Major spoilers are ahead. Three astronauts going on a two-year mission to Mars, find a fourth person on board after launch. How did he get there? And what can the crew do when they learn that they only have enough oxygen for three people to survive? This is the harrowing premise for Netflix's Stowaway — a film that raises more questions than it answers.
For most of the film, astronauts Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) debate the moral question: is stowaway Michael Adams' (Shamier Anderson) life worth less than theirs? As far as they know, Michael is just an employee of Hyperion, the NASA-like organization running the mission, who slipped and fell while performing a routine check of the shuttle, passed out, and was left on the ship during takeoff. He's there through no fault of his own, so should he have to pay for this mistake with his life? The answer they reach is a reluctant no, and the movie ends with Zoe sacrificing herself so that the others can have a shot at making it to Mars.
But there's much we don't know at the end of Stowaway. Will Zoe's sacrifice actually allow Michael, Marina, and David to make it safely to Mars? Just because they have enough oxygen — for now — doesn't mean they won't hit other bumps along the road. Assuming they make it, are they still going to be stuck on a two year mission? In order to attempt to save them all, David sacrificed his entire experiment to grow algae in the hopes of creating a new supply of oxygen. What's he going to do for the next two years on Mars? What if one of them is injured? They are now in outer space without a doctor. And how many space suits do they have left? Zoe died in one of them, and those seem pretty crucial on a Mars mission.
But the most perplexing question is the very one the film opens with: How in the world did Michael end up in that space ship in the first place? When they first find Michael, he's injured, with a large wound on his side so bad that Zoe wonders how he's even alive. He later explains that he was checking something in the ship using a harness that wasn't properly secured. Case closed, right?
Well, if there's anything moviegoers know about space travel, it's not to trust the unknown man who suddenly appears onboard the ship. Plus, once he becomes part of the crew, Michael mentions that he was putting together an application to be on the next mission to Mars, which sounds a lot like a motive to want to sneak aboard. Per the screenwriter, however, there is no treachery afoot.
Co-writer Ryan Morrison described Stowaway as "a man-vs.-nature story" in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, adding that it has "nature as the bad guy." So, it appears that the intention in the script was not for Michael have any ulterior motives. And sure, it's comforting that there's no foul play here, but it's less comforting when you think about the nature of space exploration and the status of this mission.
That intent may have been to make Stowaway's initial twist just a random mistake, but it just doesn't feel that random. One does not simply leave a technician on a spaceship about to take off. Were there no mechanisms in place to ensure this very scenario would never happen? No roll call? No buddy system? No call and response?
I just hope NASA runs a tighter ship.