LIFE Movie Review
By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic
Las Vegas Informer
Terrific, smart sci-fi thriller.
The crew aboard the International Space Station has onboard the first significant proof of life on Mars. The single cell is inert. The crew, led by CDC scientist Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), will observe and study the cell before returning to Earth. Excitement on Earth is so great that, regardless of what it is or could turn out to be, of most importance is what should its name be.
With North are doctor Daniel Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has spent over a year on the ISS, mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), microbiologist Hugh Hugh (Ariyon Baker) and Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya).
Naming this discovery “Calvin” was the first mistake, regardless of how the children of Earth felt about it.
Calvin is an instant celebrity and no doubt there will be a Fifth Avenue parade upon its arrival on Earth.
In Genesis God gives Adam the task to name all the cattle, birds and every beast of the field. A name is more than a simple identification; there is a deeper, spiritual act of naming that creates an empathic bond between the namer and the named.
(Those who raise animals for food will often tell their children not to name them for obvious reasons: you cannot kill that which you name.)
Conversely, there is the process of objectification. The Nazis were masters of objectification, whereby they erased a person’s name and identity with a number.
Naming brings the essence of things into being—Krista Tippett
Responsible for Calvin is Hugh, who lost both legs when he was 10. The only reason for the screenwriters giving Hugh this disability is, I hope, not because the disabled are under-represented in movies, but might suggest some unresolved issues. While it appears he hopes their discovery might aid others with disabilities in the future, I saw his disability as a disadvantage on the ISS. However, he is the only person onboard who can analyze Calvin. This is his value. He has sole access to Calvin.
Hugh uses various methods to “awaken” the cell. Finally, after several weeks, he finds the right agent. A proprietary relationship with the cute little thing begins. The hell with scientific protocols and strict rules of confinement, Calvin is indeed simulated by Hugh and begins to respond to him.
Calvin is so tiny and just looks like a leaf. It wraps itself around Hugh’s gloved finger. Contact has been made!
Now that everyone has identified the Mars cell as male and given it a name, Calvin is now a crew member.
Leaving the lab, Hugh forgets about laboratory rules and jeopardizes the containment protocols. Nevertheless, he is soon back at the lab, playing with Calvin.
Until Calvin wouldn’t let go of Hugh.
Hugh’s sloppy handling of Calvin and falsely attributing the human characteristic of “curiosity” to it, leads to his hand being caught in Calvin’s grip. Safely outside the lab, the crew watches in horror as Hugh seems to be genuinely in distress. One of the crew decides to risk his own safety by going inside the lab to help assist Hugh. In doing so, Calvin escapes.
Finally, Rory yells at his crew mates, “Stop calling it Calvin!”
While the greatest good by humans may be self-sacrifice to benefit others – especially if it is done for strangers – the ultimate truth is that all living beings are genetically programmed to live by any means.
This must be why the movie is called LIFE.
Calvin is not evil. Calvin just wants to live. Hugh gave Calvin the means to live by giving it the chemicals it needed to get stronger and evolve. And like that proto-human that stood up on two legs, Calvin was not going to let other living forms get in its way.
Frankly, I was disappointed by some of the characters who showed no great evolutionary drive to survive. Not one of them said, “Hey, you can handle this as you like. I’m going into the escape pod. Someone’s got to warn Earth.”
What do we love about sci-fi thrillers in space? Well, no matter how big and dazzling it is, you are stuck in a big metal tube with so many parts that something will go wrong. Its claustrophobic. There is also the matter of the dense environment. You are trapped in close quarters with people you didn’t choose.
Who cleans the damn thing?
With big budget sci-fi thrillers in space, we know that the sets are going to be impressive, the tension high and the fear factor ratcheted up. I screamed several times and I yelled directions out loud to the crew. I was very involved and the director, Daniel Espinosa, served the genre well.
The screenplay, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, doesn’t strictly follow the template. There is no romance and there is no villain onboard planning to bring Calvin back to Earth, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”
Since I am very engaged in a movie when it is done well, I do not think ahead or try to figure out how I am being manipulated. I do not try to out-guess the movie. I was the seventh crew member onboard headed for the escape pod as soon as Calvin got territorial. So, for me, the twist at the end was terrific and an unexpected surprise.
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