Millions of Americans watched in horror on September 11, 2001, as their televisions showed images of hijacked planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York. Former NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson watched from the International Space Station.
He tells of the despair he felt in orbit as he looked towards Earth. The ISS cameras deftly located a seemingly peaceful and cloudless sky over North America and saw the thick clouds of smoke rising from lower Manhattan. His distance from the planet made him aware of his safety from chaos, a safety that seemed almost unfair to him. Later, Culbertson learned that one of the American pilots on the painfully long list of victims of the attack was his friend.
Like the entire nation, Culbertson was abruptly reminded of what it means to feel human.
Culbertson’s story is just one of many intimate anecdotes told by international astronauts in the new documentary.. It’s already in theaters in New York and Los Angeles and is available for digital download from services like Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Google Play.
Director Clare Lewins, known for her 2014 documentary I Am Ali, about boxer Muhammad Ali, focuses her film on the silent emotions and experiences that accompany space travel. It does this by diverting attention from the cosmos and putting its explorers at the forefront.
The Wonderful is not really a movie about space; It is a story about the people who updated their lives to go there.
The film is combined with music ranging from Claire de Lune to rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes a bit of an odd choice, and cinematic Earth cruise sequences that are sometimes a little longer than necessary. However, the movie is conveyed by minimalist scenes of astronauts simply recounting their memories of traveling and making the ISS their home.
Some are remarkable accounts of the grandeur of the station’s solar panels or of the descent to Earth similar to a car accident. Others are charmingly banal memories, like listening to Coldplay in a space capsule.
Docking on the ISS triggered an “Oh my God!” of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforreti and Peggy Whitson, former NASA astronaut, actually He felt like when he saw his reflection for the first time during a spacewalk.
Scott Kelly viscerally describes Earth’s atmosphere as a contact lens placed on the planet, and recalls his surprise when he was finally invited for an interview at NASA. Like anyone competing for a new job, you are concerned about which outfit to wear.
You can’t help but notice that many of the astronauts share a unifying past of looking up at the sky, believing that they would one day float among the stars. Admittedly a bit clichéd, her wide-eyed childhood dreams reminded me how beautiful it is that humans have repeated the desire to shoot the moon often enough to make it a hallmark of our culture.
Interviews are also interspersed with poignant details about how families suddenly split through the roof.
In a powerful statement, former astronaut Cady Coleman’s husband Josh Simpson talks about how he felt when his wife’s rocket rose into the night sky to become a bacon of light in the dark. “It’s amazing to think that someone you love is that pinpoint of light,” he says.
The astronauts themselves are asked how it feels to leave parents, wives, siblings, children and friends behind, not knowing if it would be their last goodbye, as the iconic 10… 9… 8 countdown is sung during their rocket launch.
But the pain of leaving one family behind is soon relieved by her entry into another. Cristoforreti calls the experience of finally setting foot on the ISS as a “new birth.”
Notably, because the film’s testimonies represent global institutions such as NASA, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Russia’s Roscosmos, the film successfully underscores the role of the ISS in providing an apolitical oasis for world adventurers to embark on the same mission.
Despite some minor shortcomings, it is almost impossible to watch this movie and not be inspired. It is a version based on the classic and epic space documentary that illustrates how human beings can achieve incredible things, that they eat the same food as the rest of us, listen to the same music and love their families in the same way.
Coleman’s son best sums up The Wonderful when he laughs and describes his reaction when his friends ask him what it’s like to have an astronaut mom: “Well, it’s just mom.”
Films coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
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