‘Antares Paradox’ Pins Us Between a Rock & a Hard Place in the Midst of an Uncaring Universe
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The Antares Paradox, dir. Luís Tinoco
Feature film debuts hold some ineffable sense of immediate importance to many. So many unknown expectations are either met, missed, or exceeded…so what do we look for in a debut that satisfies us? Is it the style, the writing of the piece and its characters, the message, or a feeling? Writer/director Luis Tinoco addresses all of the above in an astonishingly efficient swoop of the pen giving us enough to chew on for longer than Antares’ 97-minute runtime.
We spend the film entirely with Andrea Baeza, an astrophysicist working at a SETI chapter in Barcelona. Her father is terminally ill and hospitalized yet still finds ways to interact with her through recorded video messages Andrea is able to watch and respond to from her lab. He recognizes that his daughter has been hopeful all her life that intelligent life is out there and respects her life’s dedication to the search for it.
One fateful, stormy night at the institute, she picks up a signal appearing to originate in the Antares system. However, in order to verify that it is of alien origin numerous checks have to take place, and the heavy winds surrounding the area threaten to damage the sensitive equipment so essential to the project. Also in contact with Andrea is her sister Ana urging her to visit their father while they still can despite the weather warnings. Andrea is faced with a one-or-the-other choice: see her father face to face for maybe the last time or make one of the most important scientific discoveries in the history of the human race. To put more pressure on the situation she has less than 4 hours to make that decision, each action she takes removes precious time from the clock.
Despite how confident you may be about where you’d stand on an issue like Andrea’s above predicament, your internal choice may waver between family and humanity like hers does. But it’s not because of indecision or freezing up. That indecisiveness is driven by the influx of new information surrounding both situations, systems checks Andrea runs on verifying the signal is not coming from Earth or contacting the hospital to check on her father’s rapidly declining stability.
Tinoco’s terse direction can be felt in tight moments of intensity, emoted almost entirely by what Andrea doesn’t say to those she interacts with. And she interacts with virtually everyone in a vacuum, separated through either a screen or a phone as Andrea remains alone for much of the whole movie. Her solitude provides an ideal private space to act as a sounding board for her thought process, but frequently doubts whether it is actually that constructive or merely an echo chamber for her own beliefs and ideals. Andrea makes an incredibly difficult choice, something no one would envy in her position.
Antares Paradox certainly shows its heart through a cruel if/then obstacle course laid out for Andrea. For all we know, other universes are just as harsh and uncaring as the one we reside in. Andrea tries to confide in her SETI contacts one by one to confirm that the signal she’s receiving is actually coming from another civilization. On an individual level the chances for compassion and understanding is greater, versus asking the same of either a group or someone responsible for a larger slice of humanity. So when her requests are met with flat-out denial despite the evidence collected, it deals a blow to us and Andrea. We start to feel the regret she feels when her options begin to dwindle but never does Andrea back down from her chosen path. But the brilliance in her character and the story at large emerge when she looks back and feels at a precipice in one respect while getting so close to emerging victorious in another.
Each interaction with her family is utterly heart-wrenching and stupefying. Which makes the ultimate decision before her even harder to make. For anyone who either has a deep connection to their family or not, having dedicated their time to something else entirely, Andrea’s struggle will speak to them in ways many high profile or big-name projects have tried to broach, yet cannot seem to muster the melancholy reflection on humanity this seems to pull off so well.