Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Rubikon: A Science Fiction Lifeboat Film

When the world ends, it is apparently due to vaguely defined environmental causes, but our overreliance on artificial intelligence did not help. Consequently, three survivors in orbit must deal with some deadly serious issues of “life” and “choice” in Magdalena Lauritsch’s Rubikon, which opens Friday in New York.

Hannah Wagner is a soldier in one of the private corporate armies (this being a dystopian future) who has come to the Rubikon space station to appraise the progress of Dr. Dimitri Krylow’s experimental algae-based self-sustaining life support system and hopefully shuttle it back to Earth. Then, the big catastrophic event happens. At least the algae works as promised. It will do its job, keeping alive Krylow, Wagner, and Gavin Abbott, the entitled environmental-activist son of a high-ranking executive. However, Krylow’s system was optimized for six crew members and requires at least three to function, so they are all in this together.

Through fate and happenstance, this happens to be a very interesting film to see at this particular time. Choices the suicidal Abbott (temporarily banished to Rubikon) might make could directly impact Wagner and Krylow. Likewise, when they contact a pocket of survivors on Earth, it prompts another round of life-and-death decisions. It also forces viewers to confront class-based prejudices from both sides of the divide.

Frankly, the lifeboat-ethics presented in
Rubikon are so complex and intriguing, there is no way the children throwing tantrums on Twitter can deal with it. Throughout the film, it is clear characters’ choice involve severe externalities. It also dramatically depicts the law of unintended consequences. Thematically, it is a bit like George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, but it is exponentially smarter. Lauritsch’s story is not heavily-dependent on special effects, but the Space Station quarters and the shrouded Earth below look pretty credible.

should also make viewers wonder why Ukrainian-born Israeli actor Mark Ivanir is not more famous in America. He is terrific as Krylow, humanizing the scientist even during his most difficult moments. George Blagden conveys Abbott’s privileged guilt and erratic neuroses with similar depth. Julia Franz Richter’s Wagner is certainly tightly wound, which certainly makes sense given her circumstances.

Cryo last week, Rubikon is a claustrophobic sf offering that does not rely on explosive spectacle, but Lauritsch’s film is a much more polished and compelling viewing experience. It might be the end of the world, but actions and decisions still have consequences. Highly recommended for fans of brainy sf, Rubikon opens this Friday (7/1) in New York, at the IFC Center.