Remember the ending of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? Sandra Bullock, having just effected a narrow escape from a catastrophe in outer space, stumbles onto solid ground after her spacecraft splashes down in a lake. Steven Price’s score swells as Cuarón’s camera focuses on her toes curling into the rich soil of the shore—the first time in the film when she’s had something solid underfoot. The effect is simple but powerful: how good it is to be alive on planet Earth.
Yes, those were simpler times back in 2013, when the choice between living on Earth or spinning forever into an infinite abyss still seemed like a no-brainer. Nowadays, our world feels like a much less congenial place for human existence (thanks mainly to humans), which makes Daniel Espinosa’s merciless new film, Life, feel very tuned into the zeitgeist. We’re barely twenty minutes in before David Jordan (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, the biggest name in the cast) is invoking the Syrian civil war and lamenting, “I can’t stand what we do to each other down there.” Jordan, we learn, has set a record for the longest sojourn in outer space, and he’s in no hurry to return to terra firma, with its “eight billion motherfuckers,” as he puts it. You can see where he’s coming from.