dir: Sebastián Cordero, 2013
This sci-fi tale of discovery and loss is sure to have flown under your radar. It’s a hidden gem though: it hits its marks, and posits some interesting questions about the price of scientific probing. Plus, it’s a great alternative to Interstellar if you still haven’t seen it yet (myself included).
To make a long story short: international crew is jettisoned into space and bad things snowball as they try to discover what’s going on on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
Cordero chooses to tell this story through a documentary format, committing to confessionals, multi-cam settings, and even cool little embedded graphics. The overall feel is so well played that if you weren’t told otherwise, Europa Report would seem to be a documentary about real-world events. The film’s commitment to these aesthetics are laudable and help provide a constant when the film decides to veer directly into a slow-moving shitstorm.
Whether you take that literally or figuratively is entirely up to you.
This is especially true in the final act, where there is a great shift in narration. We’re temporally disjointed from the assumed narrative and thrust into a new sense of tension. This tension is not unique to that act though. Rather, it is produced in varying ways by manipulating our purview of events.
A good example is when Andrei first sees the radioactive light through a porthole. Outside of himself, we’re the only ones privy to his discovery. The tension here is created through a juxtaposition of narrative access: we know what Andrei saw, but the crew doesn’t. When they turn to the most reliable narrator, the cameras, they favor disbelief because there is no evidence. That disbelief is only broken when, through the usage of cameras, the entire crew sees the light themselves during a robotic dive.
In both of these instances, there are multiple layers of narrative surveillance at work—in an Inception-esque way, we’re observing observers, who are observing a given subject. Unlike a situation wherein we deal with an unreliable narrator (which Andrei serves to be, to the crew) our observation is only as reliable as our access to the observers. This access is at times restricted, but more often than not, it is wholly unrestricted.
This unrestricted access creates terror when we’re placed in uncomfortable situations. A great example is during Corrigan’s death. In his final moments floating into space, we’re left with nothing but his parting words and intimate close-up shots of him inside his suit. The helplessness of the crew is only compounded by his continuing degradation as the oxygen runs out. The cuts between the crew watching this man die, and Corrigan’s face highlights the pure terror of death. What’s worse is that it’s a death without fault: there’s no one to blame. As an accident, the moment lives in that terrible void of the unknown.
Hopefully these metaphors aren’t lost on you as you watch the film (space, the unknown, eh? ok, I’ll stop).
But anywho, terror is a good thing to end on here. Europa Report is a good sci-fi film. Part of what makes it so are the questions it posits regarding the terror of human sacrifice, in the name of science. By the film’s conclusion, “the documentarians” (maybe they’re a metaphor for us, the viewers) show interviewees exalting the exploratory crew’s deaths as transcendent moments for the greater good.
This however is juxtaposed with Rosa and Andrei’s final moments, racing against time to beam footage back to Earth. There’s something sinister in that. The crew did indeed sacrifice everything to “push the boundaries.” But was the human cost worth it? Is it truly, the greater good that they gave their lives for? Where does the buck stop? I think these are all much more frightening than the creature they discover. But what do I know?
Europa Report is venturing into space on Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope