In A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Movies About Spirituality and Faith in Outer Space

How’s everybody doing during this quarantine time? Watching a lot of movies and reading tons of books, I hope! It’s crazy to think about how fragile our society is when a single virus can spread as easily as this one, closing schools, businesses, cities, and entire countries. It makes us worry about the tomorrow and the meaning of all of this, which I suppose it creates a great reason for us to analyze everything we’ve been doing to nature and society as individuals.

With that, I’ve decided to create a very peculiar list of fantastic films that reflect faith, spirituality and mankind’s search for meaning in outer space. Science fiction movies that are not only worried about telling a story outside the Earth but also putting a mirror into society by using the universe as a collective imaginary.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is not only one of the best movies ever made (if not the best) but is also a fascinating study about mankind’s search for the meaning of our existence. Created along with Arthur C. Clarke – who wrote the novel while Kubrick wrote the script – 2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie about the process of evolution, adding some of the surrealistic and the supernatural to Darwin’s theory, while it questions men’s capability through artificial intelligence. It still astonishes me that this movie was made in the 60s, not only in terms of production and special effects but also for the fact that the philosophy behind 2001 helped me to understand some of my own beliefs about who we are, what are we doing here and where we’re going.

Ad Astra

Ad Astra (2019) by James Gray

A film that will probably be considered way more important in the times to come, Ad Astra dialogues a lot with 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of the search for truth in outer space and the redemption of ourselves within society. By telling the story of an astronaut who is sent to another planet to find his father who is supposedly alive after being considered missing for years, James Gray presents the universe as the universe of our mind by using it as a tool to comprehend us as individuals and the people we love. The end it’s a little less optimistic than Kubrick’s film but very bittersweet at the same time by realizing the answers aren’t in the starts, but right in front of us, down here on Earth, no matter how lonely we are.

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Arrival (2016) by Dennis Villeneuve

Arrival may not be a film that actually happens in space, but it’s incredibly important for using aliens as a tool of communication and understanding of humanity as a society. The story is very similar to a thousand movies that have been done before, except that this time, the main focus is to commutate with the aliens. Who are they? What do they want? Where do they come from? With that, the movie plays with linguistics and semiotics in an absurdly genius way that ends up interfering with the timeline of the movie itself by presenting a non-figurative and non-linear language into the film’s narrative. More than that, Arrival is a film that is constantly happening through screens and the consequences of these divisions it’s one of the many themes Dennis Villeneuve’s film studies and analyses that talks so much about ourselves as a civilization.

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Interstellar (2014) by Christopher Nolan

Based on the concepts of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Interstellar is another movie that plays with the concept of finding answers in another universe. Here, the characters of Christopher Nolan’s film go into the direction of a wormhole to find possible planets to move our civilization from a dying Earth. More than incredible storytelling based on true space physics, Nolan uses the foundation of Kip Thorne’s theories to explore the subject of fatherhood, the concepts of time and how they affect our lives. It may not be a Hollywood film as deep and complex as Ad Astra or Arrival, but it definitely stands out from most science fiction films for paying special attention to its characters’ faith in outer space.

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Stalker (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky

Another movie that doesn’t necessarily happen in space but talks about humankind through something that comes from there, Stalker is one of Tarkovsky’s many masterpieces adapted from the book by Arkady Strugatsky. I’ve never read the novel but we can realize that Tarkovsky was clearly more interested in the philosophical aspects of the story than the pathos of the narrative, which follows a man who is hired by a writer to enter the Zone, a military closed area where the laws of nature and gravity have changed since a meteorite fell there. In the Zone, there’s a place called the Room, where all your wishes come true. With that, Tarkovsky builds a beautiful, poetic and mysterious tale that questions our place in society and the urgency of our needs and desires. It’s not a film that necessarily answers its own questions, but the contemplative images and philosophical dialogues are what makes this auteur science fiction film not only of the most interesting of its genre, but also one of the best films ever made.

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Solaris (1972) by Andrei Tarkovsky

And speaking of Tarkovsky, it’s impossible not to talk about Stalker‘s brother film, Solaris, a movie that has great similarities with 2001, even though the Russian director said he had never watched Kubrick’s film when he made it. The movie follows the story of a psychologist who is sent to a fictional planet called Solaris to investigate three tripulants that have supposedly gone mad. The movie starts exploring the collective imaginary of space and mind by having the psychologist also going through the same phenomena as the other tripulants, which is being able to see people who are dead. Probably one of his most narrative and philosophical films, Tarkovsky explores the idea of the personification of memories in space and the nature of one’s reality through an existential crisis in space.

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High Life (2019) by Claire Danes

A movie that has been clearly inspired by these two Tarkovsky’s films, High Life follows the extremely intriguing story of several prisoners who are sent to a black hole while they are going through conception experiments. The reasons for whatnots are never really explained and they aren’t exactly the point of the film since Claire Danes is more interested in exploring the relationships between these underdogs who are put into a spaceship like a prison box. As they couldn’t live in our society anymore, could they live in a group in space? And more importantly, could a child be born in this environment and live with these people? The result is a hypnotic movie about the reflection and the contemplation of these themes, making High Life a very special film when it comes to the subjects of mankind’s spirituality in space.

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Annihilation (2019) by Alex Garland

A movie that is also similar to one of Tarkovsky’s films that also does not happen in outer space in Alex Garland film based on the novels by Jeff VanderMeer. Just like Stalker, the movie features a territory that has been changed after a meteorite has fallen on a specific area, changing the environment around it. A group of scientists enter the zone in search of the source of these changes and start to run for their lives once they realize what the consequences of this supposedly alien mutation is doing to the biosphere. With that, Annihilation deals with many themes such as the mutation of beings in order to save ourselves from a destructive environment we surround ourselves with – something that dialogues a lot with every character’s arc throughout the story, proving this science fiction film is way more than meets the way. Especially because of its strange and surreal ending.

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Alien: Covenant (2017) by Ridley Scott

This may sound like a surprise – especially because most of the people hated this movie – but I must say Alien: Covenant it’s an extremely misunderstood film. Let’s leave the script mistakes aside and take into consideration what Ridley Scott tried to do here. By being the sequence of Prometheus, a film that deals with humanity going to space to find their creators, Covenant shows what happens when humans discover our creators didn’t want us after we were made. The most fascinating part of the movie is Michael Fassbender’s character David, a robot very similar to 2001′s Al, who like humans, was created by a superior intelligent force and sees himself in a position to eradicate its creator. With that, Ridley Scott creates a very interesting Frankenstein paradox about the inversion of creation and the spread of horror through God’s image. In Alien: Covenant, God is dead and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with us since humanity is evil and only wants to destroy itself. If you pay close attention, you will not only realize that Ridley Scott’s is a very complex and interesting film about mankind, society, and religion.