The sci-fi morality play Rubikon gets stranded in orbit

The stakes don’t get a lot larger or the canvas a lot smaller than in Rubikon, a sci-fi drama concerning the destiny of the Earth, set aboard an orbiting house station. There, a handful of characters — simply three, for a lot of the movie’s size — stare out of their home windows at a world that’s choking to demise on poisonous fog. They really feel like they must go all the way down to the floor and attempt to save humanity, however they’re undecided they will carry themselves to depart the protection of their orbiting cocoon.

In different phrases, this can be a COVID film. Rubikon’s tiny forged and minimal manufacturing in all probability have extra to do with its funds and origin (it’s Austrian-made, although largely in English) than when it was made. And Leni Lauritsch, the first-time director, wrote the movie earlier than the pandemic, with matters like international local weather change and the European refugee disaster on her thoughts. But as she was taking pictures through the second wave of coronavirus, the parallels grew to become inescapable for her and her actors, and so they’re inescapable for viewers now.

On an emotional stage, Rubikon is a movie about how isolation breeds insular attitudes, and the way straightforward it’s in your horizons to shrink, even when you possibly can see the curvature of the Earth out of your bed room window. We can all relate. On an ethical stage, nevertheless — and that is very a lot a morality play in the guise of a contained, pressure-cooker thriller — it’s about weighing your accountability to your self and your loved ones towards your accountability to society. The bother is, its metaphor is so starkly exaggerated, with the way forward for humanity on one facet of the size and three folks in a tin can on the opposite, that it by no means totally is sensible.

Gavin Abbott, Hannah Wagner and Dimitri Krylow look concerned in space suits with red lighting in Rubikon

Photo: Philipp Brozsek/IFC Midnight

The movie is about in 2056, when air high quality is so degraded that the higher echelons of society stay in climate-controlled geodomes, and society has crumbled to the extent that nations have dissolved and been changed by company entities. Hannah Wagner (Julia Franz Richter), a special-ops soldier for one in every of these corporations, is posted to the Rubikon, a big, well-appointed house station with a small crew, the place the scientist Dimitri Krylow (Mark Ivanir) has been growing a symbiotic system of algae cultures that may present a limitless provide of breathable air. Accompanying Hannah is Gavin Abbott (George Blagden), a chemist and environmental activist whose wealthy mother and father organized the gig on the Rubikon for him, seeing house as a secure haven.

At the very begin of the movie, one thing occurs to the AI navigation system of Hannah and Gavin’s shuttlecraft, forcing them to dock with the station manually — for no obvious motive apart from to reveal each Hannah’s navy competence and sang-froid, and Lauritsch’s certain hand as a director with suspense set-pieces. Several occasions through the film, she exhibits she will be able to construct and launch stress with unflashy financial system, utilizing spare edits and letting the actors and the sound design do the heavy lifting. In these moments, Rubikon is at its fleeting greatest.

As a drama, the movie is far much less sure-footed. In its early phases, the script appears in a rush to go nowhere. Lauritsch and her co-screenwriter Jessica Lind fail to take the time to correctly arrange the characters, the world, the plot, and the stakes. The worldwide forged, who sometimes dip into subtitled German and Russian, are all at sea, and the viewers is left confused concerning the particulars. Things settle a bit of when half the crew (together with Dimitri’s son) departs the station and Lauritsch can concentrate on the three who stay: Hannah, Gavin, and Dimitri.

Hannah Wagner on the space station Rubikon

Photo: Philipp Brozsek/IFC Midnight

The state of affairs on Earth is especially unclear. Obviously issues are dire down there, however in some unspecified time in the future, they get abruptly and catastrophically worse, as a boiling cloud of poison races across the planet, seemingly eliminating all human life. Exactly when and why this occurs, and the way it differs from the earlier state of affairs, viewers need to piece collectively from silent, ineloquent response photographs and snatches of obscure, hand-waving exposition. As cataclysms go, it’s weirdly muted — though the visuals of the Earth turning from cloud-streaked blue to glowering brown have a distant energy.

Lauritsch constructs a neat parallel to this, and one other efficient visible cue, because the bright-green algae panels that provide the Rubikon’s crew with their air begin to curdle and darken. The causes are surprising, however this additionally sadly marks the purpose the place Lauritsch loses her grip on the story’s credibility for the sake of her message.

The algae cultures are clearly of crucial worth to the survival of the human race on Earth, however Lauritsch’s scheme requires that the characters debate whether or not they need to fly them down in any respect. Gavin, the environmentalist, believes they need to; Dimitri, the scientist, is given contrived causes for wanting to remain aboard the Rubikon. Hannah, the pragmatic operative, is caught in the center.

All three actors are likable sufficient, and Richter brings a dedicated, wiry depth to Hannah’s supposed dilemma. But at no level does it actually appear to be an actual ethical query, and consequently, few of Hannah’s selections ring true. Even although Lauritsch works arduous to tip the scales — giving Hannah a powerful private incentive to remain, and invoking the specter of company greed and callousness on the floor — she will be able to’t succeed in balancing them. On one facet: a egocentric, hole, haunted existence as a vestigial threesome orbiting the graveyard of humanity. On the opposite: an try to avoid wasting the way forward for humankind, irrespective of how dangerous or morally compromised. I’d prefer to suppose I wouldn’t hesitate the best way they do.

To get herself out of this illusory ethical maze, Lauritsch springs two separate deus ex machinas, neither of which feels earned. Rubikon’s plot crash-lands whereas its honest intentions are left spinning fruitlessly in house, in search of a approach again down.

Rubikon debuts in theaters and on demand on July 1.

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