Stowaway (2021)

Stowaway 2021 Film poster.png

This movie is about moral dilemma and survival in space. In terms of the latter, it has some scenes that reminded me of The Martian (2015) and Gravity (2013). Thanks to the great cast, the element of moral dilemma was also portrayed in a decent way but the problem is that the movie tried packing too many things together and eventually it felt a bit diluted. Don’t get me wrong, the tether climbing scene was interesting and gripping but the resolution of moral dilemma seemed too easy, convenient, and rushed.

The premise is that the spaceship’s crew found an engineer who was unexpectedly boarded after the ship left the Earth. They soon found that the oxygen in the ship is enough for only 2-3 people and there are 4 people in the ship, including the engineer. Since the oxygen is running out, they have make a difficult decision quickly.

The situation itself is interesting but the main problem is that the story didn’t give the crew that many choices to explore when they found out about the oxygen problem. This is where this movie is quite different from The Martian, where the main character, even though he was alone, had many survival options to try out. If this extreme resource scarcity was the point, then I think the story should have been more focused on the moral dilemma.

How can we make the moral dilemma more interesting? The movie actually has interesting moral issues scattered all over the story. David, the biologist, has to sacrifice his years of research and the research material to produce more oxygen. Essentially, he is the only person who can do anything about producing more oxygen. I was slightly surprised that David gave up his research relatively quickly after he became aware of the situation although he showed resentment and grief a bit later.

Marina, as a captain, is forced to make tough decisions. Because of this she has the highest psychological burden. There were some parts in the movie where she made certain critical decisions but towards the end, she was portrayed as too agonized rather than decisive as a leader. The fact that she was the sole communicator with mission control could have given her character more interesting stories too.

On the other hand, there was a lot of focus on Zoe, the medical doctor. She seemed to be the only one who’s managed to pull herself together. She also eventually becomes the one who sacrifices herself to save others. There is a short story Zoe tells to Michael, the engineer, which can somewhat explain Zoe’s motivation and determination but still her tragic ending felt rushed.

In the middle of the movie, Marina says to mission control that she is extremely worried that the crew might not successfully finish the mission if they feel too much guilt after they let the engineer Michael die for their own survival. I think this could have been an interesting story point that was worth exploring. One of the crucial elements of the trolley problem is people’s reluctance to involving themselves directly into making difficult decisions. Thus, how much they were involved in Michael’s death, which already varied in the movie, might have impacted the crew differently.

It could have been also interesting if the crew found more than one people in the ship who were unexpectedly boarded. Then they probably have to think about whose life is more valuable than others. Plus, some will simply accept their fate like Michael but some might not. The individual crew member’s background and how their ethical lenses were shaped over their course of life could also have created interesting conflicts.

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