Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan in new sci-fi flick 'Life.' (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

'Life' Warns Us Against Careless, Know-It-All Attitude Toward Aliens and Ultimately, Each Other


MARCH 22, 2017

Jakarta. It's only natural for science-fiction films to imagine and romanticize the possibility of life on Mars, but a depiction of a failed human expedition to outer space is decidedly more rare.

"Life," a new film by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, warns humanity to wade carefully into uncharted waters as the film imagines extraterrestrial beings as less-forgiving creatures compared to those depicted in, say, Steven Spielberg's E.T.

The film opens with a group of astronauts working at the International Space Station who manage to get their hands on a single-celled organism extracted from Mars. Scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) leads the process of catalyzing the organism's growth in a spaceship laboratory. At first, the sample appears docile, even as Derry discovers that the creature is, according to his words, "all muscle, all brain, and all eye" – a harbinger of disaster?

The news of the existence of the Martian specimen, named Calvin in the film, is spread around the world as humanity, quite expectantly, grows excited about its first encounter with an alien being.

However, something goes wrong as Calvin eventually falls unconscious. Blinded by his fascination toward the creature, Derry takes an ill-advised approach to wake Calvin up by electrocuting him. Soon, the threatened Martian starts to attack Derry and everybody else in the station.

One dumb decision leads to another. Smart-talking mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) tries to kill Calvin though his efforts prove fruitless. It is no spoiler that others will follow suit by sacrificing themselves, especially because they are too unwilling to go against the strict Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who reminds the others that protocols require no dangerous specimen can be brought back to Earth.

Calvin, whose life began on a petri dish, transforms into a giant starfish-like creature whose growth is stimulated by feeding off humans in zero gravity.

"Life" has been described by many critics as an "Alien" or "Gravity" rip-off. In truth, the film is as thrilling as its two predecessors, but ultimately lacks the charisma to be as memorable as the former and fails to let the audience connect with its characters.

Some of the characters do have poignant backgrounds. After serving as a volunteer doctor in Syria, PTSD-ridden Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) has no intention of returning to Earth because he cannot stand the atrocities humanity commits, while engineer Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) has recently become a father to a baby girl.

However, these stories, told in a rushed manner, evoke just fleeting moments of sympathy and do not create a substantial enough bond between the film's audience and its main characters.

It seems that Espinosa was more interested in showing the consequences of rash decisions and the harshness of the laws that govern space rather than sparking an emotional connection with his audience. Given the film's anti-heroic ending, his message of space realism is easily reduced: humans should stop thinking they are superior to each other and appreciate the varying cultural and societal values that define us.

"Life" opens in cinemas across the country on Wednesday (22/03).