Category Archives: Space Opera

A critique of capitalism in “Jupiter Ascending”

[Jupiter sized spoilers ahead: Beware]

Last Friday, my spouse and I went to see Jupiter Ascending for Valentine’s Day. Due to its poor reception by critics and the public in the US, I hoped it’d be a fun “bad” movie. However, I found it to be a beautiful movie with an intriguing plot. This brief preview will give an overview of the movie. Abrasax Industries “seeded” the Earth one hundred thousand years prior, although people on Earth are unaware of this fact. The three Abrasax heirs inherit their wealth from their mother and are the villains in the movie. Each sibling corresponds with a particular problem relating to capitalism. (For a quick, cute overview of Karl Marx’s view of capitalism, communism, alienation, and utopia, you can view this short Super Mario Brothers 8-Bit Philosophy video.)

The protagonist from Earth is Jupiter Jones. Her mother immigrated  to the US while pregnant with Jupiter. Jupiter works as a maid with her family in Chicago and hates her work. She wants to buy a telescope and decides to go along with a plan to sell her eggs at a fertility clinic. This plan is developed by her cousin who intends to get more of the money from the transaction than Jupiter. It is obvious that Jupiter is being exploited by her cousin. At first, this appears to be a Cinderella-like tale where Jupiter will be able to leave her challenging life as a laborer behind.

On the other hand, the Abrasax family is a dynasty that owns planets (and their inhabitants) as property. When the head of the dynasty dies, her three children, Kalique, Balem, and Titus, begin plotting and fighting over their inheritances. This family seems similar to the power elite discussed by sociologist C.Wright Mills. If inheritance laws exist without controls, then more and more wealth will concentrate in the hands of a few.  Those few will eventually be like royalty, even if they do not technically have titles. The movie asks and attempts to answer the question, what if inheritance remained and laws didn’t keep the wealthy in check?

Balem will inherit the Earth unless the his mother’s genetic reincarnation appears. He sends assassins to murder the genetic reincarnation, which is revealed to be Jupiter. On the other hand, Kalique and Titus both want her alive to use her. Caine, whose DNA is a splice of human and wolf DNA, is an excellent tracker and is sent to track down Jupiter. He becomes a romantic interest. However, he also represents alienated labor.

As Jupiter finds herself drawn into the battle that she knows nothing about, she realizes that these siblings see no problem with owning a whole planet and harming its inhabitants. Furthermore, she discovers that the family harvests a youth serum, but it takes many lives, or rather human deaths, to create it. The first of the siblings she visits is Kalique. Similar to a fairy tale villain, Kalique, values her own eternal youth and beauty at the expense of others. In modern global capitalism, people extend their own life chances and beauty, while breaking the backs of others without access to the same goods and services. Kalique demonstrates this to Jupiter by entering a pool of water and emerging younger. The elixir is extremely valuable. It benefits Kalique to help Jupiter gain her title for Earth in that it decreases her brother’s wealth and power.  (In one of the part of the movie that I felt was the most humorous, Jupiter has to go through a long, bureaucratic process to gain her title. She notes that she’d never complain about the DMV again.)

Next, Jupiter winds up in the hands of Titus, who wants to steal the Earth (and its valuable elixir) from both his brother and Jupiter. Titus notes to Caine when alone that he, himself, is a liar. I think that this represents the fact that capitalism leads people to becoming unethical. When profits and power are the ultimate goals, it justifies all kinds of heinous actions. Titus, a hedonist, tricks Jupiter by saying that he wants to end the trade that will harm the Earth. He convinces her that by marrying him, she will be protecting Earth and its inhabitants. He sends Caine out the airlock but lies about it to Jupiter. Caine comes to rescue her just in time, which reminds me of the marriage scene in Princess bride. Titus is willing to lie and murder for gaining the means of production (e.g., the planet Earth.) Likely, he wants to keep fueling his grandiose, hedonistic lifestyle.

Finally, Jupiter ends up in the hands of Balem. Balem would rather harvest the Earth immediately than let Jupiter take ownership of his property. He kidnaps her family from Earth and offers her a choice.  If she signs her title over to him, he will spare her family. Furthermore, the Earth won’t be harmed while she lives. This is actually an excellent analysis of capitalism. Often, in modern capitalism, resources are plundered and the costs are placed on the next generation.  The capitalists and workers may not even lived to see the horrible consequences that have been deferred to later generations, including environmental consequences.  Therefore, Jupiter can choose to save those she loves, but she’d have to delay the suffering to billions of people in a later time period.  Jupiter, in the end, makes the right call in terms of saving all the people on the Earth, although it means sacrificing those she loves most. She realizes the importance of the lives on the Earth, not just the ones in her own in-group. While she was willing to make the sacrifice, she manages to fight Titus and escape with Caine’s help. Essentially, the ends of capitalism are not to benefit people. Instead, the goal is to maximize profits, which is what all three of the Abrasax siblings wanted, although they had different motivators.

In this movie, human beings aren’t just machinery, our lives and deaths literally become the commodity itself. We are the product. In the end, Jupiter owns the planet, but she does not exploit that fact.  She stands in solidarity with other humans; she continues her productive labor as a maid.  Her labor as a maid is valuable, and she appreciates returning to being part of the proletariat. This movie does not have a true Marxist utopia at the end.  Abraxas Industries and the family are still at large in the universe. And the people on earth excluding Jupiter and Caine have no idea that they are a part of a much larger system of oppression, similar to how many people do not realize how they are being exploited in global capitalism due to hegemonic ideology.  Eventually, we will be vulnerable again when Jupiter dies. Just like in “The Matrix” people have to wake up before they can start to save themselves.

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Filed under capitalism, Fantasy, Movie Review, Science Fiction, Space Opera