Science Fiction has long been the stomping ground for end-of-life tales.
Though it’s history that warns us all it took to wipe out the dinosaurs was a well-timed comet or meteor colliding with Mother Earth, and – bam! – life nearly vanished from the Big Blue Marble. Millions of years later, things were largely back to normal (sans dinosaurs, of course), and now the forward-thinking minds of Science insist on keeping eyes on the heavens because – statistically – another Extinction Level Event is only a matter of time.
If it isn’t a comet that wipes us out, there’s always a plague of locusts, a nuclear catastrophe, robotic overlords, alien invaders, flawed genetic tinkering, global warming, global cooling, or any number of lethal viruses. SciFi has always set its sights set on these dark futures, not so much to scare us silly (though it does) but perhaps more so with the hopes that we’ll learn something from watching or reading these stories … we’ll take whatever steps we can in the present to alter course and preserve a chance to see tomorrow.
This is the territory very capable staked out in Rubikon (2022) from IFC Midnight. Though we join Earth’s collapse a bit in progress, the saga that follows gives audiences one more look behind the curtain, reminding us just how flawed we are as a ‘reasoning species’ and why we’ll still sometimes act in defiance of our collective self-interest because … well … we just can’t help ourselves.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“Following a catastrophe on Earth, the planet is covered in a toxic fog. The crew in the space station must decide whether to risk their lives to get home and search for survivors or stay safe in the station’s ‘algae symbiosis system.’”
Initially, the problem is that the crew of the Rubikon have increasingly limited means to getting that cure down to the surface; but before all is said and done you may find yourself asking whether or not we deserve the remedy. I suggest that Lauritsch and company would have you believe that we aren’t, a sentiment that’s (sigh) all too common amongst our artistic betters. Storytellers, in particular, love to craft worlds wherein they can sit in judgment of mankind and all that its created, and this film introduces roadblock after roadblock all the way up until the point wherein soldier Hannah Wagner (played with good range by Julia Franz Richter) finally decides our fate all by her lonesome.
Kinda bleak, no?
Well, in fairness, Wagner has her reasons, and – as it’s all constructed here – it makes perfect narrative sense. Do I agree with her decision as it’s been foisted upon her by the filmmakers? Not entirely, though I do understand it.
What Rubikon does admirably at times is it displays how different folks reaction differently in a crisis. Wagner is joined on the station by scientists Gavin Abbott (George Blagden) and algae specialist Dimitri Krylow (Mark Ivanir) in this curious study of the end of life as we know it. As presumably the only three living souls left in all of the cosmos (tip: they’re not), the script rather deftly shows how each processes their immeasurable grief of the circumstances. Always the soldier, Wagner goes to work. A pragmatist who equally relishes life, Krylow allows himself a reasonable downtime before resuming his work. A pure thinker, Abbott can’t begin to conceive of how to go on and tries to commit suicide, an act that’s inevitably thwarted by his shipmates.
Once these conflicting perspectives about life, liberty, and loss come into sharper focus, the script relentlessly bombards the isolated trio with like-minded scenarios almost to the point of absurdity; and, sadly, it’s mostly because the screenwriters haven’t said all they want to say about class warfare, crony capitalism, and military corruption … while remaining seemingly neutral (to the big finish) with folks playing God.
As our parents probably warned us when we were kids, there are consequences to playing God, especially when it appears that everyone is assuming that high throne on the latest narrative whim. But as Jeff Goldblum once told us in a certain Jurassic blockbuster about the dangers of getting too pious, life can and will find a way … even though we may’ve done our very best to prevent it.
Rubikon (2022) was produced by Samsara Filmproduktion, Graf Film, Carinthia Film Commission, Filmfonds Wien, and a few additional participants. As for the technical specifications? The film both looks and sounds incredible from start-to-finish. Actually, let me go a step further on that point than what I generally do: I loved the overall look of this picture and many of its smaller sequences. Lauritsch has staged this one extremely well, and some of the images are about as close to visually iconic as one can get without filming in outer space. Yes, it looks that good to this SciFi junkie. The motion picture is playing theatrically as well as available for home streaming effective July 1st.
Recommended. Be warned: there’s an awful lot to unpack emotionally with Rubikon, though there’s not a lot of that on display from the main players. Theirs is a dire predicament that only gets worse with each successive decision made. Because of some shifting alliances, the motivations are never quite clear up front, but once you’re in the thick of it … well … then you’re in the thick of it for the duration … win, lose, or draw. That’s the whole point about crossing a rubicon: there’s no way back … except forward … even if that means the eradication of life itself.
Suffice it to say: it ain’t easy being human … but it ought not to be that hard. And that devastating.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at IFC Midnight provided me with a complimentary streaming link of Rubikon (2022) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.