“The portrayals of women and people of color in Life do not outright offend, but their renderings are as watery as the rest of this cinematic oatmeal.”
Title: Life (2017)
Director: Daniel Espinosa 👨🏽🇸🇪
Writers: Rhett Reese 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Paul Wernick 👨🏼🇨🇦
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
There is no aspect of this film that is original, and without complex characters to lend it any depth, what you get is an utterly—forgive the pun—lifeless film that you’ll find yourself snoozing through.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NOPE
The starting team consists of 2 women and 4 men—already beginning from a less-than-equal stature. Both females are white, giving off the sense that the film is ticking off boxes of representation without actually understanding that identities can intersect in ways beyond just having different haircuts or nationalities.
The two women never even get to talk to each other, garnering a fail on the ultra-easy Bechdel test. Luckily, Espinosa does make up for this dismal showing of gender parity by giving Dr. Miranda North, played by Rebecca Ferguson, enough narrative space to be considered a lead character. However, this is undercut by the fact that the primary lead opposite her, Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Dr. David Jordan, gets more scenes and a great deal more heroism. And the final act of this film boringly turns Dr. North into a stereotypical damsel in distress as she flops around uselessly, needing to be saved by a man.
The starting team consists of 4 white characters and 2 people of color. Of the latter, one is Sho Murakami, played by Hiroyuki Sanada of Japanese descent, and the other is Dr. Hugh Derry, played by Ariyon Bakare who is British of Nigerian descent. Both characters are positive, easily escaping stereotype. Sho is warmly depicted, having just become a new father, and the film features his fluency in both English and Japanese which is integrated without the falsity that can sometimes surface when East Asian actors are treated as interchangeable. (See the appalling examples of this in Syfy’s Dark Matter or Jackie Chan’s The Foreigner.)
Meanwhile, Dr. Derry is shown to be compassionate and incredibly bright, as he describes the scientific elements of the alien life form upon its inception and quickly forms an attachment to the creature.
Ultimately, however, both characters lack any deeper development beyond these dry brush strokes. They remain tangential to the film’s main interests—that of the alien’s quickly growing strength, and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the two white leads.
Bonus for Disability: +0.25
Credit where credit’s due, Dr. Derry has a fleeting scene where he reveals that he uses a wheelchair on Earth. Since the vast majority of this film takes place in zero gravity, his disability is never actually depicted or explored, but this added facet of his character is a welcome one.
Perhaps his disability is the reason why Dr. Derry has a heightened level of empathy. I know it’s a reach, but my point is that having such layers allows viewers to engage their brains, as we look for the kinds of motivations and backstories that can cause us to form our own attachments to fictional characters.
Mediaversity Grade: C- 3.00/5
The portrayal of women and POC in Life doesn’t outright offend, but their renderings are as watery as the rest of this cinematic oatmeal.
If you really have a hankering for something to put on the telly, opt for another film that delivers aspects of Life, but with exponentially more success. Alien: Covenant (2017) will work if you’re looking for creative blood spatters via hostile life forms; Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) will give you space opera vibes; Gravity (2013) nails the pensive-in-space angle; and the newly-released Annihilation (2018) delivers a similar set-up but with fantastic world-building and strong female leads.
All I’m saying is, you’ve already seen Life before, in one shape or another. There's really no need to see it again.