There’s a short response to my previous post on the films of the Wachowskis over at Fuck Yeah Jupiter Ascending, and I just want to take a moment to think about it and be a little more explicit at how what I think Jupiter Ascending is doing in how it positions it characters in a relationship with interstellar capitalism.
Right at the top, I want to say thanks to FYJA for reading and engaging with what I wrote. Thanks you!
The author takes issue with my calling Jupiter Ascending a nihilistic film and they write this:
However, while Jupiter Ascending doesn’t show the total defeat of space capitalism, I strongly disagree with the suggestion that it is nihilistic. Nihilism holds that life has no true meaning, significance or purpose, and that is essentially the opposite of Jupiter Ascending’s ethos. Jupiter Ascending is a deeply humanistic film in that it demonstrates immense faith in our base human potential – Jupiter is stubbornly normal, with no special abilities or magical powers to speak of. She is simply herself, and she does what anyone in her situation could do – she makes tough choices when met with limited options, asks questions to attempt to understand what’s happening to her and fights to live. As far as the film is concerned, these qualities make Jupiter heroic and special. The film’s happy ending is not Jupiter saving the universe – it’s Jupiter finally finding happiness, purpose and meaning in life.
Jupiter Ascending is ultimately a very small, personal story of self-realisation and personal growth wrapped up in a glittery, quadrant-spanning package. And while it is non-committal on our potential to tear down the systems controlling the operations of the universe, it is resoundingly optimistic about the human condition and our capacity for good.
When I say that Jupiter Ascending is nihilistic, I don’t mean that it is some kind of deep dive into a dark hole that somehow rejects human existence. What I mean is that the very setup of the film presents us with an incalculably large scenario of politics, that of space capitalism, and at the end of the film Jupiter, and therefore the audience, turns away from that system precisely because it is so complex and difficult.
I agree 100% that Jupiter Ascending is life-affirming, but the particular kind of life that it affirms is one of acceptance, of “rolling with the punches,” and when put into a sequence with the revolutionary idealism of the Wachowskis’ previous films, it looks an awful lot like walking away from the political itself.
Jupiter’s normalcy is the vehicle that enables the film to be so nihilistic in the sense that, no, she is in fact not a normal person. She is one of the wealthiest people in the universe. She has the fate of millions of humans in her hands, and she has the support of a universal policing agency behind her. She has even defeated her greatest rival, the only real threat to her asserting power, and come out completely unscathed in the sense that she has lost nothing. Assertions to her aggressive normalcy, in a weird moment of translation, feels a lot like this story.
In many ways, Jupiter Ascending is a lot like The Matrix (the first film, not the trilogy) in that it presents us with a character who has an extensive amount of power. The endings match closely, what with some plot knitting being done right before someone uses their newfound abilities to fly around a city (in wildly different ways, however).
The nihilism comes from the question “what do we do now?” It is a question of a program, or a set of politics. As I argued in the previous post, the Wachowskis have moved from an ambivalent unhappiness with capitalism (in which a person can fight, and at great cost, maybe win) to an unhappiness that nevertheless accepts the capitalist realism of the universe.
When one of the richest, most powerful beings in the universe asserts “normalcy” in order to move away from engaging in some kind of direct politics, that feels like nihilism. The disavowal of one’s self, and one’s position in relation to others in the galactic system of harvest and oppression, so that you can live a particular kind of life that you’re used to feels like exactly what FYJA was claiming is not there: it is the rejection of significance and purpose in order to avoid dealing with that purpose.
And I loved the film, unironically (I’ve sort of realized that I need to say that around this film, which is odd), but I also think that it signals a particular far end of a political journey that the Wachowskis have been on for a long time.