Twelve: The Space Between Us, Daddy Issues, and Appreciating the Wonders in Our Own Backyard

Oh boy. I plead very guilty to initially hoping that The Space Between Us might be a decent enough YA-targeted film. It has a number of vaguely interesting elements that might have been strung together to make a vaguely interesting movie, or, say, one that was better than the last Nicolas Sparks movie I had the misfortune to see. Space features Mars colonization, a baby born on a space shuttle, daddy issues, a young romance, a few homages/direct references to the classic Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, commentary on the American foster system, and, obviously, Gary Oldman. Also worth noting is this film has NO ties to any YA literature– this is not an adaptation of the latest sci fi dystopian love triangle best seller, it’s 100% original material. This must be remarked upon because almost nothing in this quagmire of nonsense feels original or true or even passably sweet.

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Sorry for all the negative space, Gary.
  • The Space Between Us’s ranking on the Oldometer: 2/10
  • Gary Oldman character quality: Gary is Nathaniel Shepard, CEO of some kind of corporation that is responsible for putting together the very first team of Mars colonizers. He has some kind of brain benign tumor thing which does not interfere with his life on earth but may cause his brain to explode if he were to venture into outer space. This is much to his chagrin, because he looooves space sooooo much. He’s got the hots for space! He wants to marry it. Anyway. Gary’s fine here, he does his best to blend into this bizarrely bland story. The screentime spent on Nathaniel is the most interesting by far, but his appearance in this hogwash is another mystery I’m out to unravel.
  • Does Gary die in this one? No, but I wish for his sake that he had.

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The party don’t start till the rover rolls in.

So Gary is Nathaniel Shepard, he’s in charge of sending this group of colonizing spacemen (and women!) to Mars. He really wishes he could go along, but ah, his heart goes with them, so to speak. Turns out the leader of the endeavor is pregnant, and she has the baby (in space, where no one can hear you scream in labor), and then she dies. That’ll teach her for trying to have it all! No colonizing mars AND having babies for you, lady! The baby is fine, though, and all the other astronauts (mainly the underrated Carla Gugino in one of the 500 thankless roles of her career)  adopt the little dude and raise him on Mars, where he’s bored AF and scathingly brilliant but also an idiot. He also spends most of his time on gchat, talking up an earth girl on the ‘net, which works just fine in outerspace. There’s also a robot or something but I don’t care. Nor do the writers of this film.

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You can’t just rocket off to Earth on a whim. You have to planet.

Eventually Mars Boy trains for his quest to visit the home planet. He wants to meet his online gf and also his dad, a nondescript dude he has recently seen in old video footage. He makes it back to earth with Carla (apparently it doesn’t take all that long), Nathaniel is displeased because he knows earth’s gravity might explode Mars Boy. In one of two scenes that briefly piqued my interest, Mars Boy and Nathaniel meet, and they play a short round of questions (oh would that it were anything like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s Questions). Nathaniel is clearly intrigued and disarmed by Mars Boy, Mars Boy is clearly obsessed with Earth the way Nathaniel is obsessed with Mars. This is an interesting idea, but this movie has a knack for inoculating any spark of thematic imagination in favor of Sparksian imitation, so of course Mars Boy runs away once his overlords have determined that his health is too delicate for him to remain on our planet. Mars boy will show them! Mars Boy goes off to meet his gf, she doesn’t believe that he’s a martian, they see some balloons, they go on the run from the law or whatever, no one cares.

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No comment.

This insufferable child’s schtick for his time on earth is asking randos what they like best about the world. Nathaniel’s answer is “rain, because it washes everything clean” (WILL IT WASH THIS MOVIE FROM MY MEMORY GARY?). Other people choose candy and sunsets and stuff like that (I don’t really remember). Of course, we get it– this kid is awestruck by the beauty that we all take for granted because we weren’t born in outer space. We’re fascinated by the wonder of the stars and he’s all about the wonder of horses and teenage girls and the Grand Canyon. He’s also slowly dying on our planet because…. his heart is literally too big.

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They don’t teach you how to spell on Mars.

Finally (after what feels like an eternity of putting up with this kid and his girlfriend, played by the eternally girlish and tryingly feisty Britt Robertson btw), it is determined that the guy in the video footage that Mars Boy thought was his father is, in fact, his uncle (no, it’s not a Chinatown situation or anything). Also, Gary is his real father! Dad & son are reunited on a really pretty beach shortly after Britt tells Mars Boy that he is her favorite thing about earth (which doesn’t even make any sense but okay). I can’t even at this point, and apparently Mars Boy can’t either and he starts to go full coma. Gary gets him and the girlfriend on a space plane ASAP and the father risks his life by piloting the plane just beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Mars Boy revives and Britt Robertson makes out with him in zero gravity or something preposterous like that.

Since Gary’s own health issues turn out to be non issues, he and his space son go back to Mars together. On earth, Carla Gugino adopts Britt Robertson and gives her space training so that sometime in the near future she can join her boyfriend on Mars. The film ends with Gary and Mars Boy together forever on the red planet.

