Berlinale 2024: ‘Spaceman’ is Giant Space Spider Therapist: The Film


    Berlinale 2024: ‘Spaceman’ is Giant Space Spider Therapist: The Film

    by Alex Billington
    February 21, 2024

    Spaceman Review

    One of the strangest films paying at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival is a Netflix sci-fi offering from a Swedish filmmaker named Johan Renck. It’s a strange pick not because the film is experimental or unconventional, it’s strange because it doesn’t make sense this film is playing at a festival. Spaceman will streaming be on Netflix in a few more weeks (starting March 1st). It’s another mostly middle-of-the-road, easily-forgettable Netflix Original, and it doesn’t really do anything crazy or exciting or clever that would make it worthy of a major festival premiere. It’s also just a really strange film because it’s about a giant, benevolent space spider (!!) that appears inside a spaceship that is traveling near Jupiter – astronaut Jakub is on a year-long solo mission to investigate a purple cloud of mysterious space dust that appeared near Jupiter a few years before. It’s actually based on a true story, sort of, about the the country’s first astronaut, Jakub Procházka, raised in the Czech countryside. But this intriguing backstory has nothing to do with what is happening in this movie.

    Directed by Swedish filmmaker Johan Renck (of Downloading Nancy, “Chernobyl”, “Breaking Bad”), from a screenplay by Colby Day, adapted from the book “Spaceman of Bohemia” by Jaroslav Kalfar – Spaceman is a sleepy, lonely, unremarkable sci-fi film about a space traveler. Adam Sandler stars as Jakub Procházka, a Czech astronaut on a lengthy trip to investigate a purple cloud that appeared in our solar system. While the sets and VFX do look quite good, and Sandler does his job well as a tired and lonely “spaceman”, the film reveals itself to actually be a therapy session. It’s not really sci-fi, it’s not really about a Czech astronaut / cosmonaut, it’s not really about where this space spider comes from. It’s about a guy who seriously needs therapy because he misses his wife so much, and after rejecting it for so long, he’s forced to have a therapy session with this big, fuzzy, friendly spider that appears randomly on his ship. He decides to name it Hanus (and it’s wonderfully voiced by Paul Dano) then the creature forces him to revisit memories and moments in his mind that haunt him. He needs to confront the past to move on, and apparently this is the only way…

    As a vehement hater of spiders, the most prominent question that plagued my mind: what is the whole point of visualizing his troubled psyche as a spider? Is it some kind of generic and obvious version of “his deepest, darkest fears manifested in physical form?” That would be my therapist confronting me, for sure. The film never really addresses this because it doesn’t want to, it’s about this space creature being an unexplainable mystery, and no answers will be given. Fine. Fair enough. Thankfully this spider isn’t as scary as it may seem – not only is he a fairly kind, harmless creature, they animate his dialogue by giving him a cute little mouth that is clearly visible in a few scenes (they also learned some lessons from the Sonic mistake). And hearing Paul Dano’s voice coming out of this thing just soothes me. Which I suppose is the point, after all… But it’s still odd and so ridiculous there are a few scenes that may make viewers burst out laughing. Why, out of all the possibilities for space creatures or aliens or entities to encounter, did they have to use a spider (!!) as his guide? Whatever the reason, at least it’s a nice spider that helps Jakub on his mission and his mental health.

    It’s essentially just a 106 minute shrink session with a lonely, depressed Adam Sandler astronaut. The other big problem with Spaceman is that the other side of the story is its weakest link. Somehow Renck was able to cast Carey Mulligan as Lenka, Jakub’s pregnant wife stuck down on Earth while he is away for a year (or more) on this mission. She is not happy about this, she is not happy about anything about his career or life. There is no chemistry at all between the two of them. For most of this movie, I was sure Sandler and Mulligan had shot their scenes in separate movie studios on opposite sides of the world at entirely different times. Lenka always seems to be upset with Jakub doing anything besides staying home and taking care of her, which is rather strange when he is (supposed to be) the Czech Republic’s first astronaut – something she should be entirely supportive of. Right? Perhaps this is part of way Jakub is feeling so depressed and hopeless out there. Thankfully Hanus helps him understand what went wrong with his wife, and although he’s about to make the most remarkable discovery any human being has ever made, none of that matters because he was wrong to leave his pregnant wife to begin with. Well, okay… That’s all the wisdom to offer?

    As a sci-fi fan, I’m particularly tired of all these modern sci-fi movies that take someone extreme distances for some spectacular discovery out in space, only for the finale to be that oh wait, there’s nothing out there, and it’s more important you go home and take care of your loved ones and your family. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Family and significant others and kids are super important. But why do they have to cram this concept into high concept sci-fi scripts? Why aren’t there a few sci-fi movies that are only about making some incredible discovery out in deep space that does change everything? Then bring that knowledge back to Earth and let everything be affected by how amazing this space stuff is. I wish that was the Spaceman movie we could all be watching. But it’s not. Instead, we get Adam Sandler learning how to overcome his past with the help of Paul Dano as a compassionate, hairy spider that also loves the Czech Nutella stored on the ship. Despite my many complaints, I don’t dislike this movie, it’s nothing I would label as “bad”. It’s just not that good either.

    Alex’s Berlinale 2024 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
    Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing


    Find more posts: Berlinale, Review, Sci-Fi

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