We went to see The Space Between Us yesterday, and I’m so glad we made the effort to go out despite the terrible weather here, as it was one of the sweetest space stories I’ve ever seen.
Asa Butterfield plays Gardener Elliot, the first (and only) human born on Mars, who decides to travel to earth as a sixteen year old to visit his Skype friend Tulsa. They go on a road trip and start falling for each other. That’s the summary you get from the trailer, and it looks fairly bubblegum happy. Friend, it is so much deeper than that. You experience isolation, loss, love, witness someone choosing to make life altering decisions as a (film version of a) disabled person. Gardner chooses to go to earth despite the fact that he might die from the differences in atmospheric pressure and how they’ll affect his body which has only ever known life on Mars.
I really loved the portrayal of both Gardener, and another character as disabled people chosing to do things even if it was risky – it’s a life lesson a lot/most disabled people have to make at some point or another: is it worth it, to live, to have this experience, even if it makes me worse in the long-term? Even if I might die? Now most people don’t have experiences of that last question, but I’m pretty sure everyone has thought about what they would do if they had to choose in a life or death situation like that. I know I have, and I’ve also had to make the other choices – should I have this risky treatment, even if it might make things worse, should it go wrong? Though Gardener makes the choices with all the spontaneity of a sixteen year old boy, it’s made very clear to us through the film that he understood what he was doing, and it’s worth it. The same is true for the other character I can’t mention without spoiling the film.
There are some beautiful scenes between Gardener, who is essentially orphaned, and Tulsa, his Skype friend who takes him roadtripping across the US, and it felt really important to see the kinds of emotional honesty that both characters were given in their respective genders – Gardener, a wide-eyed innocent boy who has no guile whatsoever, and Tulsa, a foster care hardened, justifiably angry girl who tries to explain the world to him. “You can’t just say how you’re feeling, because if we were all honest, then maybe we’d be happy or something,” she tells him at one point when he declares how beautiful he finds her. And having a boy being the intensely soft, emotionally driven center of the film felt really refreshing, especially after having watched Moonlight a few days earlier, where we watch a soft boy being toughened to an armour plated man. That moment never comes for Gardener in the film, and I was really grateful, as too often it’s portrayed as natural for boys to have their emotional softness taken away at a tender age, while girls are expected to retain it.
The acting and cinematography are wonderful in this film – Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson deserve so much kudos for their roles, and naturally Gary Oldman knocks it out of the park as the Richard Branson-esque Nathaniel Shepherd.
The one criticism I have of the film, is in its treatment of both Gardener’s mum, Sarah Elliot, and the astronaut who takes care of him on Mars Kendra Wyndham. Sarah is an astronaut who discovers she’s pregnant while flying to Mars, who is constantly defined as “irresponsible” for not knowing she was pregnant when the mission began – as if a) she didn’t become pregnant through actions undertaken with another person, and b) Nasa wouldn’t routinely screen their astronauts for potential pregnancy before they launched. It’s all very much hand waved as a “woman’s problem” that she’s irresponsible for not handling before they left on the four-year long trip to Mars. And then when later in the film, Kendra is vilified for telling Gardener she never wanted children, she’s not seen as having done something good and kind for having raised this random kid she found on the space base on Mars, she’s seen as a monster for not being thrilled that she’s been left to take care of him because nobody else is doing it. It’s a very big let down in a film that gets men’s emotions so right, and I wish I could pretend that flaw wasn’t there, because otherwise it’s a wonderful, cute and happy emotional rollercoaster of a film. So it gets 4/5 from me.