Playing Nice: Europa Report, by Sarah Brinks
Thank you for reading “Playing Nice,” a series of articles that examines group dynamics in film.
**This article will contain spoilers. I strongly recommend you watch the film first and then read the article if you care about spoilers.** The question of whether we are alone in the universe is a question that has plagued humanity for all of time. Europa Report is a film about a group of astronauts trying to answer that question. A group of American and Russian astronauts go to Mars’ moon Europa to drill beneath an ice layer into the underground ocean and search for microscopic life. The crew is put under incredible stresses on the way to as well as on Europa’s surface.
The story is not told in a linear way so we jump around in the narrative a fair amount but we get to see the crew in the early days of the mission before they lose contact with NASA. They are as one character describes “like kids on a school trip”. They are enjoying themselves, telling jokes and making home videos until one day when they lose communication with the Earth. They continue with their mission because it is important but along the way they lose a crewman when there is an accident repairing the exterior of the ship. After James dies the mood on the ship changes.
Europa Report is filmed in some ways like a documentary. There are interviews with the mission director on Earth, Dr. Unger. She discusses what it was like to lose contact with Europa Mission and what they learn when the link is reestablished. You see how sad and devastated they are when the status of the mission is unknown. You also see through interviews what their hopes for the mission are and what they hope the tests will find. If there is, even microscopic life, on another planet then that answers a question that has plagued mankind for all of time.
Things become additionally difficult when they crash on Europa and Andrei starts to see lights outside the ship. Andrei is emotionally unstable after the accident that killed James. James sacrificed himself so that Andrei could live and he has survivor guilt. The crew wants to believe Andrei but they can’t because they think that he is unraveling emotionally and mentally. They are scientists so they need evidence and when they watch the footage when Andrei says he saw the light but there is a radiation spike then and they can’t see the light on the camera. In the end Andrei is right and it is the light from an alien being but without evidence it is not validated.
Katya, one of the Russian astronauts, wants to put on a space suit and do tests on the planet’s surface. As a result of the crash they cannot get the samples they need. She finally convinces the crew it is worth the risk and she is lost. She is the first to die after James and the crew becomes panicked because she is surrounded by the light that Andrei saw before she is attacked. They then finally have evidence that something is there and something is going on. All the deaths of the crew are tragic but some are more sympathetic than others. James sacrifices his life for Andrei and the sake of the crew, he uses his last words to send love to his wife and son. Katya refuses to come in when she should and as result she dies. Captain William Xu sacrifices his life to try and get them free from Europa. Alexie also sacrifices himself to repair communications so they can submit their finding to Earth. And Rosa opens the back hatch of the ship allowing water and the alien to get in to the ship so that Earth can have an image of it.
Europa Report manages the balance between believable scientist behavior and emotional human behavior. The astronauts are clinical and logical in their thinking and behavior but they are also emotional beings. They get very excited when they finally make it to Europa, and especially then they cut through the glass. They hear a noise in the water that is similar to whale song and they laugh when they say it because it is clearly hopeful thinking to imagine a multi-cellular lifeform on Europa. When James and Alexie are outside the ship and Alexie’s suit is ripped they realize that James has been covered in a chemical that is toxic if exposed to it. They have to get Alexie stabilized because his suit is leaking oxygen but they cannot clean James suit. Alexie blacks out and James gets him in the airlock, but as he does that he is launched away from the spaceship and sent drifting into space with little oxygen left. The crew and James had to make a logical call based on the evidence they had before them and Alexie had the better odds of survival in that situation.
Space is incredibly unforgiving but the search for answers and the need to explore is strong amongst mankind. The Europa crew has to be level-headed and logical as they deal with scientific problems. Sometimes that means they have to make some tough calls but they persevere and they explore an astral body. They all lose their lives in the exploration but it is a sacrifice they seem willing to make. If you found yourself on a planetary moon face to face with an aggressive alien being, would you play nice?