Astronaut movies do not tell us about the future; they tell us about the future as seen through the concerns of the present. (Where is the shiny middle-class future that the Jetsons promised us in the early ’60s, with its robot maids and flying cars?). The earliest space travel movie, made a decade before the first World War, is preoccupied with industrialization and diplomatic squabbling. The sci-fi movies of the ’50s are marked by Freudian psychology and anti-communist paranoia. By the NIxonian ’70s, the paranoia has been redirected toward our own government.
And now comes Gravity (pictured), a space spectacle that gives drifting astronaut Sandra Bullock time to ponder her place among the infinite stars while she awaits rescue. Maybe, the film suggests, at a time when we’ve all but abandoned space flight and are too preoccupied with geopolitical and economic hardships to gaze at the heavens, what we really need from an astronaut movie is an opportunity for healing.
Here, then, are ten classic astronaut movies, Pour yourself a glass of Tang and read on to see tales of where we thought we were going someday told us instead about where we’ve been.
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