I had read couple of accounts in newspaper of how stowaways used to cling onto the wheels of the airplane or hide someplace in the cargo containers of ships, and sometimes in toilets; just to escape from whatever they have been facing. It was never for thrill of it, but always for a specific need like illegal emigration to better pastures.
I had never imagined that there could be a stowaway in a spacecraft. And this movie delves into one such situation when MTS-42 is on a 2 year mission to Mars. The spaceship has 3 crew members, Marina is the commander, Zoe is a medical researcher and David is a biologist; and they have been handpicked for this mission.
Soon after launch, when the crew members are settling down and doing a recce of the space vehicle, Marina notices drops of blood on the floor. She finds that the CDRA [Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly] unit is the source of it. On carefully opening the unit, she finds Michael, a stowaway, who is badly hurt and bleeding.
Michael has no recollection of how he got there, but he had no intention of being part of the crew or the journey. It points to some sort of scuffle and him getting forcibly pushed into that small unit. Michael recuperates while Zoe befriends him and explains how they are currently in space. And he cannot just go back home, anytime soon. Marina contacts the base station to know more about Michael and check if he poses any threats. As it turns out, they too had no such knowledge of a stowaway.
Due to this freak incident, the CDRA system gets damaged and non-functional and that causes a new problem. The amount of oxygen remaining in the aircraft isn’t sufficient for the now “four” member crew. Marina suggests that David “science the shit out of this” and try to manufacture some oxygen. But they also needed a backup plan. This brings us the moral dilemma that, even if David succeeds in manufacturing some oxygen, it may not be enough and one of them has to sacrifice their life. Who would be willing to do so, and save the mission? Obvious choice seems to be Michael, since he was the unintended participant, but can the crew come up with any other plan which would save the mission as well as their lives.
The movie is very interesting in most parts. Toni Collette as Marina is completely in her elements as the commander of the ship and a concerned crew member. Since its her call, it gives Toni more room to revel in the character, playing the good as well as the tough part. Anna Kendrick as Zoe is breezy, and she forms the glue that makes the team stick. She makes Michael feel at ease, after his harrowing experience as the stowaway. She sides up with Michael and explains to David as to why they should think of another solution, rather than having to sacrifice a life. Her presence has a calming effect on all characters.
Shamier Anderson, as the titular character, on whom the movie is set, plays the most difficult part. His role begins with a rude shock when he is discovered stuffed away in CDRA unit, then he goes through a healing process, and finally when he begins to open-up and mingle with the team, he is informed of the lack of oxygen in the craft and how someone needs to take responsibility and make a sacrifice.
Joe Penna, as director of the movie, has extracted good performances from all the actors. Thanks to previous movies on Mars mission, Interstellar, Arrival, Gravity etc, this movie is not burdened with showing the setup, crew selection, prep for take-off etc. The movie easily slips into the main story within minutes of take-off. The dialogs are few, but the background score more than makes up for it.
What interested me more, was the fact that the current covid situation which has pushed people to rush to hospitals due to breathlessness and make arrangements for their own oxygen cylinders, since the establishment is unable to do so, and how this movie also talks about oxygen shortage! Of course there is no messaging that’s been inserted or any metaphor. But our fight with coronavirus hit me instantly, and I could identify with the helplessness and the desperation for saving a life and survival. It makes the movie into an existential crisis, and we can feel that to the bones. Watch the movie to know what it feels like being helpless, gasping for breath and how some decisions can impact others lives.