The tone of Life is similar to that of today's scientists seeking answers for what lies beyond our planet — a mixture of excitement, tension, and a great deal of uncertainty. There's no telling what astronomers will discover beyond the stars, which is what makes space exploration both compelling and, quite frankly, terrifying.
Like any good sci-fi thriller, #Life plays into society's very real fear of discovering life in our solar system, only to have everything go horribly wrong, effectively destroying our species and throwing Earth into certain peril.
Given the electrifying story that plays out in Life, how likely is it that these events could happen in real life? And how much of this epic space thriller is based in science and true events?
You might have noticed Mars crop up frequently in both fictional and nonfictional discussions surrounding the search for life on other planets. But why is the Red Planet such a hot location for both astronomers and sci-fi storytellers alike?
The fascination with life on Mars stems from its close resemblance to Earth. While Mars's atmosphere mostly consists of carbon dioxide, with average temperatures sitting around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it's still our best chance at a habitable planet other than our own. It even has seasons not unlike Earth and its days are of similar length to that on our planet, thanks to its proximity to the sun.
There is interest in the possibility of life on other astronomical bodies, such as Jupiter's moon Europa. But given Mars's proximity to Earth, as well as its somewhat familiar environment, many scientists consider it more logical to focus research and resources on our closest neighbor. This is exactly what makes Life more likely than you'd think.
As shown in Life, the driving force behind scientists' fascination with Mars and its ability to sustain life is water. Theoretically, if a planet other than our own contains water, then it should be able to sustain life. Mars does have a north and south pole, but due to its freezing temperatures, most water on the planet is found in the form of ice.
However, the discovery of deposits of gypsum on Mars's surface a few years ago added to the evidence that water almost definitely did once flow on Mars. Even more fascinating is the discovery of manganese-oxide minerals, which suggests that Mars once had higher levels of oxygen much closer to that of Earth. While Mars is geographically different today, it's this history that forms the scientific foundation for Life.
The fact is, it's entirely possible that dormant life does exist far beneath the surface of Mars. In Life, the team aboard the International Space Station discovers a dormant cell taken from a soil sample discovered by a Mars probe. By exposing it to higher levels of oxygen, the team is able to awaken it from its dormant state. It is later revealed that "Calvin" had been in hibernation since a time when Mars's oxygen levels were much higher, hence his desire to consume oxygen. In reality, if dormant life does exist on Mars, let's hope it responds more positively to being poked and prodded than Calvin did.
The only thing more shocking than discovering sentient life is seeing it evolve and grow as quickly as Calvin did in Life. But how close is this to reality?
Given that mankind is yet to encounter life on other planets — let alone something as intelligent as Calvin — there's no telling how it might behave. Our understanding of evolution and the behavior of life-forms is entirely dependent on our experience with Earth's organisms.
Evolution as we know it takes generations at the very least. Calvin, on the other hand, is capable of leveling up in the amount of time it takes to brutally devour a lab rat. While this level of growth and evolution is unheard of among Earth's organisms, it's not certain that an alien species would follow the same biological laws — and that's kind of terrifying.
Toward the end of Life, there's a sliver of hope that Calvin can be banished to the dark abyss of space, keeping our fragile planet safe from its dangerous appetite. Unfortunately for both David and Miranda, Calvin takes control of David's pod, guiding it straight to Earth. This ending not only raises questions for what lies in store for our planet, but the possibility of something like this happening in real life. Is there a contingency plan in place should an alien invasion occur?
According to AJ Vicens, a reporter at Mother Jones who asked this very question of the US Department of Defense, there's no current plan to keep us safe from the arrival of an ominous alien threat. That may be disconcerting, but it's important to note that the department's response to Vicens specified that this was due to alien contact being considered a "hypothetical danger." In Life, Earth is well aware of the existence of Calvin and would no doubt have measures in place to prepare for the worst possible scenario.
In the movie, Earth's population is unaware of the dire situation on the International Space Station after communication is cut off, though a distress signal sent out earlier alerts Earth to the fact that things are far from OK — hence the crew's decision to push the space station into deep space and away from our planet. Nevertheless, Calvin manages to find its way to his new home in an escape pod.
However, the combination of the distress signal and the radio silence following Calvin's discovery means that measures would most definitely have been taken to track anything headed for Earth and destroy it. But then again, Calvin took over so quickly that it's possible those back home didn't have adequate time to respond and intercept the pod.
Let's keep our fingers crossed that Earth is prepared for David and Calvin's arrival— and more importantly, that nothing like this ever happens in real life.