Science-fiction is, by nature, a boundary-pushing and futuristic genre of film. As it’s entire genre handles topics of society, politics, and technology, science fiction is a genre that can transcend time and always be admired. Since it’s boost in popularity in the sixties, it’s socio-political contexts have become more evident and with the ever-changing technological advances in filmmaking, the genre can portray a variety of ideas that fit with its social landscape.
Science fiction in the 21st century portrays many ideas that have affected our actual world, one of them being modern loneliness. As technology advances us, our lives change in both incredibly positive and negative ways. As the daily tasks of our lives have become easier, our connections and perceptions towards the world around us start to change. Is it easier to become content with ourselves through technology all as we long for something more from those around us?
As film technology steadily advances, it seems fitting and justified that science fiction becomes more personal and realistic. Three films of the century have embodied our world’s technological loneliness perfectly: 2019s Ad Astra, 2014’s Interstellar, and 2018’s First Man. Although all the films touch on different aspects of isolation, conflict, and technology, they all capture a variety of feelings that are significant to our everyday reality.
Ad Astra presents a search for guidance and comfort. As Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) searches for his father, we see his life in its intimate moments. His average day is quiet, his home is minimal, and his dialogue is scant. As his father yearned for separation from a society he grew displeased with, he leaves behind his family who yearns to reunite with him. All the while, the film shows a dystopian society plagued by interplanetary conflict and necessity from the resources of space. When Roy is asked to search for his father, not only will he find comfort in knowing where his father is, but he will send a message back home of what really is out there, and even that is uncertain.
Roy is a man without a father figure, a stable relationship, or a reliable goal to chase. As intergalactic war challenges his goal of finding his father, his hope to ever reconnect with his father decreases each day. The risk he takes of losing all his material worth by risking his dangerous job to explore, he does because he values connection and life. Even while in asylum, he years to be closer to Helen (Ruth’s character), after she tells him there is no place for such affection. The colors around Roy are rich and vibrant, showing a glamorization of the material and technological, while there is no importance of the immaterial; emotion and connection. As he accepts that his father is not who he assumed he would be, his story teaches us that comfort and warmth can be found in not only from others, but ourselves, and internal confidence can be more helpful and assuring than that from others.
First Man is a period piece that is similar to Ad Astra as it combines the loneliness in a troubled socio-political climate that creates a distance between ourselves and the world. Both films have astronauts venturing out into space while they handle some type of loss of a member of their family. As Neil (Ryan Gosling) copes with the loss of his daughter from a non-preventable and devastating cause, he distances himself from the world around him, cradling onto the memories as his daughter. The film differs from Ad Astra as it is more conventionally heartwarming and shows the formerly isolated protagonist building a connection with his daughter.
When Neil throws his daughter’s bracelet into space, he places her memories somewhere free, letting them loose from his heart and into the vast beauty of space. He learns that he was never truly alone, Karen was always with him, but in order to move on, he must let go of the loneliness of her memory that drags him down. She places the item associated with her in a place that has become forever known to humanity as a changing moment for our future, which makes it one for him personally.
When he returns, knowing that Karen’s memories and love are out there, he is able to reconnect with his wife, even through the glass; showing that his guard is not entirely down, but he is looking to rebuild his lost connections. The glass wall and his altered physical state isolates him from his relationship with his wife, but their hands touching through the barrier expresses that he is now open to love unlike before.
Interstellar shows isolation as it drives the search for more than ourselves and the seeking of a better, more hopeful world. As a famine strikes a small town, a father risks his life and the possibility of ever seeing his children again to save humanity. Like Ad Astra, both films have characters who are pushed to the limits to protect what they cherish most. Cooper is a man with loving relationships back home, but he abandons those relationships to save humanity. He and his fellow astronauts are constantly tested to maintain compassion and be able to still feel love for their distant family members and partners as time and space shifts around them. As they comfort themselves with memories of connection from home through listening to the sounds of life on the spaceship, the ability to be rational is tested as the astronauts encounter troubles with their technology.
The film’s ending also shows us how isolation can, oddly enough, bring humans together. After Cooper reconnects with Murphy, she tells him to go save Brand before he gets comfortable back on earth, and the film ends by showing her now living on a distant planet, alone. The isolation that both Cooper and Brand struggled with while traveling has altered their fates, and has made Cooper her only hope to get back home. Their isolation has saved them.
Science-fiction is a genre all about the future, but often finds ways to relate itself to the present. The isolation and separation we feel in socio-political climates has made its way into the genre and has projected our fears into entertaining stories of space and the search for ways to make us better people. Whether that’s through the acceptance of the loss of fatherhood, the misplacement, and acceptance of connection, or the lessons we can learn from loneliness; isolation has been a driving factor in modern science fiction. The genre strays from the cliche of “we’re not so lonely after all”, but tells us that our loneliness is worth something; love, connection, and humanity.