Stowaway, by Albert W. Vogt III

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of too many Netflix films that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Somebody with a better memory or more familiarity with them may come along and say what about fill-in-the-blank title? So, yes, my mind may not be able to land on one without assistance, so please feel free to comment below if there are any movies I may be overlooking. Instead, I mostly watch the most popular streaming platform for documentaries and whenever it deigns to release a season of Stranger Things. But I do like Anna Kendrick, who plays newcomer to space Zoe Levenson in Stowaway. I did not care much for the film, but I am not ashamed to admit that it was her that brought me to watch it, if for no other reason than to see if she could pull off such a role.

Not too long before watching Stowaway, I saw an interview with Anna Kendrick where she talked about the challenges of doing a space film. That sentence basically describes it entirety: challenging. It starts with the three main astronauts: the aforementioned Zoe, David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), and their commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette). After we see them endure the rush of take-off and slipping the Earth’s bonds, they dock with the bigger ship that will take them on their mission to Mars. Once they have settled in for a couple days, though, they discover that they are not alone. No, it is not some menacing alien that desires to eat their faces. Instead, it is one Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), a technician who had managed to get lodged in the bowels of the vessel that brought them into space and had somehow been forgotten about during the countdown. His discovery also leads to a malfunction in their carbon dioxide scrubby-thingy (I forget the technical terms), meaning they now have a limited supply of oxygen. Their first solution, over David’s objections, is to use the algae he has with him that he hoped to experiment with on Mars to produce oxygen because, you know, science. However, the conditions do not appear to be right for them to sustain themselves, and one-by-one the batches die before they can make up for the air deficit. The other solution is to fix the damaged piece of machinery. Yet, in discussing this with mission control, they find out that they lack the necessary material and know-how to mend it. While they work through these ideas, they initially keep from Michael the fact that they are quickly running out of air and are going to suffocate before they reach Mars. David is the one most affected by this because in trying to save them all he is seeing his life’s work being destroyed, the whole reason for him going to space. Of the four of them, it is decided that Michael is the one that needs to go because he is the one least equipped to handle space flight. It is Zoe, though, that does not want to give up, and she proposes a dangerous space walk to the other end of their ship where there is liquid oxygen stored. The reason this plan is so perilous is because their vessel is essentially a string with their living module and controls on one end, their much needed solar panels in the middle, and their rockets on the other, slowly spiraling through space in order to create artificial gravity. One false move during the proposed trek and they will be jettisoned out into space without hope of rescue. Initially, this course of action is rejected, but when Zoe learns that David gave Michael a syringe with a lethal dose and explained the situation to him, it makes her more determined to try. Her willingness to risk her life for Michael seemingly shames David into accompanying her. While their first attempt to reach their destination is successful, an incoming solar storm cuts short their trip. On hastily returning to their module, Zoe lands roughly and loses the first canister full of oxygen. However, there is a second one back in the rocket. Feeling like time is of the essence (for some reason, more about this later), Zoe goes back out in the solar storm alone and is able to retrieve the last canister. While heroic, this act also results in her death due to the solar radiation. The film ends with the necessary air receptacle safely aboard the module, and her looking off into space with her dying breath.

This last sequence in Stowaway deserves a little further explanation. When they were sorting through potential solutions to their air crisis, their calculations told them that they had roughly twenty days to come up with a solution. Because astronauts typically hate to test their margins of error, David preached more immediate action. Thus, three days into this window is when he gave Michael the means for the extra passenger to kill himself. Unless I missed something, it was the next day that Zoe happens upon a dejected Michael contemplating ending his life, and they decide to attempt to retrieve the oxygen from the rocket. Now, I am no math wizard, but would that not leave over two weeks before drastic measures needed to be taken? And yet, when they get back just before the solar storm arrives, they act like they need to make a decision immediately as to who was going to die in order to get the last canister. Of course, the solar storm is the problem, but the only thing they mention about its potential duration is that it would be a few hours. The point I am trying to make here is that I did not understand the rush to send someone to their death. There were other parts that I did not quite get. In the beginning, there is kind of neat introduction to the three astronauts where they are interviewed by people back on Earth. I use such a nondescript term for the interviewers because we never hear their voices. At first, I thought this was going to be something they did just for this part, but they carried this through the entire movie. I quickly got annoyed with this aspect. Nonetheless, the worst part is their inability to solve problems. Immediately after watching Stowaway, I decided to view The Martian (2015) in order to see a better example of a space movie where the characters (or character, really) seems to know what to do to survive.

Still, I guess there would not have been a Stowaway movie had it not been for the nerve wracking space walk to retrieve the liquid oxygen. And as much as I think Zoe’s sacrifice is logically unnecessary, as a Catholic I can appreciate the act. Her act is set up by a beautiful story she tells earlier about working as a lifeguard, a profession with which I can identify. She relates a moment where she had to go out to rescue somebody in the middle of a strong tide, to paddle out to a much larger man. She had no idea whether or not she would survive, much less the person she was attempting to save. Eventually, she had to be rescued herself. Yet, what is important is that she stepped out in faith (small “f” this time). She performs the deed without thinking, simply wanting to do the right thing. I like to think that is motivated by Faith (purposeful capital “f” this time), partially because she has a St. Christopher medal. Either way, she looks to someone other than herself, and that is a Christian virtue.

My frustration with Stowaway is mainly focused on seeing Zoe die. She is easily the most likable character, and the only one who does not resign herself to death. Overall, though some other parts did not make a ton of sense to me, it is an okay movie. It is on Netflix, so if you want to check it out, go ahead. There are worse movies to see.

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