Many years ago I chanced upon a science fiction film being shown on television. I was very young at the time, maybe ten or eleven years old. Most of the major plot details, the actors who starred in the film, any lines of dialogue spoken, even the title, since then had been erased from my mind, all of it except the film’s very last scene. The narrative details I could string together are as follows. A nerdy, socially awkward scientist creates an artificially intelligent android that resembles him. The android is designed with the intention of space exploration. The android turns into a national sensation and instantly becomes more popular than the scientist who had designed him. Instead of sending the android into space, the scientist switches places with him and blasts off on the mission to explore the cosmos. When asked by mission control if he is afraid to be alone in space he responds that he is not because, “you see, I’m not very good with people.” This final moment of the film shook me, and to this day, it still shakes me. It’s difficult to fully explain why, but the premise of a human being blasting off into space alone has haunted me for years and filled me with a deep unfathomable melancholia that is not just unique to this forgotten film, but to almost all films and television shows about human loneliness and the vastness of space.
This melancholic feeling probably inflicted my life during the more existential episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I also watched as a kid. I also felt it during the films Silent Running (1972), The Fountain (2006), and Gravity (2013). This sensation returned to me more recently whilst watching Christopher Nolan’s epic Interstellar (2014), particularly during the moment when it becomes clear that Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi) has been left alone on the spaceship Endurance for 23 years, whilst Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), have been exploring the life sustaining potential of Miller’s Planet, a world that is under the extreme influence of gravitational time dilation. Thus, when Cooper and Brand return to the Endurance from Miller’s Planet, only an hour or so had passed in their timeframe, whilst Romilly had been isolated for over two decades.
A few months ago I made the decision to exercise my internet research skills (i.e. search Google) and try and track down the film that has haunted me all these years. I had made an attempt a few years before, even going as far to query the film with a prominent professor who specialises in science fiction films and space literature; with my rather shaky description of the film he unsurprisingly drew a blank. I was hoping that at this point the internet had caught up on what I assumed was an obscure sci-fi curio. With the last line of dialogue still rattling around my head and, as detailed above, a loose description of the plot, I set about putting my mind to rest. It turned out the internet had caught up. I managed to find the film within about ten minutes of searching. The film in question was titled Making Mr. Right, a 1987 romantic comedy, with only a hint of science fiction involved. The film starred a young John Malkovich, who at this point had yet to become the household name in films such as Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and In the Line of Fire (1993). Malkovich’s dual role as the awkward professor Dr. Jeff Peters and the child-like android Ulysses showed that he had great capacity. His physicality as ‘Ulysses’ is at times comedic, innocent and open, whilst the more subdued Dr. Peters is cynical, closed off, and stiff; they both however share a unique social awkwardness. It was no wonder the prominent film professor was unable to locate the movie within his library; Making Mr. Right was no sci-fi oddity and would have been well off his, and many other serious film scholars’, radar. The film is very much in the vein of late-Eighties/early-Nineties sci-fi/comedy gems such as My Science Project (1985), Weird Science (1985), Earth Girls are Easy (1988), and Encino Man (1992). Films that are bright and brash in design, incorporate pop music on the soundtracks, contain zany characters with a neat line in sarcastic quips and sexist comments, and have very limited understanding of actual science.
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