Space 3

Part 1
Part 2

Since the year 2000, there have been far too many films made about people traveling to new spaces to do them all justice- and that’s just ones written or directed by Charlie Kaufman- but I will try and cram in enough of them to give you an idea of how we’re thinking about space now.

We start to see dream spaces again or spaces that our minds create. And they aren’t necessarily wonderous spaces, they can be potentially dangerous or psychologically taxing. Often they are spaces within which our characters learn something about themselves. There are often, once again, strict boundaries for these spaces with little freedom of movement back and forth between them often because these worlds exist only in a mind. Often when someone is in the new space, they are stuck there and we, as an audience, aren’t sure what is real and what isn’t. And either are they. Think of Inception, Synecdoche New York, Anomalisa, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (See?).

Many of the space travelling films tap into the idea of the multiverse or the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or (as is all the rage on TikTok) ‘jumping timelines’. This is when either a new universe is created because of an interaction or there are infinite universes already in existence and somehow we are able to travel between them. Think of Minority Report, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, Looper, The Edge of Tomorrow, Terminator 3 on, Everything Everywhere All At Once… Even superheroes (who exist in a different universe to us because their powers defy the laws of physics!), even they have to deal with the multiverse now. Think of Doctor Strange, Evengers: End Game, Spiderman: No Way Home…

Sometimes we, the audience, are the space travelers. We are being shown ‘alternate histories’ so we are able to see what happened in universes not too far from our own. Think of Inglourious Basterds, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, The Man In The High Castle, HBO’s Watchmen, For All Mankind…

Sometimes these other spaces are represented in ways unlike any we have seen before and they produce feelings that waver between wonder and dread. Nothing about about the world we know, none of our certainties exist in these spaces. We are being asked to contemplate what it means to be human in a space that is not made for us. What will this space do to us? We can’t understand. What will this space do FOR us? We can’t understand. These spaces are at once repulsive and desirable. They show us both horror and compassion. They show us something else that we don’t recognise and that we don’t want to see: that is, that we focus on and value our minds, but that we are nothing more than our bodies. Sometimes these spaces are as terrifying as they are beautiful and we find them difficult to categorise. These films are about what it is to be human: loneliness, the need to connect. Bodies.

One way people travel to a new space is digitally- either via a computer game or via a biodigital interface which allows the protagonists to defy death by re-spawning. Think of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Source Code, Free Guy… Often there are characters who discover they aren’t a “real” person and there’s a lot of discussion about what that means. Is there a difference between ‘the real world’ and these different (digital) spaces?

What we are seeing now is that there is no one type of “fantasyland” and characters’ journeys are often purely internal, in their minds. There are now simply just many different, valid worlds, real and unreal, one for each of us. Some spaces are better. Some are worse. Some are unfathomable.

We are using these spaces to contemplate our histories and our selves. We are material beings who have evolved in a physical world, grappling with what living in an unreal or a non-physical space will do to us. We are hoping for an answer to the questions we have always asked ourselves: Who are we? And Why are we here? But we’ve added in a new question: Where do we belong?

We know we won’t find an answer and yet we continue to ask… Because wherever we are feels like it’s real.