A Science Fictional Year: Lonely Sci-Fi

Gravity (2013) • Solaris (1972) • Solaris (2002) • The Fountain (2006) • Sunshine (2007) • Moon (2009)

This sub-genre of sci-fi that isn’t actually a genre, but which I like to think of as Lonely Sci-Fi, is one of my favorites. Harkening back to Alien, being alone in space forces you to contemplate. The vastness of space becomes a metaphor for the vastness of internal space, and for most people, they’re equally dark, terrifying, and unexplored. Similarly, space instantly confronts us with mortality. Like ancient sailors and their fear of the ocean and their belief that gods and hell lie at its floor, or most recent mythologies have trimmed the “s” off gods, and he (almost certainly he) lives somewhere out there, frighteningly beyond knowable space. As such, all these movies are about death and mortality: how you face death, who pushes you to it, and if it’s worth it.

The first movie I saw in this group was Gravity. I actually struggle if this is science fiction. I actually don’t think this movie is sci-fi. It involves scientists, for sure, and it is a story, and they’re in space, but I don’t think this movie is science fiction. This is one of those movies that makes us realize that we do live in the future: every item in it is now common place. Thanks to this, I know there are currently six people in space. That’s four more people than are currently in my house, which makes being in space a relatively common event now. We’ve even had our fair share of space accidents. That means that every element of this movie already exists and therefore can’t be science fiction, especially if we (try desperately to) use my definition in which science has some role to play in urging the plot forward, and science pushes the characters toward some moment of transcendence.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t cool to see astronauts being heroic, because it is.

As I contemplate this not actually being science fiction, it’s difficult then to also see what, if any, transcendent message it has. In fact, the movie is, blatantly, about pushing toward the terrestrial and getting away from space. Everything from the characters talking about Earth based trauma, jobs, music, and what they plan to do when they get back de-transcendentalizes this movie.

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