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Released 2024. Director: Johan Renck

IN ELTON JOHN'S HIT SONG ROCKETMAN, HE SINGS “I miss my wife, it’s lonely out in space.” Cosmonaut Jakub Prochazka would identify with that sentiment as he grapples with the guilt of leaving his pregnant wife to go on an 18-month inter-planetary mission in Spaceman, the feature directorial debut of Johan Renck, best known for helming the acclaimed TV series Chernobyl.

Taking place in the 1970s with a serious infusion of retro-techno in the set design, the movie centres on the spaceman from the former republic of Czechoslovakia on his way to check out a mystery cloud near Jupiter. Jakub is not coping well in his solo mission. His wife Lenka, meanwhile, has decided to leave him because Jakub takes his job more seriously than their marriage.

Troubled and lacking sleep, Jakub finds an unexpected passenger: a spider the size of a beach umbrella. If the discovery of a monster creature leads you to expect a revisit to Alien, you're on the wrong track. The spider is harmless and communicates with Jakub via telepathy, voiced by Paul Dano as a droning, whispery lullaby. Jakub names the spider Hanus while the spider calls Jakub “skinny human”, which is not how I’d describe Jakub's middle-age dad bod. And no, the fact that Jakub is played by Adam Sandler and he’s talking to a spider doesn’t turn Spacemen into a buddy comedy of juvenile humour either. Actually, the movie gets rather solemn and sad, but not in a touching or reflective way.

Spaceman is about a couple drifting apart, literally, one of them on solid ground while the other one is floating and hurtling through the Solar System. Absence, in their case, does not make the heart grow fonder. Not for Lenka anyway, who initiated the break-up. Her parting message is not received by her husband because Commissioner Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) has blocked the transmission to avoid exacerbating the cosmonaut’s mental distress.

In his concern for his wife’s silence, Jakub confides in Hanus, sharing his deepest feelings. The spider listens and advises, taking on the role as a therapist. Sandler brings light dramatic chops playing an unhappy man constantly in low spirit. But to make the audience feel your pain you need to deliver more than just looking and sounding miserable. Sandler’s surface-level despair doesn’t have the kind of melancholy and heartache necessary to make the character work. Carey Mulligan fares slightly better as the unhappy wife, her performance carries a measure of sorrow though when you consider the couple together, the story of their relationship has no poignancy on screen.

I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to take the spider for real or a hairy figment of the cosmonaut’s imagination. Is Hanus a phantasm borne of Jakub’s rational and emotional tangles? Or is it really an intelligent alien life that’s capable of so much that’s beyond human knowledge? How does it slip in and out of a sealed spacecraft if it’s real?

As a science fiction, the movie has little respect for science. Communication between Earth and the spacecraft is carried out through the “quantum faster-than-light” phone, instantaneous without even one second of delay. C’mon, nothing can be faster than light. Spacemen styles itself as old-school sci-fi that’s grounded in technological reality befitting its era, not in a Star Trek universe. Yet it doesn't stay true to its surroundings and throws up warp speed where it doesn't belong.

Spaceman sets out to deal with a weighty combination of marriage, career, priority, neglect and loneliness. At times the movie reminds me of Solaris, the original Andrei Tarkovsky version and the Steven Soderbergh remake (I like both a lot, by the way), in which a man in a spaceship is also confronted with life-changing situations involving his wife. To be clear, my mentioning of Spaceman in the company of Solaris isn’t drawing an equivalence in terms of merit. This movie carries aspirations to be a contemplative sci-fi but it doesn’t engage the heart or the mind. In the end, Jakub reaches the mysterious cloud and gains an understanding from Hanus. The scene featuring a floating spaceman and luminous streaks of colour has the tiniest whiff of 2001: A Space Odyssey and is meant as a moment of enlightenment for Jakub but it’s weak and has no impact. Where it ends up is like its title character in zero gravity, weightless.     

Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.

1 Comment

Ruth Maramis
Ruth Maramis
May 10

I was initially interested in seeing this, that is until I saw that spider the size of a beach umbrella in the trailer! I have a bit of arachnophobia so I don't think I can watch this, but sounds like I probably shouldn't bother anyway. Interesting that they cast Adam Sandler as a Czech cosmonaut.

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