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The very attractive woman above is Antje Traue who played the knife wielding badass from a doomed planet, Faora, in Man of Steel. Watching her in Man of Steel caused me to make this blog as her character's evolution/morality line instantly made me want to blog about her other science fiction, survival adventure, mystery film, Pandorum. It is a Locked Room Mystery and Puzzle Plot. It wants the audience to solve it thus it must be treated as a puzzle to appreciate it, so it may not appeal to people who think linearly. In these types of mysteries is that of a "howdunit" where the focus is on how it happened as the characters ask "what's happened to us", "how did we become like this", "what happened to the rest of the crew", and "how come they're effect and we're not". Sub-mysteries include "what is the mission" and "what are the creatures". Which is another reason why I wanted to make this, many have utterly took the film out of context as many synopsis and reviews state:"humans turned into mutant zombies because a Captain who thought he was god tortured and locked in the cargo hold to starve them because they disobeyed him. Pandorum only effected the two main characters. They all lived happily ever after". This isn't what happened at all, this synopsis is neither insightful nor educated. This is a rebuttal where I'll dissect the narrative into three layers revealing what its truly about and teach some ecology along on the way. Spoiler filled of course so watch the film first.
First Layer: Lovecraftian Context
I'll explain the context here by first saying he wasn't a Captain but a Corporeal posing as a Lieutenant. Now that's out of the way this film is obviously influenced by stories by HP Lovecraft. These stories often feature elements such as degeneration, misanthropy(distrust of humanity or human nature), unanswered questions, and characters unable to mentally cope with extraordinary truths they witness or hear with storytelling from a first perspective. Here the audience watches the film from the perspective of the protagonist. The origin of the ship is very Lovecrafian in nature. Watch the video below before reading the eleven paragraph narrative analysis as it tells the origin of the ship in a form of a mythology-esque riddle which I will decode.
Pandorum(paranoia+delirium) is a psychosis that causes severe paranoia and nosebleed that results from space travel and is a throwback to the classic science fiction trope known as "space madness". Paranoia is exaggerated fear that something bad will happen leading to distrust. As shown in the film a Captain of another ship named the Eden caught Pandorum and became convince his flight was cursed and made the choice of launching everyone in hyper-sleep into space. In Gallo's case he is distrustful of humanity, that it will eventually overpopulate and use up the resources of Tanis as they did Earth which alluded in his dialogue: "That baggage from the old world. We all know how that worked out, didn't it. They f**ked up our planet!". His resolution to overpopulation is "life eats life" because that it how it is usually solved which I'll get into that more in the third layer. All of this was caused by the truth about Earth, that it mysteriously vanished and cause is left ambiguous.
Now in the story Gallo was said to be their master and "those who had behaved" were sent to the cargo hold to fight and feed on their own. Meaning he had control over them, they acted as he desired and later on its made clear that he favors cannibalism and wants others to embrace Pandorum based on his statements in the video. If you look the image above of the drawings from the video, you'll noticed that those people are depicted with lighting bolts over heads hinting something abnormal with their minds. Along with them grabbing their heads in pain with blood pouring out of their noses. Bower imagines lightning bolts around Gallo's heads as he remembers the first stages of Pandorum. What it means isn't spelled out because common sense should tell you what it means, its subtlety telling the audience they all had Pandorum not just Gallo. This infers that Gallo drove these people mad (most likely with the truth of Earth which he does with his Payton persona) exploiting their paranoid minds convincing them of his philosophy leading them to self-imposed exile themselves on the ship to live a cannibalistic lifestyle as Gallo attempts to do with Bower. There is really no cargo hold because earlier in the film its stated that they were not hauling cargo but they are the cargo, the entire ship is the cargo hold. So there was cannibalism on the ship before evolution could even took place, as its defined as a change in a population that happens over generations, not in one's life time which is common scientific knowledge that everybody should know. Hence the question "how come their effected and we're not?". Anyone into science fiction should know this since it is such a widely discussed scientific topic.
His ultimate goal for doing this is so their children's children eventually adapting to the conditions of the cramped sunlight-less ship and evolving into a new species. Gallo's dialogue makes this clear, as when he attempts to exploit Bower's descent into madness he states "this ship is a seed which they could create! A new world!". Obviously alluding to Nadia's theory that the Hunters are beings who have adapted to the ship, he knows exactly what they are. Its also apparent at the end of the film that the creatures are not former passengers or even mutated humans (don't see how an intelligent person would think not figure this out). The passengers did not mutated but instead produced descendants that are apart a new species through nine centuries of accelerated evolution by natural selection leading to speciation. This is yet another science fiction throwback derived from HG Well's Morlocks, but instead of evolving in a cave its a ship and its an idea Lovecraft himself kinda reused in The Lurking Fear. Also, instead of natural evolution we have accelerated evolution which strikes me as original and space madness is the cause of the cannibalism.
