Aryan can fly. No one knows how, or why, but not only can the lead character of Kornél Mundruczó’s “Jupiter’s Moon” rise above the ground, he is practically invulnerable. In the opening sequence of this parable, Syrian refugee Aryan (Zsombor Jéger) is shot by a cop as he trespasses into Hungary, and finds himself floating upwards, spinning lazily. Perhaps Stern (Merab Ninidze), his newfound benefactor with questionable morals, is right: Aryan may be an angel. It doesn’t matter how he can fly, in the end, just as it doesn’t matter how one finds faith—just so long as one gets there, that’s alright.
Or maybe not. “Jupiter’s Moon” is thematically muddled. Mundruczó certainly wants to make some statement about faith, either Christianity or a broader spirituality. Aryan is laden with references to Christ—he comes back to life after being shot, his father is a carpenter, he figuratively goes underground for three days, he walks on water—and through their interactions, he teaches Stern how to find redemption for his sins. What exactly Stern learns from their time together, however, is unclear. Has he gone from a skeptic to a cynical profiteer, and finally to a true believer? The audience never learns.
Mundruczó’s feelings on Europe’s immigration crisis, on the other hand, are anything but unclear. The opening scene is a terrifying look at what refugees face even after making it to the continent, and Aryan is faced throughout the film with all sorts of intolerance from the local Hungarians. One particularly gratifying scene depicts him literally turning a skinhead’s apartment upside–down, while another includes a brief but touching description of his former home in Homs.
This clarion call for empathy, however, is somewhat muted. For a start, Aryan does not have much of a character arc. Stern teaches him confidence, both in his powers and in navigating “society”—i.e. European society. Beyond that, however, the most striking change in Aryan’s character takes place the moment he lifts off the ground. Stern is the one with the redemption story, the true reformation of an antihero; Aryan is just the good guy with superpowers who helps him down that path.
Even more problematic is the treatment of Aryan’s own beliefs. We know he is Muslim, but only because he denies Stern’s repeated offer of a drink. Mundruczó takes his one Muslim main character (who isn’t a terrorist), and promptly saddles him with explicitly Christian motifs. The audience learns next to nothing about Islam or Aryan’s personal practice—not even whether or not there are angels in Islam (there are). Mundruczó seems to be aiming for an advocacy of broader spirituality—Stern at one point comments that people no longer look up, Heavenwards—then why include these callouts to the story of Jesus, especially if the main character is not a Christian?
From a purely cinematic standpoint, “Jupiter’s Moon” has much to offer a discerning viewer. Marcell Rév’s cinematography is gorgeous and pitch-perfect; the aesthetics of every shot match the contents. He displays his mastery of the long take with breathtaking set pieces, defying gravity and the viewer’s sense of direction as Aryan spins and bobs through the air. Rév can also lay claim to the title of greatest car chase ever put to film, especially impressive given that one of the vehicles looks like a twenty-year-old sedan. In one glorious shot, the camera follows Stern and Aryan’s desperate escape from the police, never sacrificing clarity for pure thrills or vice versa.
The title of the film is a reference to Europa, a moon of Jupiter said to have a saltwater sea that may contain life. Mundruczó wants to claim that the wave of refugees that has fled to Europe is an opportunity, that it creates the conditions for ‘new life.’ This simplistic, Euro-centric vision of the situation drives the problems that lie at the heart of “Jupiter’s Moon.” The film is best enjoyed in moments—Aryan’s time in the sky, the more playful scenes he shares with Stern, and of course Stern’s own dry wit. When taken as a whole, it is clear that the scope of Mundruczó’s vision, epic as it is, is not enough to capture clearly such a complex and troubling crisis.
—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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