Friday, April 21, 2017

Film Review: The Space Between Us

This film sometimes works amazingly well with its incredibly cool concept.  But most of the time it falls flat.

The Space Between Us is about Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) whose mother finds out she is pregnant on the first manned space colonization of Mars.  The brains behind the mission at ground control is Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) who decides that the safest thing to do is have the child be born on Mars.  Because of his in utero development in zero gravity and the lighter gravity of Mars, Gardner is stuck on the Red Planet.  One of the officers, Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino), is the closest thing he has to family at the space station.  The only person his age with whom he has contact is a girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson) with whom he video chats and has no idea that Gardner is on another planet.  But an experimental medical procedure gives Gardner a chance to visit Earth.  Rather than being stuck in a hospital, he escapes and goes on a quest with Tulsa in tow to find his father.

This is one of those movies that sells you on the plot.  The budding romance between Tulsa and Gardner always has the looming clouds of death hovering over.  This is a classic juxtaposition that gives the story a quick sense of gravity.  Tragic romances tend to be compelling because we yearn for the seemingly impossible obstacles to overcome.

But the place the movie works best is in the sense of wonder it creates.  Most movies with a science fiction bent focus on the cool and dazzling technologies and the distant exotic locales.  But The Space Between Us flips that on its head.  To Gardner, Mars is mundane.  When he gets to our ordinary world, he finds wonder.  It reminded me very much of GK Chesterton's who philosophy of life, a philosophy of wonder.  Chesterton thought that every day life was full of delightful and awe-inspiring things.  Gardner laughs with delight for the first time he gets to stand in the rain.  He wonders at a caterpillar crawling on his finger.  He meets a homeless man who asks him what his favorite thing about Earth is.  Gardner says, "So far, meeting you."

Any movie that can make me feel a greater appreciation for God's creation earns a few points with me.  Cynicism is easy.  Wonder, especially at the seemingly mundane, is difficult.

It makes me wish the rest of the movie was as good as these moments.

The plot is a bit spoiled by some fairly flat writing.  Moments of great subtlety and tenderness are often hit too hard on the head.  For example, on Mars, Gardner watches the German classic film Wings of Desire.  Throughout the movie, director Peter Chelsom sets up similar shots from that movie.  But rather than simply shooting those shots, Chelsom intercuts the shots with flashes from Wings of Desire, as if to beat you over the head with the comparison.

And while there is character development, there tends to be very little depth to the characters.  The exception to this is Shepherd.  He begins a gigantic manhunt for Gardner and is therefore cast as the main antagonist, but it was refreshing to see that his sense of urgency is only motivated by his altruistic desire to save Gardner's life.  But other than Oldman and Butterfield, the performances are nothing to write home about.


One of the areas where the movie lost points was with its sex scene.  It wasn't graphic, but it really bothered me for a few reasons.  First, it was completely unnecessary to the plot.  Second, the movie implies that Tulsa has a promiscuous past.  She is the one who initiates the intimacy, but it would have been better for both of their characters if they connected more innocently.  Third, both characters are only around sixteen, so their youth makes the scene incredibly uncomfortable.  (Now, my wife pointed out that it is possible that they only cuddled skin on skin without the actual sex, but it is ambiguous)


All in all, The Space Between Us has some enjoyable moments wrapped in a mediocre package.

3 out of 5 stars.

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