Courtesy of TIFF
Astronaut movies aren't just about space, though that great cosmic frontier is often at the forefront; they're also about time. Time passes differently outside of Earth, and moreover any time spent in space is time not spent at home with other humans. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the definitive astronaut movie, uses space voyages to take on the whole breadth of time from the first rumblings of human potential to our final apotheosis. A modern-day descendant, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, scales this phenomenon down to an extremely personal level, showing how the Matthew McConaughey's character's quest to find a new home for humankind in the stars costs him the chance to see his children grow old on Earth. The newest astronaut movie, Alice Winocour's Proxima, is out now on digital on VOD and depicts a character still on the edge of making that massive decision to sacrifice time in order to explore space.
The film stars Eva Green as Sarah, an astronaut whose years of hard work have finally resulted in a breakthrough: She's a last-minute addition to the crew of the titular craft that will finally take humans toward Mars. It's all she's ever wanted and worked for. The only problem is her daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle). Since leaving her husband (Lars Eidinger) sometime in the past, Sarah has been young Stella's primary caregiver. Is she prepared to give up time with her child in order to achieve her dream?
"You've seen a lot of movies that glamorize space travel, but this is a movie that's happening on Earth," Green tells EW. "Alice gave me some homework, I had to read several books and watch documentaries. Learning about real-life astronauts like Scott Kelly, I really realize how demanding it is and how much sacrifice it involves. They embrace it because they know it is for the greater good. I was fascinated by this sense of sacrifice, it's very beautiful and saintlike. You think, 'Oh my God, it must be so glamorous to be an astronaut,' but when you go up there, your cells age 40 years, and the longer they are in space the more profound the changes are. The place they're going to is something dark and silent, it's close to what death is."
Space is the great unknown, but Sarah knows very well what she stands to leave behind on Earth. Most of the movie is concerned with her relationship with Stella. As the date of her takeoff draws closer, Sarah finds herself plagued by doubt, and keeps skirting astronaut protocol in order to spend as much time as she can with her daughter.
"There's always something that feels quite intimidating when you have to act with a child," Green says. "You can't lie to them, you have to be extremely honest. I was the one who was intimidated. There is something very strong about Zélie, and very mature. She's an old soul. We connected after a few rounds, and then we felt at ease. It was fluid and nice."
Although a real-life mission to Mars is still years or decades away, many of the locations used in Proxima to show Sarah's preparations were filmed at actual locations where international astronauts get ready for space.
"It was a real luxury to be able to get in those sacred places," Green says. "I was based in Paris at the time, so I jumped on the train a couple times to Cologne and worked with the real astronaut instructors from the European Space Agency. It was quite hardcore and fabulous. We went to Star City, which is an hour from Moscow. It's a weird place where all the astronauts get ready before they go to space. That was my favorite place, I have to say. There was something otherworldly; it was kind of a transition point between us and the unknown."