June 25, 2016


ANALYSIS: Approaching the Unknown, Did He Or Didn’t He?

**Major Spoilers**

“Approaching The Unknown” approaches where exactly?

After watching the movie, it seemed like a straightforward story. But after reflection, I asked myself:

“What was his final destination?”

“Did he ever land on Mars?”

This claustrophobic tale studies Stanaforth’s personal obsession with stepping foot on Mars. Mark Strong has a subtle yet compelling performance as he takes us on a one man journey through space.

Stanaforth will be the first person to walk on Mars… that’s the plan, anyhow. How did he get this honor? He build a machine that could, in essence, squeeze water from a rock.

If all goes well, he’ll set up his machine on Mars and create water from the rocks & soil that cover the planet. The apparatus grinds rocks into a powdery consistency and, from there, an electrical conversion occurs.

Three weeks behind him is Maddox, another explorer who will help set up supplies so that they could start building in hopes that humanity could find a second home.

This is to be a one-way mission. Stanaforth is never going back home again and he’s totally fine with that—actually, he embraces it.

At the end of the movie, we see him on Mars. But did he actually get there?

The “Unknown” in “approaching The Unknown” may actually mean his fate is unknown.

Did he make it to Mars?

If he made it to Mars, the story is as shown.

But if he didn’t, there are two possibilities coming from this alternate scenario. Before I discuss this, let me first go into a couple of symbolisms that support this theory.


1: The men at the space station

On his journey he makes a stop at a space station that houses two men. There’s something not right with them. Too much time in space has left them looking jittery and hopeless. But it’s more than that, their experiment had failed.

They brought with them mice for a socialization experiment—to see how the mice interact with each other. How time in space affected them. Would they get along? Become aggressive? The answer is neither… the mice just died. Their experiment was a failure.

They have spent so much time in space, away from their home, for what they determined was a waste. At least that’s how it appeared to Stanaforth.

One of the men sat with Stanaforth as they both watched Maddox take off on her mission to follow Stanaforth. The man cried, but not before telling Stanaforth to go home.

The symbolism being that Stanaforth’s experiment also failed and he was left with the choice to go home or stay. It was a type of symbolism that appeared to be a warning and/or foreshadowing. Or maybe it was something else entirely…

2: Maddox had to turn around

Maddox and Stanaforth were able to communicate. Cameras were set up so they could watch each other. At some point, she started having trouble with her ship.

Stanaforth helped her fix the problem, but it ended up being temporary. The problem resurfaced and she was forced to return home.

Again, we have another failure of sorts. But unlike, the two men who were stuck at the station until their time was up, she was turning back.

Now let’s continue to…

The two ways he never made it to Mars

1: He died in space on his way to Mars

Stanaforth accidentally damaged his machine while also infecting his water supply. Attempts to fix it have failed and he’s forced to ration what’s left of his water and try to find water through condensation.

If he continues to Mars, he won’t live long. And with his machine broken, there was no mission. His other option is to turn back.

His obsession pushes him forward. Slowly dying without water, his ship hits a magnetic disturbance. He goes into dream sequences that take him back to when he was at the desert, testing his machine. In his flashback, he passes out in the desert.

What if he dies during this dream and as he’s dying he hallucinates about making it to Mars?

2: He died in the desert. He never made it to space.


From the start of the film, scenes from the desert have been cut in. He struggles to make the machine work but won’t give up. He doesn’t radio in for a rescue and, after 3 days, he has to restart his experiment.

We see that he finally gets it to work. He then returns to base where he tells Skinner that his experiments works and he wants to take it to Mars.

But as we proceed further into the story, to where Stanaforth’s machine breaks down, we are shown other images from that desert scene. Those of Stanaforth dehydrating to the point of passing out. He loses sensation in his limbs and has the feeling of death.

What if this is where he actually died?

That machine is everything to Stanaforth. Without it, he never gets a shot at his dream of going to Mars. So he doesn’t turn back, he stays out there. His mind loses water and he slowly loses his mind as his thoughts drift to this imaginary setting of space.

The symbolisms of the men in space and Maddox needing to turn her ship around are his subconscious telling him to get out of the desert… to wake up from this illusion and save himself. In addition, add in the machine breaking and Skinner wanting him to come home as another push.

But in the end, the desert takes him.

As I think about this, I feel like the answer lies in the desert. He never left earth, except in his mind.


About Lisa

Passionate about movies and writing. Hopes to someday be a published writer. So when she's not staring at the tube, she's spilling her imagination onto a blank page.

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