The Inescapable Terror and Loneliness of Floating In Outer Space Scenes

The cold infinity of space is terrifying.

If I had to list the top five ways I do not want to die, it would probably be along the lines of spontaneous human combustion, drowning, being eaten alive by a giant snake (like in Anaconda), trapped in a sinking submarine, or floating into space endlessly until I run out of oxygen and asphyxiate. Sure, the likelihood of any of these happening (besides drowning, but I live nowhere near the ocean nowadays) is impossible, but I’m a terrible worrywart by nature and movies do not help this.  Maybe I just want to work through my emotions for a bit and talk about some of them. Is that all right with you? Cool. Thanks for being here.

Mission to Mars (2000)

Woody Blake (Tim Robbins) wears a spacesuit and smiles at the camera. the planet Mars is behind him

I had no idea until today that Mission to Mars is based on a ride at Disneyland. Someone, please tell me this scene does not happen in the ride. After their spaceship blows up, the crew all tether up to scoot down to the planet. Woody Blake (Tim Robbins) accidentally launches himself a bit too far away from the group, and his wife Terri (Connie Nielsen), tries to go after him. He realizes she won’t have enough fuel to get to him and get back, and they’ll both float in space forever and die. So he calmly tells her he loves her and then takes off his helmet, turning into a human popsicle. I admire his choice, but damn if it isn’t horrifying.

Event Horizon (1997)

Justin stands in the airlock of the Event Horizon spaceship. He is covering his ears with his hands and sceaming

There’s not one but two scenes in this classic Spaceship-Opens-A-Portal-To-Hell film. First, there’s Cooper (Richard T. Jones), who’s hanging on for dear life to a tiny part of the ship after an explosion. Thankfully he’s able to purge his oxygen supply to propel himself back to the safety of the Event Horizon, but I can’t help but think about spinning around out of control, every moment taking you farther away from humanity. I’m not sure how plausible this plan would be in actuality, but it was worth a shot (and since this is a movie it works of course).

Later, Justin (Jack Noseworthy, pictured above) is starting to hallucinate as the ship (or demon) is talking to him. He activates the airlock without a spacesuit on! The rest of the crew are banging on the door, desperately trying to override it while the pressure changes start to have an effect on Justin—his veins pop out, his eyes start bleeding…it’s extremely visceral. He shakes his head and blood flies around in slow motion! This almost ends in disaster, but Laurence Fishburne as Captain Miller gets there in the nick of time, boosts into him, and catapults them both back into the airlock and putting poor Justin in stasis ASAP.

Gravity (2013)

Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) floats in space in a spacesuit, the earth reflected in his visor

I genuinely think I would have had a panic attack if I saw Gravity in theaters. The tension in this film is insanely good, and there are a few first-person POV shots to really bring it home. Sandra Bullock basically runs this movie by herself, trying to figure out how to get back to Earth after a bunch of space debris hits their shuttle causing huge amounts of damage.

She reaches for Matt (George Clooney) as they tumble in zero-G, but he slips through her fingers. It’s heartbreaking. There’s nothing she can do as he floats away. He reassures her, “It’s going to be okay. You got this.” Soon he drifts too far for their communicators to work, and he disappears from the Earth forever. Pretty sure they even do the “it was his last mission before retirement!” trope. Do you think he took off his helmet like Tim Robbins? Or just chilled out until he ran out of oxygen? I’m not sure how easy it would be to remove your helmet now that I think about it. So maybe he doesn’t have a choice. That’s depressing.

Deep Impact (1998)

a point of view shot from the inside of a spacesuit helmet. a man screams as a planet is visible in the distance

I don’t remember a lot about Deep Impact, mainly because I was about seven years old when it released.  What I can tell you is that I remember this scene of a man being blasted into open space by a jet of super-heated gas and screaming his head off while we watch from inside his helmet. It’s claustrophobic as hell, the only thing we can see is the lower half of his face and the comet in the distance. Turns out this is a young Jon Favreau, so I learned something new while re-traumatizing myself. I have a friend who’s a legit scientist, and I asked him what he thought about this scene. He said, and I quote “Yeah, that would suck.” Agreed.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Poole in a yellow spacesuit floats away from the Discovery One spacecraft

Everyone who talks about film has gotta mention 2001 at some point, right? There are a million things you could say about it, but what strikes me about the rogue artificial intelligence HAL cutting Poole’s oxygen cord and sending him into free-fall (free-float?) is the emptiness. There’s not a lot (if any) stars in some shots, just the bright yellow spacesuit tumbling endlessly while the Discovery One gets smaller and smaller. It’s cold and lonely. I guess on the plus side, he doesn’t have to deal with it for very long. Bowman is nice enough to bring his body back to the ship though! Silver lining.

The thing that gets me about these scenes is the isolated-ness of them. Once you’re out floating out there, nothing can be done. You’re trapped with your own thoughts until you burn through your oxygen supply. Your body will be carried into the vastness of space forever. It’s so unbelievably lonely. Humans are such social creatures, maybe it’s no wonder the idea freaks me the hell out. I wouldn’t want to be alone like that, in the end.

Uh-oh, I think I figured it out—why I’ve been thinking about depressing space scenes so much. I think maybe quarantine is getting to me. Wanna yell at me about movies on Twitter?

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada who can be found chilling with their two cats and playing farming simulators. Find them on Twitter: @lorelli_

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