Cidney Hue’s short film, Odessa, takes a look at Mission Specialist Shannon Wendell’s (Cat Walleck) last night in New York City before she embarks on a 135-year long journey to the distant exoplanet Odessa. While the film’s central premise is based on exoplanets and what it might take to get there, this is a very human story on how fleeting human connections can be. Some of the themes are reminiscent of Queen’s song ‘39 and the 2014 movie Interstellar.
The film opens on a restless Shannon. Unable to fall asleep, maybe because of the big day ahead, she heads out and ends up ordering hot chocolate at a bar. There is news coverage of Shannon’s trip on the TV and fellow patron, Noah (Ken Fuller), strikes up a conversation about “Sleeping Beauty” — the name Shannon has been given by the media — unaware who he is talking to.
Shannon tells Noah why the exoplanet Odessa is so important. The planet is at the habitable zone, the region around a star where the temperature is just right, neither too hot nor too cold, where liquid water can exist on the surface. Water is the universal solvent and its presence means lots of chemical reactions can take place. Because the temperature is just right, it has also been called the “Goldilocks Zone.” The presence of complex proteins also means the planet could support life.
Noah thinks Shannon is just another space enthusiast, especially after she corrects him, telling him that the trip isn’t going to take seventy but 135 years. Shannon’s trip will take 67.5 years to travel to the planet, one year spent on Odessa, and another 67.5 years to return home.
Shannon and Noah both seem to hit it off. Noah mentions how much his son wants to be an astronaut, and how astronauts are the super-heroes of their time. The slightly inebriated Noah eventually ponders the deeper implications of Sleeping Beauty’s trip. This is a trip that will take over a century. When she returns, everyone and everything she knows will be gone. Shannon immediately defends Sleeping Beauty, arguing this is a huge opportunity and the adventure of a lifetime.
As impromptu first meetings go, something goes horribly wrong. Noah, having too much to drink, throws up on Shannon’s feet. Disgusted at having her last night ruined, and with vomit on her shoes, Shannon leaves the bar, discarding her shoes in the nearest trash can. Feeling guilty, Noah chases after Shannon and offers to buy her a new pair of shoes. It is the middle of the night and he would be lucky to find a store open at this late hour. Luckily, the couple manage to find a thrift store and convince the owner to let them in to buy a pair of shoes.
Though their first meeting was off to a rocky start, running around New York City in search of an open shoe store, Noah and Shannon eventually hit it off. They even flirt a little with each other as she tries on shoes. The couple eventually settle on a pair of red, sequined slippers. Are these the pair of shoes that will help Shannon come back home? Noah eventually discovers the truth as he goes to pay for the shoes when he sees Sleeping Beauty’s interview on a television. The reality hits home that after tonight, he will never see Shannon again.
Though Shannon invites Noah back to her apartment — Shannon’s apartment is bare as she is moving out — the couple never talk about Shannon’s trip or how long she will be gone. She just says that she is heading to Boston. Though they won’t talk about it, they are both aware of the wall between them. A wall they can never overcome.
In some ways, Odessa is similar to Queen’s ’39 — the fifth track on the 1975 album, “A Night at the Opera.” This song was composed by lead guitarist, Brian May and showcases May’s background as a physicist.
The song tells the story of a group of space explorers who leave on a year long journey, from their perspective, to find a new planet for Earth’s inhabitants. Upon their return, they realize one-hundred years have passed on Earth due to the time-dilation effect in Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, and their loved ones have all passed away or gotten older. May provides enough information in the song’s lyrics that physics students can calculate the relativistic speed of the space explorers.
For the earth is old and grey, little darling we’ll away
But my love this cannot be
For so many years have gone though I’m older but a year
Your mother’s eyes from your eyes cry to me.
Time is the wall that separates the space explorers from their families in Queen’s song. One of the space explorer’s expresses the sorrow he feels learning of his wife’s passing. Though this happened many years ago, he is still a young man, not much older than when he left, the only thing he has to remember his wife is through the eyes of his children.
The same wall of time also separates Joseph “Coop” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) from his daughter Murphy (Jessica Chastain/Mackenzie Foy/Ellen Burstyn) in the movie Interstellar. When Coop returns home, he discovers his daughter is an old woman while he is still a young man. In Coop’s case, it General Relativity and the time spent on Miller’s planet that slows down time for him.
Even though they don’t discuss it, both Shannon and Noah are aware of the wall that separates them. Shannon is a time-traveler. Though her method of going to the future is rooted in biology and not physics, there is one undeniable fact: one hundred and thirty five years in the future, Shannon will be a year older and Noah will likely not be alive.
Finding that special someone is difficult, though it can be found in the most unexpected of places. This is no different for our star-crossed lovers. Both must reconcile that the vast emptiness of space and time separates them, which makes Shannon’s personal and emotional sacrifice to advance humanity all the more poignant. Noah spends the night in Shannon’s apartment, sleeping on her couch. When he wakes up, he finds she has already left for Boston. The closing scene of the short film pans down the length of Sleeping Beauty’s body to show her wearing her red slippers. Hopefully she eventually finds her way home.