So there is your mystery of how this happened, artificial speciation by misanthropes with a paranoid fear of human overpopulation. This also a product of social engineering as the Hunters continue to what Gallo started with their ancestors as shown in the drawings. They're not cannibals because of the enzyme nor do they need humans as a source of food as they could live off the nutrition from feeding tubes in open hyper-sleep pods in their hunting grounds (Bower is shown doing this in a deleted scene), water dipping from the ceiling, algae was seen all over the ship which Leland used as a source of food and the Hunter child was eating some. There's not enough humans to support these creatures for centuries. They're very similar to primitive cannibal tribe in reality and that's what Gallo means by "natural state" which is defined as a wild primitive state untouched by civilization. They are far from mindless animals since they are smart enough to build blowtorch spears, they wear armored clothing(made up of skin, bone, junk around the ship), they show sportsmanship for fighting twice, and they teach their young how to fight as shown near the climax. Their bodies being covered in scars is an indication of their warrior culture. Degeneration at its finest, starting from mentally to over time physically.
It also recycles the Fight Club twist(even uses "some of the blood is mine" line) but in clever way, which I was at first annoyed by because it felt too cliched and dropped way too many hints after the origin. However, the delirium here is for red herring as it makes the audience believe the ship is lost in space with the young Gallo's line about "stars all look alike", and Locked Room Mysteries do want the audience to solve the puzzle before the reveal which made it redeemable. Its also a "howdunit" instead of a "whodunit", so that twist being predictable shouldn't be treated as a big deal as Gallo's identity is not one of the mysteries. While at the same they drop hint that they are not in space with the water dripping from the ceiling and the algae that obviously came from it.
Second Layer: Noah's Ark Metaphor
In case you haven't noticed the film is obviously a Noah's Ark metaphor and I mean obvious as the ship is blatantly Noah's Ark called by one of the characters. Its a global endeavor with the crew and passengers being of multiple cultural backgrounds ranging from American, Indian, Russian, German, to Vietnamese. Also indicated by the transmission in multiple languages saying saying "You're all that's left of us. Good luck, God bless, and God's speed". Like the actual Noah's Ark the ship saved the last of humanity from the destruction of the world and it turned out to be in the ocean like the ark. There was no more law so Gallo decided to rebuild a new world after the destruction of the old world through the abandonment of civilization, "a whole new world of evil" as its called in the film. This how Gallo is both God and the Devil, but of course he doesn't believe himself to be this because to him God is dead along with the rest of humanity. He is a self-proclaim king but no where does it state or even imply that he believes himself to be a deity nor that he wants to torture people for no reason at all. He was home to his own "sin" as it was put meaning he was estranged from religious and/or moral law.
Our protagonist is a man who's been fascinated with the flight to Tanis since childhood, wanting to make history. Now through out the film he struggles to keep his sanity. Paranoia is triggered by severe anxiety and fear with several factors pushing Bower to the edge of madness. Walking around in a claustrophobic environment of a ship being a claustrophobic. Worrying about the safety of his wife just to found out the truth that she left him and vanished along with his planet. Finally, Gallo plays his nasty mind game with him and exploits his fear by opening up the control room window revealing nothing but pitch black. Bower then suffers from claustrophobia, feeling that there is no escape now and is closed in by the creatures. This pushes him over the edge and Gallo gives the speech he used to manipulated others with the psychosis on how the aspects of civilization(law,order,religion, judgement, and morality) is what lead to their planet's Malthusian crisis. The Gallo offers the young Corporal to join his new world but becomes a lighter version of the Elder Corporal, a god making history by washing away his world of evil with a great flood, allowing new world to take its place, just like in Noah's Ark. Bower and Nadia obviously represent the Adam and Eve of Tanis, being the first man and woman on the planet(remember the other ship named Eden?).
However, its not really a happy ending when you think about it. Sure humanity survived and Bower makes histroy but they left their supplies behind which was established to be important and is shown in the credits to remind the audience of it, they have to build civilization from complete and utter scratch. Also, imagine how the passengers would react if they found our the truth about Earth and all their families. Is Bower completely sane? It's a rough road ahead for them, which makes it a strangely bitter sweet ending.
