by Jonathan Rothwell

Love (2011) film review

Gunner Wright in handsome-but-broody-spaceman mode

At first glance, you might think that Love, a movie produced by alternative rock band Angels and Airwaves, is a 2001 rip-off disguised as something merely very similar.

It turns out this isn’t too inaccurate as a description, although it has elements of homage to Moon as well. Filmed on a home-made recreation of the International Space Station, it stars Gunner Wright (of Dead Space fame) as Lee Miller, an astronaut stranded on the station, alone, by a cataclysmic war on Earth.

Of course, being a tie-in film for an alternative-rock concept album (and exec-produced by Tom DeLonge, famous for his views on UFOs) this was never going to be a revolution in storytelling. It was always going to be an art film, an acquired taste to say the least.

It’s certainly good enough if we take it as an art film. Visually, it looks much like I’d expect 2001 to look were it remade by J. J. Abrams or Duncan Jones; there is a lot of lens flare, and the cinematography is nothing less than sumptuous. The film is full of dream sequences, including a strikingly grim one near the end, where Miller sees himself as a stereotypical ‘castaway’ with long hair and skin covered in biro markings. The visuals are competently accompanied by music from the album with which the film shares its name (although mercifully we are spared any vocals until the end credits.)

One of the great disappointments I had on watching 2001, having read the book beforehand, was how nebulous and detached it was. While Arthur Clarke’s writing was stoic and technical, this didn’t translate well to the screen: the whole thing felt dead, much like it would only make sense with prior consumption of some illegal narcotics.

I did not expect Love to be particularly impressive when it came to storytelling. Certainly, unlike 2001, it knows it is appallingly pretentious, and makes no attempt to be anything different: the plot line is abstract, nonlinear, what I imagine an acid trip feels like.

This makes the fact that its storyline is quite good all the more surprising. Although the premise is a little silly (the ISS has no artificial gravity, and it would have a capsule docked—how else would Miller have arrived there?) the plot revolves around Lee Briggs, a soldier who is presumed to be Miller’s antecedent, and his journal indicating the existence of some other-worldly artefact discovered during the American civil war.

Ultimately, it is this artefact which—after Miller had shaken himself from visions of his caveman-self—he discovers, in a standing orbit beside the space station. Humanity has died, he discovers: he is, truly, the Last Man. The artefact, a sort of giant crystallised Monolith, turns out to be a ship, an archive of all humanity. In the final scenes, the film—at its closest mimicry to 2001—places Miller in an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the infamous Star Gate slit-scan sequence, as he is digitised and assimilated into the archive.

Despite the inconsistencies, the abstractness of the plot, and the points where it came uncomfortably close to being a 2001 rip-off, I still enjoyed Love. The story is essentially carried by Gunner Wright, who, beginning as an archetypal stoic astronaut who looks suspiciously similar to Keir Dullea, begins a spiral into eccentricity and neurosis that mirrors Sam Bell from Moon (and, thanks to Mr Wright’s previous repertoire, Isaac from Dead Space; although there is no point at which he stomps an alien to death, nor the appearance of the Eye-Poke Machine™.) He’s a terrific actor, carrying off a sympathetic character even through points where the screenplay becomes excruciatingly ham-fisted (with lines such as “where’s my fucking video!?” shouted at a computer succumbed to bit rot.)

There are many points at which it perhaps becomes too full of itself. The regular inter-splicing of ‘vox pops’ from seemingly random men adds nothing in particular (although they do have an in-universe explanation.) Something that positively detracts from the film is what happens as the closing credits start: a filtered, GLaDOS-style monologue is heard, explaining the key themes of the film to its audience and urging them to put it into practice.

Let’s get this straight: even if you had smoked crack on the way in, the themes and general moral of Love—that we are defined by our connections, our experiences, our stories—should be patently clear. To have someone explain it to you, like a five-year-old, at the film’s conclusion, comes across as preachy; to hear it when you saw the film alone, in your flat, on an iPad, as I did, feels as if you’re watching some kind of corporate promotional video intended for a self-congratulationary conference that took place six months ago.

These flaws are clear, but in spite of this, I still found myself enjoying Love. Even though I usually despise pretentious art films, I enjoyed it—I daresay I probably liked it more than 2001. There, I said it. Go on. Judge me now.

Unlike 2001, Love lasts for a very bearable 84 minutes; much like the music of Angels and Airwaves, it is not afraid to beat you over the head with crushingly unsubtle morals; unlike 2001, to which the film is essentially an extended homage-cum-demo reel, it features a lead character who it is possible to care about. It sacrifices any semblance of technical accuracy and subtlety for an outright assault on your senses—and it’s much more enjoyable for it.