REVIEW: Is “The Space Between Us” OK for kids?

Gardner Elliot is a smart and inquisitive 16-year-old teenager who has but one goal in life: to be normal. He’s never ridden in a car, gone to school, or even talked to a girl. In fact, only a few people on Earth know he exists.

Gardner is the universe’s first true Martian, having been born on the red planet shortly after his unmarried astronaut mom—who died during delivery—landed there. All total, he’s met about a dozen people during his life.

But Gardner doesn’t want to stay on Mars. He wants to travel to Earth, begin an ordinary life, and meet the girl he’s been chatting with online.   

It’s all part of the new movie The Space Between Us (PG-13), a science fiction romance that opens this weekend and—depending on your perspective—is either one of the most creative storylines of the young year or one of the goofiest.

Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hugo) plays Gardner while Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, The Longest Ride) stars as his girlfriend, Tulsa.

Gardner’s trip to Earth is complicated by two factors. First, the American public doesn’t know he exists. That’s because NASA and its private partner, Genesis, covered up his birth so as not to jeopardize the mission. (His mom didn’t know she was pregnant when she left Earth.) Second, doctors are unsure Gardner can survive on our planet due to its heavier gravity. (His bones and organs would be at risk.)

Eventually, Gardner does convince everyone to let him board a rocket to Earth, sparking a romance and then a search for his father that has elements of E.T. mixed in for laughs. But is The Space Between Us family-friendly? Let’s take a look.   

The Good

Gardner has an innocent, kid-like love of our planet that all of us, particularly Christians, should have. Tears swell in his eyes as he approaches Earth and witnesses, for the first time, oceans, clouds, lightning and the Northern Lights. When he lands on Earth he says in amazement, “There’s water everywhere!” Upon seeing blue skies and green trees he adds, “There’s so many colors!” He asks anyone who will listen to him, “What’s your favorite thing about Earth?” And when it rains, he excitedly plays in it.

Gardner’s passion for the planet even impacts Tulsa, who has hopped from foster home to foster home and acknowledges she hates most people in her life.

The Space Between Us also has a pro-life message, and it’s not subtle. Gardner’s mom chose to give birth despite the problems a baby would create, and we even see a sonogram image and hear a heartbeat. No, abortion isn’t mentioned, but she could have terminated the pregnancy at some point, and the public never would have known. The head of Genesis even delivers a pro-life message, post-birth, when a scientist suggests the baby be sent back to Earth to learn if it could survive space travel. “This isn’t a mouse! This isn’t a monkey!” the Genesis official shouts.

Finally, The Space Between Us delivers some amazing scenic beauty—fall in Colorado, anyone?—that nicely accompanies its Earth-is-beautiful message.

The Bad

The central storyline in The Space Between Us is solid, and it’s not hard to imagine an Oscar-quality film being made about a kid, born on Mars, traveling to Earth. But this film is light years away from the Academy Awards. During its best moments, it’s sort of funny and borderline OK. At its worst moments, it’s dull. Picture an average Nickelodeon movie, and you’ve got The Space Between Us.        

Of course, movies don’t have to be high quality for kids to enjoy them, but this one sadly falls short of full family-friendly status due to content problems.

The romance between Gardner and Tulsa begins innocently enough with a hand on a knee and a kiss, but then dives into PG-13 status when they sleep together, nude, in a sleeping bag under the New Mexico sky. We only see shoulders and another kiss on the lips, but sex is strongly implied. It spoils what otherwise would be a somewhat clean high school romance flick.

Tulsa also steals at least three vehicles during the movie with no repercussions.

There is no violence, although it does include nine coarse words of varying offense: a– (3), suck (3), crap (1), OMG (1) and di– (1).

The Worldview

Although God isn’t mentioned in The Space Between Us, Gardner’s perspective on Earth is worth copying. How many times have we had a ho-hum attitude about a beautiful sunset or a gorgeous rainbow? Our view should be that of the Psalmist in Psalm 104:24: “How countless are Your works, Lord!”

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

Even without the content concerns, most young children, likely mine included, would be bored watching The Space Between Us. But those content problems can’t be ignored. It is sad that Hollywood has, once again, implied that all teens have sex. They don’t. We just need more movies affirming that.

Discussion Questions

Do you agree with the scientists’ decision to cover up Gardner’s birth? Why did Gardner have a different perspective on Earth than everyone else? Should our perspective about Earth and creation be more like his? (Why or why not?) Why was Tulsa so bitter about life? What would you have told her? Was Tulsa’s stealing of cars morally OK? Why was it wrong for Gardner and Tulsa to sleep together? Is sex a good or bad thing? What does Scripture say?  

The Space Between Us is rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language.

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

TEXAN Correspondent
Michael Foust
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