Life (2017) Review + Themes

30 November 2023
"Life" (2017), directed by Daniel Espinosa, is a science fiction thriller that masterfully weaves elements of horror and suspense in a space setting. The film, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Prisoners), Rebecca Ferguson (Dune, Silo), and Ryan Reynolds (Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place), presents a narrative set aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Here, the crew's encounter with a Martian life form, named "Calvin," spirals from a groundbreaking discovery into a harrowing struggle for survival. 

The film's plot is a rollercoaster of suspense and terror, beginning with the crew's retrieval of a soil sample from Mars. This sample contains a dormant cell which, when revived, evolves rapidly, displaying alarming intelligence and hostility (where is John Carter when you need him?).

The film's narrative structure accentuates this transformation, as what starts as a scientific milestone quickly devolves into a fight against a formidable and learning entity. The crew's efforts to contain and destroy Calvin are met with increasing challenges, culminating in a series of suspenseful and nerve-wracking sequences. This plot progression reflects a deeper narrative found in many science fiction works: the unintended consequences of human curiosity and the ethical dilemmas posed by scientific advancement.

"Life" stands out for its adept use of cinematic techniques. The visual style is a highlight, with the film portraying the confines of the ISS and the vast expanse of space in stark contrast. A muted color palette and strategic lighting amplify the growing sense of dread, while the CGI portrayal of Calvin adds a realistic and terrifying dimension to the film's antagonist. 

Sound and music play critical roles in heightening the tension, with the film's sound design masterfully using the silence of space to contrast with the chaotic and dangerous atmosphere aboard the ISS. The editing and pacing of "Life" are meticulously crafted, balancing fast-paced action with moments of character development and tension-building.

life 2017 film review themes

The performances in "Life" are noteworthy, with each actor conveying the escalating fear and desperation authentically. Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code, Donnie Darko) and Rebecca Ferguson (Dune) deliver particularly compelling performances, adding layers of complexity to their characters. This emotional depth heightens the film's impact, engendering a palpable sense of dread and helplessness in the viewer.

Theme Exploration in "Life" 

Scientific Hubris

"Life" serves as a narrative embodiment of the classic cautionary tale about the dangers of overreaching in scientific pursuits. The film's portrayal of the ISS crew's initial excitement and pride in reviving Calvin from a dormant state to a thriving living organism reflects a deeper theme of scientific hubris. This pride in scientific achievement quickly turns to horror as their creation evolves into a threat. 

The film delves into the idea that humanity's relentless pursuit of knowledge and advancement, particularly in uncharted territories like extraterrestrial life, can lead to unforeseen and dangerous consequences. It echoes the age-old warning found in many sci-fi narratives: just because humanity can pursue certain scientific endeavors, it doesn't necessarily mean it should.

Unpredictability of Nature

The evolution and adaptability of Calvin, the Martian organism, are central to the film's exploration of the unpredictability of nature. Calvin defies human expectations at every turn, evolving from a single cell into a complex, intelligent, and dangerous entity. This rapid and unexpected development serves as a metaphor for nature's inherent unpredictability and the folly of underestimating it. 

The film portrays nature, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial, as an uncontrollable force that does not conform to human expectations or desires. This theme is a reminder of the respect and caution required when interacting with natural phenomena, especially those not yet fully understood.

Fragility of Human Life

Throughout "Life," there is a persistent emphasis on the fragility and vulnerability of human life in the face of the vast, unforgiving expanse of space and the unknowns it contains. The crew's struggle against Calvin highlights humanity's physical and psychological vulnerabilities. Despite their advanced technology and training, they are ultimately at the mercy of an alien entity they do not fully understand. 

This theme is accentuated by the setting of the International Space Station, a fragile human habitat surrounded by the vacuum of space. The film uses the isolation and confinement of space to underscore the precarious nature of human existence when confronted with unknown extraterrestrial life forms. It serves as a stark reminder of our limitations and the thin line between human achievement and survival in the face of the unknown.

In an age increasingly fascinated with Mars and space exploration, "Life" holds contemporary relevance. It acts as a cautionary tale about the unforeseen dangers of interplanetary exploration and raises questions about the ethical implications of scientific discoveries. 

One plot gripe:

The plot of "Life" must draw strong criticism for its oversimplification of the containment protocols for handling an unknown extraterrestrial organism, particularly the use of rubber gloves. In an era where space missions are meticulously planned with rigorous safety protocols, the film’s depiction of the crew using mere rubber gloves to interact with a potentially dangerous alien life form seems strikingly naive and undermines the otherwise technologically advanced setting of the International Space Station. 

That's polite speak for: the film let the smart scientist do dumb things.

This choice appears especially questionable considering the availability of more sophisticated, remotely operated robotic tools that would offer a safer and more realistic approach to handling unknown extraterrestrial entities - a break down of these tools which allowed the alien to escape would have been more realistic.

Overall, "Life" is a film that skillfully combines elements of suspense, horror, and scientific intrigue. Its exploration of themes such as the ethics of scientific discovery and the fear of the unknown, coupled with a tense atmosphere and a provocative ending, establishes it as a standout work in its genre. The film not only entertains but also invites viewers to ponder the broader implications of humanity's quest to understand and explore the cosmos.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
Back to Top