It’s sort of ironic how so many sci-fi movies are just drenched in pathos. Like “let’s talk about wormholes … and the magic of love. And the pain of loss. And maybe some redemption for good measure. Definitely wormholes, though.” It’s a phenomenon worth thinking about, I think. Here are some prime examples.
Arrival – “Abbot is death process.” And why is poor Abbott death process? Because he sacrificed himself to help humanity reach a higher plane through unity and peace. Plus also teaching us a language that changes the way we think to such an extent that we can see the future. Or that we begin to perceive the non-linearity of time in a way that sort of allows us to experience all of the past and future at once. Or maybe that we step into the circle of time at whatever point we desire. I don’t know, something like that. Anyway, the aliens are good and one dies and it’s super sad.
Silent Running – It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen this movie, as in we checked it out from the library on a family trip there, on VHS. Think mid ‘80s. It sure made an impression on me, though. I’m writing this without researching any of it, so take my plot summary with a grain of salt, but it ends up being a guy alone on a spaceship trying to keep a bunch of plants alive for some noble reason. I don’t remember why, I just remember being really sad after I watched it.
Contact – This one tore me up when I saw it for the umpteenth time a few months ago. Then again, I am a crazy person, so maybe that experience won’t translate for you. I think the tears here are more of an empathy thing with Jodie Foster’s character fighting to validate her life through work and finally realizing that something sort of mystical may be a better route to go for that particular pursuit.
Interstellar – Is this the best movie ever? Possibly. It’s impactful enough that this is a question a lot of people debate after watching it. It’s an amazing blend of “hard sci-fi” and philosophical exploration of the transcendency of love. To me, some of the family drama elements verge on being sappy but the tragedy of leaving your daughter at grade school age and returning to her as an old woman while you’ve aged only a couple of years due to the time dilation of proximity to a black hole is undeniable. What really gets me emotionally here, though, is the suspense that permeates this thing. The very survival of humanity is on the line throughout and the movie’s score propels it forward in an eerie, pounding way. I can watch Interstellar over and over again and maybe the only other movie like that for me is Pulp Fiction, so that’s saying something.
The Never-Ending Story – This isn’t really sci-fi, but it breaks my heart because Falcor dies. I think he dies. Right? It’s like the family dog dying in the process of saving one of the children somehow. I mean, really this movie is fucking weird if you think about it for a second. And it’s sad. So there’s that.