Infinite Space, Infinite Terror: a contradiction

The catchphrase used in Event Horizon‘s marketing, the title of this section, is remarkable for the fact that the film itself endeavours to run contrary to this idea.

Normally, most science fiction highlights the intense isolation of being lost in the limitless reaches of space, by means of a space-walk episode to re-enforce the scale of endless emptiness dwarfing the human figure, or panning back from an apparently large spaceship to reveal the vast depths of space surrounding it.

Much of the intensity of the first third of the film is generated by the fact that it is not the boundless reaches of space which inspires fear, but the claustrophobia of enclosed areas. Although the film contains numerous instances of both devices – pulling back from Weir’s cabin to emphasise the epic scale of the space-station at the beginning, or moving around the outside of the ‘Event Horizon’ itself before the two ships dock – there is primarily an emphasis on claustrophobia, on characters caught in oppressively confined spaces. The same sequence which pulls back from Weir’s cabin to illustrate the overwhelming size of the space station also re-enforces the small size of the cabin he occupies.

The gravity tanks are also extremely constricting, triggering Weir’s first hallucination aboard the ‘Lewis & Clark.’ When he first enters the stasis tank, Weir reveals that he suffers from acute claustrophobia, a condition which induces the episode that follows. His fear is brought about not by being dwarfed by boundless surroundings, but by being confined.

As the camera tracks around the empty tunnels of the ‘Event Horizon’ when first entry into the ship is made, again it is the oppressive atmosphere of enclosure which pervades the film, enhanced by the effect of echoing corridors. Blobs of escaped coolant fluid and forgotten tools float haphazardly around these empty tunnels, illustrating the lack of human control exerted in this environment.

The terror of the film, the second element referred to by the film’s catchphrase, whilst in part emanating from the surroundingly desolate universe (the crew make repeated references to how far from home they are, interrupting their leave in order to undertake the rescue mission, of which details are initially withheld from them) is also brought with the crew themselves – possibly brought aboard directly in the soul of Dr. Weir himself. As Conrad referred to it at the end of Heart of Darkness, the greatest horror lies not without the human mind, but within it. The evil brought back into our own dimension by the creation of the gravity-drive feeds upon the secrets and paranoid fears which each crewmember carries within themselves. When this element really begins to dominate in the latter part of the film, the narrative moves from its science fiction concerns to the genre of horror, effortlessly and efficiently blending the two.

Next week: more on the combination of genres.

Posted by Daniel Harding, Deputy Director of Music at the University of Kent. Click here to read his Music Matters blog.

Author: Daniel Harding

Head of Music Performance, University of Kent: pianist, accompanist and conductor: jazz enthusiast.

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