Third Layer: Ecological Theme & Survival Subtext
At its core Pandorum is post-apocalyptic science fiction with ecological themes. Ecology is the study of interaction among organism and their environment with topics of interest among ecologist is the number of organisms(population), competition between them, evolution, adaptive behavior, and predation. Ecology is actually brought by one of the characters but the central theme is survival as it stated in the video below.
According to director/co-writer, Christian Alvart, character represents how civilized he/she is and how much they are all about survival. Pandorum is at least psychologically interesting in that various characters exhibit various characteristics from being altruistic and cooperative to the egoistic and competitive. As one of the characters state "It's just survival of the fittest...Or maybe it's the brightest", a phrase is widely used as a catchphrase for any topic related to evolution by means of natural selection. It has also be used as a synonym to other phrases mentioned in the film such as "every man for himself" and "dog eat dog" both which describe egoistic competitive situations. They're all summed up as the The Law of the Jungle which some believe should apply to humans believing that social process resulted from conflicts in which the fittest or best adapted individuals, or groups, would prevail. Such a philosophy is referred to as Social Darwinism, and Gallo's philosophy is similar to that mixed in with anarcho-primitivist views.
Click HERE for the Character Analysis Article
Earth was overpopulated causing humanity to try and establish civilization on Tanis to ensure survival. Paranoia itself it is survival mechism as its the fear of potential threats, that and with accelerated evolutionary survival of the fittest created a species with troglofaunal adaptations and characteristics such as albinism and heightened sense of smell due to the ship's low sunlit environment that live by the ideological form of survival of the fittest. Its not just these creatures who are hunters but survivalist such as the mugger Nadia and the cannibal Leland who survived as long as they did by programming themselves to be savages in their hostile environment where it is every man for himself. As Leland states "I'm a little too old & too tired for the honorable way of hunting game". They had be egoistic savages in order to prevail or as Leland put it "I wouldn't have survived this long if I had a heart", heart meaning capacity for sympathy which leads to altruistic behavior. An example is shown with Mahn, who remained altruistic and died because of it, evoking the "kill or be killed" theme. This reflects Gallo's view, that a civilized state conflicts with survival while a wild state is perfect, as our moralistic altruism are chains that holds us back from what is, dog eat dog (or life eats life as he puts it) because that hunter/prey dynamic has kept the population in wildlife in check.
Gallo's paranoia caused him to see human civilization as a threat and the movie ends showing the population of Tanis being "1213" with an ellipsis appearing after it implying that numbers is going to grow and history is going to repeat itself. Christian Alvart did state that he wanted to rise questions about humanity with this film and this seems like partially a Malthusian commentary if you ask me. It echos the beginning of the film shows title cards shows a the technological "evolution(foreshadowing)" of space travel and showing the human population number evolving, growing. Throughout history, populations have grown slowly despite high birth rates due to the population-reducing effects of war, plagues and high infant mortality. During the 750 years before the Industrial Revolution, the world's population increased very slowly, under 250 million. The population reached a billion by the beginning of the 19th century. Technology is another aspect of civilization which as it grows so does living conditions, which leads to a growing population, Malthusian trap as its called. Malthusianism is the theory that population tends to increase faster than resources unless things such as moral restraint keeps the population growth in check or war reduces the population, called Malthusian catastrophe. Social Darwinism happens to be based on the Malthusian concept that humans require competition in order to survive in the future and that's Gallo's ideology. In contrast to his view is solidarity, unity of sympathies among a group which Bower believes goes a long way when it comes to survival. This is reflected through Leland, who died as a result of his of selfishness and the fact that humanity survived due the sympathies Mahn and Nadia displayed. So the ethical dilemma is civilization vs savagery regarding survival which thankfully also isn't spelled out to the audience which so many films these days do.
Bottom Line: The Science Fiction Genre
Many films are derivative especially science fiction, but many have still been considered good. Examples being such as classic Planet of the Apes which riffs Worlds Without End. Even the ones Pandorum has been compared to are derivative. Neil Marshall's The Descent IS, Ridley Scott's Alien IS, and producer Paul Anderson's Event Horizon IS , Alien was even hit with plagiarism charges back in the day. Point is its is not a film's job to do that thing that has never been done before but to tell the story in their own way, becoming more than just the sum of its parts with The Incredibles being a good example of that. Pandorum's plot echoes When Worlds Collide, The Starlost, and The Time Machine. Pandorum takes these science fiction tropes to use them in a thought provoking way and gives a descent mystery. This is what makes it stand out in the space ship genre for me. Glad to see that it is slowly gaining a following based on the ratings on Netflix.