Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, a boy ignores it. He is awestruck at the sight of a caterpillar.
The boy had been born and raised on Mars by a tiny colony of astronauts. He is played by Asa Butterfield, an expert at conveying innocence and wide-eyed wonder. As a child, he starred in Hugo and several other movies. Here he has to be the glue that holds the movie together.
This is really a road movie, traveling to Mars, then back to earth and across the USA. If this sounds like two separate movies, it almost is. The first part is the very serious first flight to Mars with six astronauts planning a four year stay.
We leap ahead 16 years to Gardner (Asa Butterfield,) the first and only child born and raised on Mars. He is shown as bright and restless. He uses his brilliance to contact earth and becomes friends with a girl named Tulsa. He wants to go to earth but he keeps his reasons secret. He wants to meet Tulsa and he wants to find his father.
His foster-mother supports his need to return to earth, although there is great concern he won’t be able to handle earth gravity. And this is a question that underlies the whole movie and it makes the movie memorable. Most stories about settling Mars, such as Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, simply ignore the gravity of the problem (sorry, I couldn’t resist). It’s a very serious concern. Will children born and raised on Mars be able able to return to the much heavier gravity of earth? Will being raised on Mars mean a new breed of humans is created? The movie doesn’t answer the question but at least it raises it.
Meanwhile, Gardner returns to earth and runs away to find Tulsa. She’s a street-smart girl raised in foster care. The rest of the movie is a love story about teenagers on the run as they come to care for each other while searching for his father. She’s the perfect companion since she can do things like steal cars and fly a crop duster plane which they use to escape. They are pursued by the authorities who want to hospitalize Gardner, fearing continuous exposure to earth gravity will kill him.
They travel through magnificent scenery while their relationship develops. Everything on earth is new to him. One wishes the movie focused more on his experiences of wonder and less on the chase. The movie needed more caterpillars.
The Space Between Us is moving, keeps you interested and has a satisfying ending. There are many flaws to overlook if you want to enjoy it. Nothing in the plot or the science will bear close examination, nor do you believe this is the world several decades from now. My advice is to go with the flow and not examine the details that don’t make sense.
And then, after the movie, contemplate the basic issue it raises. What if we can never have a colony on Mars unless it’s one where no one can ever return to earth?
The day after I saw the movie, a news item showed me a close Arizona connection. All the stunt flying of the plane was done by a man who lives in Paulden, a small community between Prescott and the I-40. Watching the movie, I never noticed that I was looking at a 64 year old man and not a teenaged girl.
Reviewed by: Marian Powell