For years now, Mars has been considered the next frontier in space travel. The mysterious red planet has inspired many a NASA project and Hollywood movie, and in Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, Mars becomes a source of terror when a group of scientists aboard the International Space Station (ISS) find themselves battling a Martian creature for survival. The idea of astronauts intercepting a Martian life form might make Life sound like it takes place in the distant future, at a time when humans have actually landed on Mars, but it’s actually much closer to our reality. But just when, exactly, does Life take place?
Life is actually a film set in modern day — an early trailer for the movie establishes that Life takes place in 2017. Despite the fact that the movie takes place in 2017, the world of Life is slightly different. Like our 2017, Life takes place in a time when humans have not yet landed on Mars. Martian colonies are still a distant dream, and not even the astronauts have seen the planet up close. However, the 2017 proposed in Life is much more advanced in terms of Martian exploration. When we meet the astronauts in Life, they are getting ready to intercept a research pod from Mars containing what is believed to be a life-form from Mars that might have caused extinction on the planet. It’s a major scientific discovery — the first pod ever to be successfully retrieved from the planet.
Despite the slight disconnect from the real 2017, Life is, for the most part, a pretty realistic science fiction film. For director Daniel Espinosa, it was important for Life to feel as contemporary as possible, thus setting it apart from other alien horror films. “The realism of [Life] makes it different than other movies. Alien takes place 200 years into the future — this one could take place tomorrow,” Espinosa said at Life‘s SXSW premiere, via The Hollywood Reporter. In a separate interview, Espinosa said that it was important for him to set the film in the not so distant future because of the current environment. “If you ask a young person today what happens in a hundred years, he doesn’t have a clue. … The world is so chaotic. If you ask him well what do you fear the most, he will say what happens tomorrow,” Espinosa explained to Deadline, noting that the immediacy of the events amplify the horror factor of the film. “This movie is what happens tomorrow, not in a hundred years.”
Setting Life in the present day helps differentiate the film from the classic Alien films, not to mention the upcoming Alien: Covenant hitting theaters in May. But it also makes the film more of a cautionary tale than anything else. Be careful what you wish for, especially if what you’re wishing for is alien life on Mars.