By David Mayne
Starring: Gunner Wright
Directed By: William Eubank
Where to See: DVD, Netflix Streaming (As of 01/08/13)
Living on the International Space Station (ISS) must be a real test of both mind and body. Sure it would be cool to live in space, waking up every “morning” and seeing the planet Earth far below you, floating around all day in a zero-gravity apartment, and traveling around the planet at roughly 17,000 MPH. Seriously, I’m not sure what your day at the office is like, but most can agree, being an astronaut on board the ISS isn’t your normal walk in the park. Even though it might sound glamorous, life aboard the ISS is a bit more…tricky. The average stay on the ISS is 2 weeks, although some have stayed for as long as 6 months to a year. Extended time in space takes its toll however, bone loss being one. For every month in zero gravity, the human body loses 2% bone mass, requiring astronauts to workout 2+ hours a day to stay healthy. Eating is more difficult as well, and as one astronaut put it, try eating and swallowing while lying on your side. Personal hygiene can also prove problematic without gravity, the music-festival favorite “wet wipes” often taking the place of a daily shower. Then there’s the actual work…and there is a LOT of it. The point is: forget the 20-mile high astro-parties with zero-g backflips, spinning iPods and Jello chasing contests like in the movies. Time on the Space Station is relentless, hard, and sometimes lonely.
In William Eubank’s directorial debut, Love, the concept of isolation and loneliness are explored in-depth as we are introduced to a lone astronaut trapped aboard the ISS after unexplained events on Earth prevent his return home. The movie begins with a beautifully shot Civil War scene in which we see a Union General whose regiment is preparing to defend their entrenched “base”, in what will most likely end in complete slaughter. The General allows a single soldier, Captain Lee Briggs, to leave the camp safely, telling him that there is something that he must witness that will change the course of human destiny. It isn’t really made clear why only Briggs is allowed to leave, however we do get a tiny glimpse that whatever it is that he is sent out to see is indeed monumental.
Love then fast forwards to the near-future of 2039, where Captain Lee Miller (Wright) is working solo aboard the ISS, 20 years after it was abandoned, to ensure its safety for renewed use. Shortly after a check in with Mission Control, communications go suddenly silent and for days Captain Miller is left trying to figure out why he cannot communicate with Earth. After pouring over troubleshooting manuals and continual attempts to contact CAPCOM, Miller receives an eerily cryptic transmission from Mission Control stating that due to the “situation” on Earth, there is currently no way to bring him out of orbit and back home. Faced with remaining on the ISS indefinitely, Captain Miller tries to maintain his composure and workout routine, all the while coming to grips with the idea that he may never leave the station, relying on Polaroids of former crew mates and a strange journal he finds on board inscribed, “Captain Lee Briggs”, to stay sane.
What Love does incredibly right is that it puts the viewer right there on the ISS with Captain Miller. You feel his anger, his fear, and his sadness as the reality of never going home slowly sinks in. We can only assume, and it’s slightly implied, that some sort of global catastrophe has happened back on Earth, forever guaranteeing Miller’s permanent residence on the station. Even though the ISS is capable of recycling water, air, and electricity indefinitely and food supplies can theoretically last for years, the lack proper maintenance and repair supplies from Earth make the ISS a slowly sinking ship. The main question is, can Captain Miller weather the storm along with the station?
Even though most of the film is dedicated to examining the effects of extreme social deprivation on the part of Captain Miller, there is always that Civil War intro that begs the question….”what was that all about?!” Not to be thought a one-trick-pony, Eubank delivers on the promise that something much deeper is happening during the course of this story. With a masterful touch, Eubank weaves a unique and twisting tapestry in the second to last half of Love that seems to answer all of your questions with more questions, leading up to an ending that had me instantly memorized and wanting more! Gunner Wright is spectacular as Captain Miller, hitting all the right emotions and moods that each scene calls for. He truly brings to life a character suffering from unimaginable isolation and helplessness; a stranded man with little to no hope of ever going home. Maybe I’m a sucker for space-induced science fiction. Maybe I like the notion that there is so much more to discover beyond our tiny little world, that movies like this capture my imagination and make me a 8-year-old again, standing in awe at seeing a comet zoom by and knowing I’d never see it again in my lifetime. Love is an experiment, and a daring one, that most films can never hope to recreate. It gets to you on a much deeper level than big name actors and CGI explosions can. It gets you to think and ponder, to wonder and imagine. If I am making too much out of Love and its weighty themes I must apologize, however, I think a film like this is capable of teaching us very down to earth concepts, far away from its sci-fi-heavy exterior. See Love.