Stowaway [2021]

“What are we gonna do, ask him to walk out of the airlock?”


Oh man, I meant to do a post about this one film a long time ago when I watched it back in June 2021.. Stowaway is a science fiction thriller which came out in 2021. You can see it on Netflix now, if you want to. I really meant to do a post about it straight away when I saw it because it had a big impact on me, but life took over, and I kept saying I would write something but never did. So, anyway, I’m doing that now; here I am writing a post about this! 

So, just to give a little synopsis about the film, here goes!

The film stars some pretty big names in Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette and Shamier Anderson. It’s directed by Joe Penna and written by both Joe and Ryan Morrison. 

The story is about a crew of three people who are on a two-year mission to Mars, headed/piloted by Toni Collette’s character, a biologist in Daniel Dae Kim and Anna’s character as the medical researcher, Zoe. They take off from Earth and quickly find themselves in trouble when Michael, a stowaway, is found unconscious in a module somewhere in the ship sort of entangled in something that takes carbon dioxide from the air. As he falls from this module, he ends up destroying it which basically renders the ship unable to scrub carbon dioxide from it, so the longer that this extra person exists on the ship, the higher likelihood there is that they will suffocate. They move quickly to trying to think of various ways in order to scrub the CO2 from the air such as using lithium hydroxide canisters but the load is too much for them to handle. David then sacrifices part of his algae experiment which is literally the whole reason for the mission. Half of the algae die in the process and only provides enough CO2 scrubbing for a third person. Mission control suggests they try a dangerous mission to recover liquid oxygen from the spent upper stage rocket, which is not the ideal situation because it is so darn risky. So they spend time considering their options including whether to sacrifice Michael. Eventually they run out of time… all the algae has died which means they don’t have an option here. Presented with this, both Zoe and Daniel volunteer to try to retrieve the liquid oxygen. The mission is a total failure – predictably – and they barely make it back alive. Zoe ends up sacrificing herself, goes back to retrieve the canister, exposing herself to a lethal amount of radiation and the last scene is her looking at the stars and succumbing to death.

So, what did I think this film? 

I think it’s an interesting take on a conundrum, which I’m sure we’ve all seen, where there’s a wild trolley hurtling towards a split track and you are given a scenario of either killing one person who you don’t know or many who you do. What do you do? If Star Trek and Spock have taught me anything, it is that the needs of the many far outweigh the needs of the few and this is the core argument throughout much of the film.

I find it very fitting that Anna Kendrick’s character being a medical professional and therefore altruistic role ends up both pleading for a caring outcome (rather than killing Michael) and ends up herself volunteering to what is ultimately her own demise. I guess all the characters in this live up to the roles that they play and in the ways in which they ultimately approach this challenge. Toni’s character leads them to this difficult solution… Daniel’s character being the scientist tries to come to a scientific solution.. Anna’s character, as mentioned, takes on the caregiver role. And Shamier’s character Michael is the innocent in this situation; being the least experienced of the team. I found it interesting as well that one of the reasons for Anna’s character to sacrifice herself is that she did not have a family and I think that plays into an archaic gender role. Toni and Daniel’s characters can’t sacrifice themselves because they are core to the mission. One of the suggestions is that as Anna’s character does not have a family, that this makes her the preferred candidate. Does that devalue her as a person? It seems like that is implied. I guess it would be almost too easy for Michael, the person who stowed away, to sacrifice himself. It would be quite a boring ending. 

I also found it interesting that basically all of the algae had died because of this situation, so their whole reason for going to Mars at all (for, I assume, terraforming Mars) is destroyed.. It makes me wonder what happened afterwards when they got to Mars. I mean, it’s sort of implied that they would have gotten to Mars in the end because the end of the film is Anna Kendrick looking out at the stars and you can faintly see Mars in the distance. It feels hopeful despite this great tragedy. But then when they get there, what are they even gonna do? Are they just gonna turn around and go back? I always find this question of terraforming other planets quite ridiculous anyway… It’s an age old theme but I find it so silly because we have a perfectly habitable planet that we live on right now but we just treat it like shit. If we just looked after the planet that we lived on, perhaps we wouldn’t need to have conversations about terraforming anything because the planet that we live on literally has everything that we need in abundance. 

I really like that they never truly address why Michael has stowed in the ship because it almost seems irrelevant. It’s a mystery but knowing ‘why’ would not actually help them in their situation. I mean, I assume Michael was desperate to be part of this mission and that’s why this happened but equally he could have been fixing something and got stuck there in the module. Often in films where there is a stowaway, usually they’re young, maybe they’re trying to run away from something, or it’s something or someone evil putting the crew in danger intentionally. And so I think this was a really nice twist because this character Michael was actually very innocent. You can tell he is very troubled by his presence causing such a consequence, and that he did not wish to hurt anyone.

So all in all, simple concept and interesting moral conundrum. Well acted. At times stunning CGI. But quite a predictable film I would say. Still worth the watch.

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