Spaceman Is a Ponderous Meditation on Loving and Leaving


If you have arachnophobia, Netflix’s Spaceman may well give you nightmares. But this film, adapted by Colby Day from the novel Spaceman of Bohemia, isn’t a horror flick. It isn’t a comedy either. And this despite basically being a buddy movie in which Adam Sandler traverses the galaxy as a cosmonaut on a shuttle with only a ginormous spider for company. 

Sandler plays Commander Jakub Procházka, who is halfway through a one-year solo mission past Jupiter to reach the Chopra cloud. For years, this beautiful purple nebula has grown visible from Earth, and has caused worldwide anxiety.

So Jakub takes one for humanity and volunteers for the mission at great personal cost, leaving behind his pregnant wife Lenka. (There’s always a pregnant wife to leave behind!)


While Jakub is trained to withstand prolonged isolation, Lenka too suffers from their separation and having to deal with the pregnancy on her own. She sends Jakub a video explaining that she wants to end their marriage. Knowing that the mission’s success depends on their cosmonaut’s mental health, Jakub’s superior suppresses the video.

When Lenka doesn’t respond to his calls, Jakub grows convinced that wife is ghosting him. He quickly sinks into a gravity well of depression. Unable to sleep, Jakub begins having nightmares about spiders on the shuttle. Before long, he discovers a spider the size of a Great Dane living in his bathroom.


It might be all that rigorous space training, but Jakub doesn’t freak out all that much. The spider, in Paul Dano’s silky voice and perfectly enunciated English, introduces itself and explains that like Jakub, it too is alone, the sole survivor of its people. As a Charlotte’s Web bond grows between them, Jakub names his new friend Hanuš. 

Hanuš is fascinated by Jakub. He senses that this “skinny human” is depressed because his mate has pulled away. Playing the role of therapist – and even life coach – Hanuš gets Jakub to go deep into his past, and force him to examine how his lifelong guilt and abandonment issues have created a pattern of running away that has caused his marriage with Lenka to implode.

The metaphor of a spider as guide is apt as Hanuš teaches Jakub to trace the invisible threadlike interconnections between all things. As they approach the Chopra cloud, which Hanuš reveals is a leftover from the start of the universe, Jakub learns to accept the inevitable fact that all things that begin must end, from the cosmos to this cosmonaut’s marriage. 


To his credit, Adam Sandler plays Jakub with a rare and respectable restraint. The comedian, who made a career playing loveable goofballs in high-energy, madcap films, has always excelled in these roles that demand greater pathos. Spaceman, with its quiet, philosophical waxing on everything from loneliness to love, showcases Sandler’s capacity for subtlety. 

If Spaceman’s overt credo is the threads interconnecting the universe, the movie itself spins a web of links to other films about intrepid (and isolated) individuals in space. Spaceman connects with the best of them, from the rugged, can-do survivalism of The Martian, to the slow-burn, ponderous philosophizing of Ad Astra, to the freewheeling madness of Gravity

Spaceman even has a touch of The Truman Show. Mission control won’t let Jakub do anything, not even save himself, without first having to go through the aggravating song-and-dance routine of verbally referencing their sponsors and products.


For all its sweeping scope, Spaceman is refreshingly uninterested in weighing itself down with pursuing scientific technicalities, or even offering much backstory or world building. We know nothing of the Chopra cloud and learn barely anything of Hanuš’ world or the extinction of his species. This is a film focused on orbiting slowly around the human heart rather than hard science. 

The movie does try hard to celebrate the cerebral and that’s admirable. It forgoes fast-paced action for quietly contemplative scenes. Even the conversations between Hanuš and Jakub are often sparse to the point of austerity. The movie wants to provide deep commentary on marriage, on loving and leaving, and on reaching out across space and time to reconnect with our past and loved ones.

Does Spaceman succeed? If the attempt is important, then yes, it succeeds. Yet ultimately, for a nearly two hour film, it putters along more than it should. For all its weighty themes on life, the universe, and everything, I felt that Spaceman just didn’t have enough emotional resonance as rocket fuel to reach the stars.

Spaceman is now streaming on Netflix.

Dr Matthew Yap is a writer, editor, and educator. He graduated with a PhD in Literature from Monash University, where he also taught Film Studies. Matthew thinks watching good shows is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If watching TV is like eating, Matthew enjoys an international buffet of programmes across genres, from Sense8 to Alice in Borderland and Derry Girls.

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