emotions—disappointment, frustration, despair bordering on a death wish, discovery and wonder, growing love, hurt and rejection, and fear of loss. Lovers of sci-fi and fans of romance films can come together in this stirring work. This another film that must be seen on a big screen to fully experience it.
This review with a set of questions will be in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP.