It takes a certain amount of drive and self-belief to make a movie approaching the scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey on a budget of just half a million dollars, but that’s what filmmaker William Eubank has done with Love. As its name implies, it’s a meditative sci-fi fable, and a passion project for Eubank, who served as writer, director and cinematographer.
In the near future, clean-cut astronaut Lee Miller (Gunner Wright) embarks on a solo mission to the International Space Station, where he hopes to carry out a few routine maintenance tasks before returning to Earth. Inevitably, things go wrong. There’s the suggestion that a full-scale war has broken out on terra firma, as a shaky voice from mission control tells Miller, “I want to bring you out of orbit, but I don’t have the people to do it… We’re going to need you to sit tight for a while.”
Miller’s left stranded and alone aboard the station, and as the weeks turn into months and then years, his mood wavers between anger (“If you guys are doing some sort of stress experiment or isolation test, you guys can stop now, because I’m very isolated, and very stressed”), borderline insanity and acceptance.
Meanwhile, other mysteries are quietly introduced. An opening sequence takes us not into space, but into the past, where a Union soldier is despatched to investigate an object in the desert during the American Civil War.
This appears to have something to do with Miller, stuck 200 years in the future, but what? And what are we to make of the stark, interstitial interview scenes with apparently random members of the public, who each address the camera with their personal stories? Like a Dirk Gently mystery, these strands are fundamentally interconnected, as revealed in a conclusion that’s simultaneously ambiguous and satisfying.
Gunner Wright is excellent as Miller, and successfully takes his character from a typical screen representation of an all-American astronaut (think Keir Dullea’s turn in 2001), and gradually moves him closer to someone more akin to Bruce Dern’s lonely space hippy in Silent Running.
Eubank puts in a similarly impressive performance in his multiple roles as writer and filmmaker, and it’s to his credit that Love comes off so favourably when compared to the genre touchstones which have clearly inspired it; Solaris, Moon, and some of the other movies already mentioned are the most obvious.
With only limited resources at his disposal, Eubank successfully creates a convincing battle scene (with some sumptuous slow-motion), a claustrophobic Civil War bunker, and a chaotically detailed space station. That the latter was a relatively small set built on his driveway is never evident in the finished film – it’s an ominous, eerie place, and its design is cleverly used to further the narrative, with a gradually dwindling matrix of spinning fans subtly reflecting Miller’s mental deterioration.
Love is a relatively rare example of art-house science fiction. Scored by the band Angels & Airwaves, it uses music as a subtle backwash for its themes of human connection and memories. Although influenced by sci-fi cinema in terms of its visuals, its pace and tone is more akin to the mind-expanding realm of SF literature.
In the 1940s, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called Kaleidoscope, published in the collection The Illustrated Man in 1951. It related the final experiences of a group astronauts floating through space, having been thrown from their ship in the wake of an unspecified disaster. Gradually, their lives wink out, leaving only the narrator, floating through space and wishing he could do “one good thing” before he died.
Like Kaleidoscope, Love is about an individual’s experiences in the face of certain doom, and both stories find a way to end on an oblique ray of hope. Like Bradbury’s classic tale, Eubank has an ear for poetic dialogue – and one line in particular provides a connection between that short story and Love’s pervading atmosphere: “I feel like all the colours and shapes in the world have collided, and all I can do is sit there and watch.”
Not everyone will be patient enough to engage with Love, and some might dismiss it as pretentious. But as a piece of low-budget filmmaking, its ambition is astonishing, and as a piece of cinema, it’s often mesmerising.
Love is out in selected UK cinemas on the 7th September.
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