Orbiting approximately 250 miles above Earth is the International Space Station. Though YouTube videos have offered us terrestrials a peek at life in space, nobody but the people who have traveled there truly know what the experience is like.
When you brush your teeth, you can’t spit the toothpaste into the sink because it’ll float in the air instead of going down the drain. For that matter, there aren’t sinks, because zero gravity means the water would float out of the faucet. And if you care to catch a few z’s, you’d better be prepared to strap yourself in or get used to drifting around your sleep station as you drift off.
Yet each year, astronauts from around the world make the journey through the Earth’s atmosphere to live and work in space in order to advance medicine, technology and, of course, space exploration.
Kira Foster is one such scientist. Her research on synthetic organ replacement failed on Earth because the weight put too much stress on the cells. But on the space station, everything is weightless, making it the perfect place to test her experiments.
Unfortunately, those tests are put on hold when Kira spots some bright flashes on the planet while hanging out on the Cupola, the space station’s observation deck.
She and the other astronauts quickly realize that the flashes are explosions. And soon after, she and the other Americans on board receive a transmission:
An act of war has occurred between the United States and Russia. The International Space Station has been deemed a priority foothold. They are ordered to abort their experiments and take control of the space station from their Russian counterparts … by any means necessary.
This film focuses on the reactions of the different crew members when pitted against each other in a life-or-death situation. Some people panic, betraying everyone on board. Some commit horrendous acts in the name of self-preservation and patriotism. But the ones who don’t—the ones who transcend the politics of Earth and focus on the friendships they’ve made instead—are inspiring to watch.
These people make sacrifices to save friends, assist foreign crew members and place the good of the crew above personal gain.
Elsewhere, a woman loans Kira some bungee cords to strap herself down while she sleeps after noticing that Kira is struggling her first night on board. Kira helps one of her friends through a panic attack. And a few people talk about their desire to save people from various illnesses.
The crew tells Kira about the “Overview Effect,” which is a sort of spiritual awakening some people experience after seeing Earth from the space station for the first time.
A woman chants in Russian, and it seems to be a prayer. She mentions praying at another point in the film. A man prays over someone, crossing himself and kissing a necklace as he does so.
Someone mentions a superstition. A woman says the space station’s crew is an “evolved species” because they don’t allow politics to divide them.
A couple kisses passionately. Kira reveals she was previously engaged to a woman who cheated on her.
The plot of this film takes off when the space station’s crew sees explosions on Earth. Later on, we see the aftermath of this devastation: the world engulfed in flames. (One astronaut who is making a spacewalk tells Kira to keep people away from the windows so they won’t see this and despair.)
The order to take control of the space station by any means necessary spurs some characters into action. One of the first victims of the conflict is an astronaut on a spacewalk who’s purposely sent floating off into space.
In her grief, a woman threatens to blow up the ship. When her friends fail to talk her down, she’s hit over the head with a metal bin, killing her.
In another scene, four crew members get into a physical altercation, and a man begins to choke a woman (though he’s knocked off). Someone gets stabbed in the hand with a knife. A man is killed when someone takes an electric drill to his stomach, another is stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver and a third is strangled to death.
Weronika (a member of the Russian crew) realizes that each respective government wants control of a treatment for radiation sickness that is on board—because then they can decide who lives and who dies from the fallout on Earth.
Learning this, one man steals the research and plans to abandon the rest of the crew. He even shuts off the life support, believing he’s the only one who knows how to turn it back on, thus giving him a bargaining chip if anyone tries to stop him.
Kira’s research requires her to experiment on mice, which she brings with her to space. Upon arrival, she’s warned that mice don’t do well in space (based on a man’s previous experience). And later, she has to euthanize two of them after they attack each other in their zero-gravity panic.
We learn that Kira’s dad passed away while waiting for an organ donor.
Characters argue over whether or not the killing that’s happening constitutes murder or doing their duty.
There are six uses of the f-word and three each of the s-word, “a–” and “h—.” God’s name is abused four times, and Christ’s name is abused once. We also hear a use of “b–ch” in Russian with English subtitles.
After opening a bottle of alcohol onboard, some of the liquid floats out, and some astronauts swallow the bubbles. They then drink directly from the bottle. A man drinks a bottle of vodka his friend had hidden away for him.
Characters try to defend their horrific actions. After accidentally killing a woman, a man says he was trying to save the ship, since she was acting crazy. Another man tries to pin the death of his comrade on the foreign crew. And some people act out of pure revenge.
However, nobody’s actions are defensible. If the Russians and Americans had been honest with each other from the start—if they had kept to their rule to put their friendships and camaraderie above worldly politics—then lives might have been saved. Instead they allowed fear to sow seeds of distrust and paranoia. They lied to each other and spied on one another. And instead of doing the right thing for everyone, they did whatever was right for themselves as individuals.
And on another level, what happens on board could be blamed on the governments that issued the orders to begin with. The lust for power on Earth led to deaths not only there but in space as well.
A man says his daughter isn’t speaking to him, and he suspects it’s because her mother (his ex-wife) is speaking poorly of him.
I.S.S. is an intense psychological thriller—and one that feels all the more frightening given the current state of foreign affairs.
It takes a deep look at what people are willing to do in life-or-death situations. Will they band together to save everyone? Or in their fear, will they abandon all alliances and betray those closest to them?
Some characters fall into the former category and some into the latter. But all wind up committing atrocious deeds by the film’s end. Violent actions kill several people, and it’s a bit unsettling to see the victims’ blood float in red bubbles around their corpses in the zero-gravity setting.
Swearing is another issue. Both God’s and Christ’s names are abused a few times, and we also hear a handful of f-words among other profanities.
All in all, as interested in the International Space Station you may be, I.S.S. isn’t the film to watch if you want any sort of realistic representation of it.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.