Approaching the Unknown (2016)

Previously Ad Inexplorata “Toward the Unexplored

Director: Mark Elijah Rosenberg
Starring: Mark Strong, Sanaa Latham, Luke Wilson, Charles Baker .UK. 1h 30m

A deeply philosophical sci fi drama that borders the aesthetics of lo fi and challenges a lot of immortal questions about mankind exploring anything about the world around them as well as the wells of unknowns from within.

There’s a ton of highly sophisticated looking tech and a groundbreaking invention at the centre of this one way trip into the void. But Director Mark Rosenberg is more focused on creating an intelligent and driven character and isn’t happy until he’s peeled back all of his layers to get the most intimate look into a fictional character that I’ve seen in a long time. Apart from his pet project, which literally milks water from rocks, the rest of the tech isn’t the shiny fan dangled aspect but Captain William Stanaforth (Strong) does know this machinery all too well inside and out but it doesn’t mean everything is going to run smoothly despite his expertise.

As the movie progresses with an early blast off and Stanaforth heading on a one way mission to start a colony on Mars with his wonderful spacepunk machine, another astronaut, Eimly Maddox (Latham) is prepped to go leave shortly after. He goes through all the normal motion as Strong also lends to a voice over to add in all the emotions and inner thoughts. He talks to students and does regular maintenance, eating dried food, hydrated from his machine and watering his plants. Everything is totally fine.

“Nothing has ever lived here. Nothing has even died here. Maybe I’ll live forever.”

His only connection to home is his buddy nicknamed Skinny (Wilson), working at NASA he helped him get this gig after he proved that he can make enough water to enable this journey, but through various flashbacks and introspective interviews as he travels, a lot is uncovered about his loneliness back on earth and his growing desire to leave and never come back, digging up all of these feelings only seems to add to his current melancholy. He’s eager to meet a group of astro-scientist who were working on some mice in space, but after a few months of a dismal experiment the men are

There’s a lot of hard sci fi or lo fi sci fi which gives its audience something to think about, but Approaching the Unknown takes it a step further, and only achieves this by being so very detailed in its approach, intelligently handily some of the most difficult questions about life, death and space exploration, those areas which we try to avoid, usually the team heading into space can get back, usually they have what seems like unlimited resources. With all of that stripped away what kind of person would go on this trip like this? With the quiet of the ship, infrequent communications, Stanaforth is left to his own devices as he mulls over his life up until this last final decision. From time to time there’s issues with Maddox which he helps with spurring into quick problem solving. Engineering is the key to survival and he’s on top of that like a second nature.

But all of this building up of feeling and emotion, the movie seems to spill into Stanaforth’s internal monologue, which leads to a slightly confusing ending for most, but alas that’s to be seen to be fully understood, it’s not really open and yet there are so many possibilities. It’s a brave and outstanding first time feature, not only for the director Mark Elijah Rosenberg, but also it proves that Mark Strong can hold an entire movie on his shoulders and do a fairly convincing American accent.

I think a lot of the frustrations of the movie come from having to look at the limits of human existence and space exploration rather than coming up with all the answers, it’s more grounded in reality there’s a plethora of questions which all leads to us still wanting to go beyond and living without a safety net. One to think about for sure.


Rating: 7/10

Related: 400 Days (2015), The Tank (2017), The Martian (2015), Life (2017)
Lists: A-Z of Space Exploration
Spotlight: Mark Strong
Article: Space Helmets a cinematic Icon

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