Stowaway launches Anna Kendrick’s Zoe into an impossible space quandary with tragic results.
We’ve probably all felt a little like the crew of Netflix’s sci-fi drama Stowaway this past year. We were unexpectedly stuck in a tin can, going a little stir crazy, and running on limited supplies. The good news is our roommates aren’t arguing about whether or not to have us jettisoned out of an airlock. The same can not be said for the bleak space movie with great promise and talent but little surprise.
Netflix’s Stowaway is less concerned with why its stowaway is there and more concerned with the mechanics of survival. A character study of basically decent people in unbelievably harsh circumstances, the film has oodles of talent and potential, but nothing new to say. This is what survival looks like. To some, it is about preserving life, and for others, it is about saving souls.
Zoe(Anna Kendrick), Marina(Toni Colette), and David(Daniel Dae Kim) are on a three-person mission to Mars for a company called Hyperion. A short time after launch, a fourth man Michael, Shamier Anderson from Wynonna Earp, drops out of the ceiling damaging a vital CO2 scrubber. With very little explanation of why he is there or how he came to be in the ceiling, the crew gets to the business of surviving and fixing. They can’t turn around and return to Earth, and they don’t have enough resources for all four to get to Mars, so they are screwed.
Hyperion doesn’t have a solution beyond using less oxygen. The scrubber was only designed for two in the first place, and Hyperion was pushing it to cover the three they knew would be aboard before Michael. Marina eventually tells Zoe and David about their problem but asks them no to tell Michael. Zoe is the lone dissenting opinion that they should exhaust all possibilities before killing Michael. They agree to try for ten days.
Meanwhile, Marina has David using his algae to scrub the air. David’s algae can scrub enough CO2 for a third person, but they have no choice but to jettison Michael. David looks at the problem practically and agrees they need to talk to him and release him now. Zoe, whose job is to preserve life, wants to take the 20 days they have before they are out of time to figure out a solution. They finally choose to take ten of the twenty remaining days they have before they suffocate to exhaust all options. Marina thinks it is the only way her crew can continue to operate after Michael is dead.
After several days Zoe learns more about Michael, and David becomes even more convinced that the more humane thing is to tell him immediately and then euthanize him peacefully. Despite Marina telling them not to tell Michael three days later, David tells him and gives him a syringe of something he could use to end his life painlessly. Before that happens, Zoe remembers the tank floating above the ship and suggests they see if there is any oxygen left that could be salvaged, thus avoiding anyone’s death.
The ending of Stowaway
Zoe and David will climb out to the tower and check the tank floating just above the ship. There should be some oxygen in the tank that could be siphoned into smaller tanks and brought into their ship for consumption, in theory. Zoe climbs down and finds there is more than enough oxygen. She fils one tank, and as she is filling the second tank, a solar storm alarm sounds. They have just twenty minutes to make it back to the ship before heavy radiation heads their way. Unfortunately, the one tank filled isn’t enough for all four people.
Making matters worse, in the panic to get back to the ship, Zoe drops the one full tank they had. They are back where they started, and some could argue in an even worse position as they had to have used a ton of oxygen during the spacewalk. They can go back for the one tank they left outside after the storm passes, but they can’t afford to wait it out. Marina can’t go because she has a broken arm, Michael doesn’t have the training, and David reluctantly agrees to go simultaneously as Zoe. She makes him promise to return home and take care of his wife and child.
Zoe goes back out into the storm and fills the last remaining tank. After doing so she sits on the tower looking at Mars which can be seen in the distance. Stowaway ends with Kendrick’s voiceover that she applied for this mission as a joke but now knows it was an opportunity to find meaning and purpose in her life. We never know for sure if the remaining crew make it to Mars or if her sacrifice was worth it.
Did Zoe die at the end?
When we last see her, she is sitting on the tower looking peacefully at Mars. She isn’t dead yet, but she is in the last stages of radiation poisoning. She is being cooked alive, and there is zero chance of her survival. How you view, the ending depends on how optimistic you are. With the new tank on board, there should be enough oxygen for Michael, David, and Marina, but Hyperion has already proven they have no trouble cutting costs and pushing systems beyond their limits. With a few weeks left in the mission, there are plenty more things that could go wrong. Additionally, all of David’s algae is dead, which is needed to make Mars habitable, and they lost their medical officer. Zoe’s sacrifice saved their immediate lives, but whether it ultimately saved the entire mission, we can only guess.
Stowaway is about sacrifice and inevitability
Zoe’s earlier story to Michael about trying to rescue a drowning man and ending up being rescued herself is everything you need to know about how the film would end. Zoe was shaped by the experience and has always doubted her ability to save others as a result. Likely, this is why she became a doctor, and it is why she fought so hard to save Michael.
We all carry the baggage of our past. The good parts make us hopeful and kind, while the tragedies leave us scarred and shaken. Michael’s scars are on the outside. His parents died in a fire when he and his sister were kids. He nearly died too, but his father saved him with his last breath. He needed rescuing now, just like he did in the past. The difference is now; his life also means his sister has her last remaining family member. Both Michael and Zoe’s early life parallel their later predicament. They both almost died, and both needed someone to rescue them. By sacrificing her life for theirs, Zoe proved to herself that her existence had a purpose.
Deceptively named Stowaway doesn’t care so much about whether Michael was a stowaway or an innocent bystander. In fact, it is heavily implied his presence is some freak accident or oversight by Hyperion. The film, which presents as a thriller, morphs into a sentimental Gravity and finally became Final Destination. Zoe almost died once trying to save someone else. She survived that time, but death comes to claim us all. Stowaway is streaming on Netflix right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.