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Throwing in the towel: what Gary should have done the moment this script materialized in his life.

I’d like to be lazy and just conclude this post with the above summary because I feel it speaks for itself, but I am dedicated to scraping what I can out of this cheese tin of blah.

While Space Between Us wants to distract us with what it hopes is a cute romance between Earth Girl and Mars Boy, at its (empty) heart it champions 1) a father/son relationship and 2) the Wizard of Oz-ish message that magic lies in our own backyard, on our own planet, and in our interpersonal relationships, contrary to our desires to explore the unknown and quest for greener grass. Or in this case, oranger dust.

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“Do you like life, sweetheart?”

Gary’s character’s name is Nathaniel Shepard. Mars Boy’s name is Gardner. Robertson’s name is Tulsa. One could argue for a reading that Shepard as the colonizing CEO is a gatherer and organizer of missions, a director of lives which he perhaps takes for granted from his cushy place in the control room. Shepard has not lived. Gardner is the kid with the giant heart who encourages things to grow (interesting, I suppose, since he hails from a planet where literally nothing grows unless Matt Damon is involved). Everyone is dead inside until they encounter Gardner who cultivates their hearts (or something like that). Tulsa is the earth (the planet and the substance) who springs to life with the help of the gardener. Carla Gugino’s character’s name is Wyndham, which might also be a reference to the wind, another element (so the two female characters are natural elements and the two male characters are…. gods?). Who knows, really, because Chrisholm doesn’t know what to do with any of this. Over the course of the film, the gardener grants the shepherd with the verve to embrace life, and the shepherd accepts the gardener and provides him with the guidance he needs. Because we just can’t have life springing up willy-nilly.

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Get this kid some eggos, STAT!

This sense of order is what is the most motivating and most annoying about the film. Excuse my low-level Marxist reading here, but in the end the main character is returned to his home on Mars because he can’t hack it on earth. Much like Dorothy in the aforementioned (and infinitely superior, obviouslyyyyy) Wizard of Oz, Mars Boy went outside of homebase, his greatest dream, only to go back home with the conclusion that he need not look further than his own orange desert for magic and wonder, because after all, people on earth dream of his planet the way he dreams of theirs. That’ll teach you to pursue your dreams, kid!

Of course there’s nothing wrong with learning to appreciate what you have, but Mars looks like a really crappy place to spend your life. Just sayin’.

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But the film is a saddening bore.

Carla Gugino is relegated to training newbs on earth. Britt Robertson’s Tulsa has to say goodbye to Mars Boy. And lest we forget, the original leader of the Mars Colony Initiative dies in childbirth and doesn’t get to do anything. The only person who does achieve his dream (which is expressed from the film’s first scene) is Nathaniel Shepard, who not only gets to travel through outer space to his Mars colony after years of watching wistfully from the sidelines, but he also gets a family out of the whole affair. Of course it takes love and responsibility for him to achieve this, but once again, the most powerful dude is the one that wins here. If I cared enough about this movie I’d have much more to say about this, but I can’t be bothered.

One of the strangest, most inconsistent and frustrating aspects of Space Between Us is that it eschews any opportunity for world-building. Obviously for a corporation to actualize a colony on Mars complete with robots and high-speed internet and resources with which to raise an infant, it must be quite advanced. It must be even more advanced by the time Mars Boy comes of age. But other than whatever this magical technology is that has allowed for this giant leap for mankind, there is no sign that this story is set even in the near future. Lazily, it looks and feels very much like our own here and now. Also, if this genius kid has access to gchat, you’d think he’d be blogging his giant Mars-sized heart out, but I digress.

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That Moment When the Star Man comes to meet you and totally blows your mind. Cause he’s your son. And also the worst.

However, I suspect that this fantasy was inspired by the very real folks that have Mars on the mind. Mars Colonization is a goal for a number of strange, currently earth-bound organizations which have been encouraging selected applicants to begin training for their life on another planet (these organizations stress that once said applicants arrive on Mars, they are unlikely to return to earth). Obviously, these organizations do not even begin to have the tech that would allow for such a mission, yet they attract very serious applicants, which is fascinating. The commitment that these otherwise normal-appearing people possess to this outlandish idea is peculiar, and I can only assume that the writers of Space Between Us felt the same way. Perhaps this film is their appeal to that mentality– why throw away or ignore the here and now, the life before you and the importance of your relationships on a “dream” that is not only impossible but asinine? What good can all of your “mars” training do you when you reach old age and still find yourself on the same planet where you started from? Perhaps these folks and others who do not value the gift of a life with access to its own particular wonders need a gardener to help them grow where they are. I get it.

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Jeff Bridges called, he wants his schtick back. Tom Cruise isn’t crazy about your use of ray bans, either.

My favorite thing about earth is art. Unfortunately, that is not what this film amounts to. To its credit, The Space Between Us did remind me not to take my time on this earth for granted; I will not be using my gift of life to watch this movie ever again.

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