Adam Sandler (who rarely plays drama outside of his usual comedic role) embodies the character of the fictional Czech astronaut Jakub, who flies on a solo mission beyond Jupiter, almost to the edge of the solar system, to solve the mystery of the purple cloud hanging in the sky above the Earth. Instead, he realizes in deep space that the very important thing he’s been searching for, God knows where, has actually been right under his nose all along. 

Name Spaceman
Genre Drama
Director Johan Renck
Starring Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Kunal Nayar, Lena Olin, Isabella Rossellini  
Studio Netflix
Timing 1 hour 47 minutes
Year 2024
Website Netflix

The almost chamber film, which wrapped local intimate existential reflection and the problem of an ordinary earthly marriage in a wrapper of space retro-futurism about the search for global answers to the mysteries of existence, was directed by the director of the award-winning miniseries Chernobyl, Johan Renck. Based on the original source (a Czech novel), the authors of the American adaptation did not rename Jakub to Jacob from NASA, meaning that the protagonist remained a Czech astronaut, and his pregnant wife, played by Carey Mulligan, who was left alone on Earth, remained Lenka.

Of course, Spaceman is not the first film to use space as a metaphor for human loneliness. In one of the first scenes, where the protagonist (the hero of the nation and the hero of the entire planet), in between clumsy advertisements for sponsors’ products (anti-nausea, sleeping pills, disinfectants…), answers questions from all the earthlings who want to address him, a young schoolgirl asks if he is really the loneliest person on Earth. Jakub is embarrassed, the moderators from the communication center try to rephrase the question in an optimistic way, and eventually the astronaut answers something like “no, of course not, I’m not alone, because I have all of you, all of humanity with me.” Meanwhile, his wife Lenka sends a message that she is leaving him because he selfishly left her alone with their unborn child and has always been selfish, floating in the clouds of his dreams detached from reality instead of being with her here and now on earth. 

But the communications center intercepts the message so as not to upset Jakub in an already stressful situation. But the hero still feels that something is wrong, because Lenka has been silent for a long time. He suffers from insomnia and nightmares. Lack of sleep and melancholy due to the feeling of total loneliness provoke hallucinations, and one day Jakub sees a giant spider on his spaceship that speaks human language, and not just speaks, but tries on the role of a psychotherapist, trying to understand both Jakub’s complicated relationship with his deceased communist father (whose communist sins caused the hero to go on a mission of great importance for civilization to atone for his father’s mistakes and guilt), and the roots of his depression, and the troubles in his marriage, which is obviously coming to an end down there, five hundred million kilometers away from the presence of Jakub, who was so desperate to get up that he was off the ground in every literal and figurative sense.

In fact, the whole film is a psychotherapeutic session, during which Jakub is first afraid and runs away from the monstrous chimera, then treats it to hazelnut paste, then pours out his soul and, as if from the outside, looks at his own shortcomings in his relationship with Lenka, at the transition from poetic romance to prosaic quarrels; Then he makes friends with the spider, hugs the spider, and finally, holding the spider’s hand (or paw), flies with it through outer space into the heart of the purple cloud, which is both the beginning and the end “Everything that has a beginning has an end. Even the universe,” a wise (but wise within the limits of truisms) spider teaches, hinting that any relationship, any love, too, from its very beginning, moves towards its inevitable end. Although cinema usually gives lovers a second (and in some rom-coms like The Marrying Man, even a third and fourth…) chance.

This story seems to have a non-trivial potential. In the context of space as a metaphor for an internal vacuum (mental wasteland), following such films as Gravity with Sandra Bullock and To the Stars with Brad Pitt (whose characters also figuratively and literally flew away from the earth and, having realized the price and fullness of meaning below the cloudy reveries or painful phantoms, returned to a solid surface, to real life), The Astronaut makes the hero’s task somewhat easier: It gives him an interlocutor (whose image simultaneously overcomes the clichés about alien monsters like Alien or Calvin from Life, who don’t have to be predatory creatures, but can turn out to be a better and more vital friend in the black hole of murderous frustration). And if the dialogues with the professedly Freudian fellow traveler were more nuanced and deeper, if those conversations did not shuffle superficial banal truths for almost two hours, Spaceman could have become a cosmic allusion to Bergman’s Scenes from a Married Life, where the spider would be… Bergman himself.

But unfortunately, Johan Renck’s film is a two-dimensional model, a flat projection of the inner human universe, which has length and width (or rather height and low, if we are talking about unrealizable dreams and everyday happiness), but no volume. And this is at a time when even our primitive world is a three-dimensional space, not to mention theories about an incomprehensible five-dimensional space.