23 November 2013

Europa Report

This movie is currently being promoted by Netflix, which is how it caught my eye (according to its wiki, it was released digitally first, then into theaters? Weird.). I'm on kind of a space kick I guess, having watched (and very much enjoyed) Gravity not too long ago, and then listened to this awesome interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield, so I was sort of primed for enjoyment. The description on netflix described the movie as a "nail-biting thriller," an account highly contested by various users in their reviews, which were, however, quite positive. But man -- I was on the edge of my seat. This movie was so fantastically unsettling and creepy, I was totally enthralled.

The movie is in the form of 'found footage,' and jumps around in time, giving you a sense of impending disaster. It follows a group of scientists sent to explore Europe, one of Jupiter's moons, because they believe that its icy surface may contain life forms. Of course, things start to go wrong.

So, a number of things I loved about the film (and I am not going to give any real spoilers, but I also think you might be better off watching it knowing nothing about it beforehand, so you may want to consider saving this post for after you've seen it):

1. I complained about the sappy psycho-drama of Gravity, and indeed, for days afterwards I found myself thinking, "Why can't someone make a space exploration movie in which the voyage is NOT a metaphor for working through psychological trauma?" And Europa Report did it for me. It's not that the characters don't have psychological issues; they do, but most of them seem to be specifically caused by the mentally grueling experience they're undergoing. Which is emphatically not a metaphor for anything. It is very insistently its own thing which is more than enough. You do not need to be thinking about your dead daughter in order to make space exploration meaningful. Harping on that, in fact, does the exact opposite. This movie gets that.

2. It is a visual assault, in some ways. I am perhaps more attuned to this because I am currently sitting in on a seminar about Deleuze's cinema theory, and we had just been talking about how film can change your way of seeing precisely by overloading you with visuals, such that you are unable to synthesize or process them. It is exhilarating to have a barrage of images flash before your eyes at a moment of dramatic tension - it literally took my breath away.
  Relatedly, the way the film handled narrative was extremely effective, and really ennobled the 'found footage' form. Very well done. I honestly thought there was never a dull moment, despite plenty of seemingly mundane footage. As with The Sorrows of Young Werther, which I was recently so impressed by, this was a work that managed to make it seem as though various narrative elements were emerging organically from an assortment of material. It never felt contrived or ham-fisted. The realist illusion at its best.

3. I thought it was really neat how the technological symptoms that suggested the possible presence of life forms -- anomalous data readings, a weird tremor of color on the monitors, etc -- came to seem like living things in and of themselves. Again, this is maybe because D.L. and I had just been discussing Koyaanisqatsi as representing capitalism as living organism and flow, so it was at the forefront of my mind.

4. The way it gives you a sense of what an extreme environment space is, to the extent that it makes this unbelievably high-tech equipment seem bumbling and crude. The most minor things become a matter of life and death. It's completely terrifying.

5. The way it subtly raised questions of scientific discovery and self-sacrifice, and left them open. Is knowledge worth dying for? Where do you draw that line?

My one beef with the movie was in the very final scene, which was very cool in some ways, but I wish had been done in a slightly less cliché way. They really bumbled it. Neat idea, lame execution.

But overall, a very cool movie, and well worth watching.

No comments: