The Space Between Us

 

            This is a tender little love story with an unusual context.

            Gardner (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year-old kid who has truly led a sheltered life.  His Mom was an astronaut on a Mars space mission who was in early pregnancy when her spaceship left Earth, so Gardner was gestated in space, and born on Mars.  Then suddenly his Mom dies, and he's left to be raised by other astronauts.

            The head of the project, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) makes the difficult decision of not publicizing the baby's birth, thinking that the revelation might jeapordize the funding for the project.  So Gardner grows up as the orphan in the Mars colony, where we meet him when he's 16.  He's tall, gangly, and, not surprisingly, tech-savvy.  He helped build the robot that doubles as his valet and personal assistant. 

            But Gardner yearns for Earth, where he longs to find his father.  Gardner has located some old photographs which show his Mom cavorting on the beach with a young man, and Gardner tucks that photo away as the talisman that's going to cure all his identity issues.  Meanwhile, Gardner has been corresponding with an earthling girl, Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who's been raised in a series of foster homes, and is now trying to finish school, but she's got a strong rebellious streak, and a few identity issues of her own.

            Gardner finally tells her, in their hasty videoconference, that he's on his way to see her, but of course he doesn't bother telling her that it will take months for him to arrive.  By the time he finally does, after managing to escape his “handlers” from NASA, it's been so long since he's contacted her that she slaps him.  Well, that's a promising beginning.

            Yes, Gardner is indeed a very different person from anybody else she's met.  At first, she doesn't believe his story about being from Mars, alleging that she's tired of everybody lying to her all the time.  He doesn't really understand the source of her anger, but he's got other problems:  the NASA people are chasing him, supposedly for his own good, because his system really can't handle the Earth's gravity.

            OK, not only is the plot implausible, so is the pseudo-science of the pressure on his internal organs and enlarged heart.  But if you can buy into all that, and also accept the casting decision of a 26-year-old as a high schooler, then the way is clear for you to be hopeful along with this poignant couple just searching for a little happiness together.

            There are some missed opportunities with “discovery humor”:  Gardner is completely startled by seeing a man riding a horse, and stands in the pouring rain reveling in the sensation.  But there could have been plenty of other moments for him to learn and embrace.  Instead, what we get is their escaping into a Native American reservation where they camp underneath the stars and find romance.  Which was also on his “bucket list,” but the urgency here is that he may not have much more time to experience anything, because he's becoming increasingly ill.

            Yes, there are some viewer deceptions, and some plot twists, but really, we're asked to root for this young couple and their bumpy romance, against all odds.  It's cute, but not exactly, er, rocket science. 

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever tried to carry on a long-distance romance?  How did that work out?

2)                  Do you think we are going to eventually colonize Mars?  What would be the long-term effects on the humans attempting to live there?

3)                  How does the upbringing of foster kids affect their point of view?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association