With the COVID-19 pandemic, mutating and spreading faster than ever before (will the vaccines be enough?), it is timely indeed to experience first-time novelist Lily Brooks-Dalton’s vivid tale of the end of the world seen from the remote Arctic and far, faraway space.
With a tautly written screenplay by Mark Smith as his guide, director/actor George Clooney—taking on the starring role of end-of-his-career-and-life astronomer, Augustine—has come up with a thoughtful production that gives many lessons so appropriate in our calamitous present day.
On Earth it’s a two-hander, as Augustine remains behind an evacuated research station to do what he can…it just becomes increasingly difficult to see any light at the end of this apocalyptic tunnel. But there is a gleam with the sudden, unexpected appearance of Iris, a very young girl who chooses body language instead of words to communicate with her flummoxed saviour. Their journey to possibly the last functioning communications station on the planet is both gripping, dangerous and, eventually, loving.
Up in the distant heavens, the small crew of the exploration space ship, Aether, after mission accomplished, is trying to return to Earth at warp speed, only to lose almost all means of communication from their home in the universe and then forced into an uncharted route. David Oyelowo convincingly wise beyond his years as Adewole, is at the helm, while first officer (and soon to be mother of their child), Sully gets a fine read on a barrage of situations and emotions from Felicity Jones. The remaining crew, notably Tiffany Boone’s doomed Maya and Kyle Chandler’s stoic sense of final duty playing Mitchell, add much to the ensemble.
As usual, Alexander Desplat’s score boldly takes stage when appropriate or discreetly accompanies the more tender scenes. Everything is beautifully captured by director of photography Martin Ruhe; editor Stephen Mirrione may well be in line for his second Oscar with this master class of how to take so many disparate parts and weave them together into a seamless whole.
For his part, Clooney reveals a much more deeply personal side that is a logical extension and summation of his considerable acting skills, insights into the trials, tribulations and injustices of the “real” world and the knack of surrounding himself with a cast and crew that are at one with his vision.
Only time will tell just how much of the planet, as we know it, will still be around in 2049. JWR