Writer-director extraordinaire Alice Winocour returns with Proxima, a spacefaring drama that approaches familial dysfunction with sobering clarity. For both parent and child, it’s never easy to say goodbye when work takes precedence. Now imagine this continuously, often for long stretches of time with no guarantee of communication. That is the dilemma facing Sarah (Eva Green), a French astronaut whose excitement of traveling to space is diminished at the thought of leaving behind her young daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle). Green depicts motherhood with poignant devotion, giving us a window into the internal struggle between fulfilling personal achievement or securing a child’s emotional wellbeing.
To judge Sarah’s commitment to her profession is to deny a woman’s right to excel simultaneously. Throughout history, women have been told they have two choices: make a family or pursue a career — never both. Every time, women have pushed back against that antiquated philosophy and proven otherwise. But what happens when your own kid chooses to guilt you into splitting your time unevenly in their favor? Winocour’s script treads cautiously to avoid characterizing Stella as a demanding brat who sucks the joy out of childrearing. Instead, she’s a young child nervous about falling behind with her studies without mom there to boost her confidence.
While well-intentioned, Stella’s dad Thomas (Lars Eidinger), doesn’t share as special of a bond. Sarah and Thomas recently separated, which adds another burden of its own to Stella’s troubled plate. Somehow, managing the needs of a child always seems to fall on the mother. At first, Thomas appears irked that Sarah automatically assumes he can watch Stella as if he’s a friend being asked a favor, not the father who’s always been around. Proxima gives a subtle nudge to certain facts of life not widely broadcasted yet true: co-parenting is occasionally an imbalanced partnership that finds dads assisting while moms take charge.
Sarah’s mission, known as “Proxima,” will send her crew up to a space station orbiting the planet. The endeavor is a multinational collaboration with the United States and Russia, intended to set aside old rivalries in the name of human innovation. Upon observation, sexism seems to be the first unifier among Earth’s male representatives.
During her training, Sarah’s capability is often called into question, especially by her American captain, Mark (Matt Dillon). He confuses stereotyping with compliments, treating her like a prized chef expected to serve fancy French cuisine to the team. One fascinating scene finds Mark trailing behind and injuring himself during a routine group exercise; Sarah refrains from mentioning his setback to their commanding officers when they radio in for a status update. The audience knows full well Mark would never show the same discretion in return, thus casting a light on the numerous times women take the high road for men who don’t deserve it.
At the heart of Proxima is maternal affection. A mother is expected to be the ultimate caregiver, but society forgot the importance of self-love somewhere along the way. How can you promote independence and aspiration in your own child if you aren’t a shining example of that yourself? Sarah is fearless when it comes to aeronautics, but the real plunge into the unknown is wondering how Stella will cope in her absence. Taking a leap of faith means trusting your parenting skills, hoping you’ve prepared your children for a life without you. Whether Stella is ready for this huge adjustment or not, Winocour demonstrates — with sometimes too cold a hand — how empowering it is for a woman to chase her dreams untethered, even if it means temporarily letting down a loved one.