In “Proxima”, humans are looking for connection

In “Proxima,” comes the allure of a trip to another planet to symbolize the inevitable isolation of being human in the world. Being alive is to be on our own, even as we long for connections with those we love. Art’s engagement with space has always been about the ways in which humans act their existence. But, what does it mean to be a man? And how is that humanity moving with an upcoming trip off the planet?

Alice Wincour’s French space play premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, but the international release has been ambiguous – exacerbated by the unpredictability of the 2020 release schedules. It premiered to audiences in some parts of the world on Netflix in late December, feeling like a particularly appropriate thesis on the connection of isolation that defines our lives. In “Proxima”, Eva Green plays the role of Sarah, an astronaut chosen as a last-minute addition to a crew destined for Mars. Sarah, and the rest of her crew, will be among the first humans to lose sight of the Earth. It’s a moment she’s been waiting for her whole life, but the professional buzz is complicated by human responsibilities. Sarah must guide her daughter’s care as she and her ex-husband try to adjust to the impending separation.

Wincour’s play is approaching Sarah’s sensibilities, dispelling the philosophical and scientific concerns about space through Sarah’s space as she begins to drill her mind about the unknown. Her obvious interest in female concerns makes “Proxima” an insightful assessment of feminism in the workplace as Sarah adjusts, and bleeds, into the professional setting of her job compounded by the open hostility of the American captain (Mike Dillon as English captain speak in the otherwise French film). As effective as the film’s professional strength arc is, “Proxima” comes to define its value by the most thoughtful plot line – Sarah’s relationship with her daughter Stella (played by Zélie Boulant-Lemesle who has excellent chemistry with Green) . In that relationship, Wincour explores the themes in which he seems to be most popular. Our own fear of loneliness in the midst of our almost desperate desire to connect.

There is a moment in the final act of “Proxima” that speaks to these themes with in-depth clarity. Sarah and Stella meet in a room. A pane of glass separates them as they talk to each other. They can’t touch, but they lean into each other. In a moment of great emotion, they all raise their hands, touching the glass where the other’s hand is and the camera draws close as they remain in that position – reaching out . And, in a moment of such deliberate specificity, Georges Lechaptois’s camera captures a moment where Stella’s reflected face is reflected and then imprinted on her mother as they both form a plateau that uplifting. An ode to connection. Together, but separately. Different, but the same. If Wincour uses an image to present her argument, this moment is the thesis statement “Proxima”. It means a lot that this space film recognizes that our obsession with space is ultimately about our obsession with our own humanity and the ways it is attached to the corporation and our ideas of distance and proximity.

Green, like Sarah, is a necessary anchor for those themes. “Proxima” feels like a testament to Green’s talent possibilities in a film that recognizes her ability. At its best, Green is always adept at playing ambiguity in complex ways while avoiding boredom that seems emotionally disconnected. So much of Sarah’s journey here is in-house – parental responsibility, work concerns, existential crises. What’s more, “Proxima” is directly concerned with a long line of art that excavates these issues. But Wincour, like Green, does not pronounce the film as feminist with any open or over-emphasized moments. Instead, the film winds up to Sarah and questions the specificity of her personal concerns as a road map for what it means to be a woman.

With that specificity, Wincour (who co-writes the film with Jean-Stéphane Bron) seems to be asking questions about what it means to be a man when someone no longer has to tie it into the things that define our humanity. Even as “Proxima” stays on the ground for its running time, its philosophical engagement with the divisions of territoriality leaves it feeling like something of the air. It’s not a misleading to call it a space movie even though we don’t really have a scene in space. Wincour recognizes what these possibilities – and their limits – mean for women making “Proxima” a welcome change from the way we think about space travel to masculinity. and the way its departure in the theme unfolds, also adds necessary change in the ways we think. working mothers.

Traveling to space has been interpreted in many sharp ways in art – as a way of colonization, exploration, desire. In “Proxima,” the search for new life forms is part of our desire to search for connections. In an early scene, Stella snaps a picture of her divorced parents in a restaurant. She wants to keep that moment. It’s as if she knows what many adults don’t – that moment of connection is temporary. But in the final moments of the film, there is a shot of Stella responding to something from outside a window that tells us enough about what we need to know. Even in the unpredictable chaos of the world and the uncertainty of what may come, the moments of connection can be enough to last a lifetime. Perhaps, even with the inevitable distinctions that define our existence, we’re going to be fine, after all.

Proxima is streaming Netflix and available for rent or purchase from Prime Video, iTunes and other platforms