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Spaceman Ending Explained - What's With The Giant Spider?

This article contains spoilers for "Spaceman"

"Adam Sandler as an astronaut who makes friends with a talking spider" might sound like the premise of a wacky comedy, but the new Netflix film "Spaceman" — based on the acclaimed 2017 novel "Spaceman of Bohemia" by Jaroslav Kalfař — is one of Sandler's most serious projects to date. Past "serious Sandler" films such as "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Uncut Gems" have shown that the renowned funnyman has some dramatic chops, and these projects are usually better received than his comedies. The jury is still out on "Spaceman," but early indications are that the majority of critics are giving it a thumbs up.

But what's the film about, exactly? "Spaceman" is fairly straightforward in terms of its character arcs and primary thematic concerns. Surrounding the relatively simple story about relationships and loneliness, however, is a lot of sci-fi strangeness, and some major questions are left up in the air for viewers to debate among themselves as the credits kick in. Here's our explanation of what occurs at the end of this cosmic journey and what we think the film is trying to tell us.

What you need to remember about the plot of Spaceman

Jakub Procházka (Adam Sandler) is "the loneliest man in the world" — further in distance from any other human being than anyone has ever been. In the alternate history of "Spaceman," the Czech Republic leads the space race, and Jakub has volunteered on behalf of his country to undertake a one-man mission to investigate a glowing purple cloud that's appeared around Jupiter, known as the Chopra. In theory, he's not completely isolated, as he's able to make instantaneous video calls with anyone back on Earth. But when his pregnant wife Lenka (Carey Mulligan) decides she no longer wishes to speak to him, he's left truly alone.

Amid this isolation, Jakub encounters (or possibly imagines) a most unusual companion: A giant, Nutella-loving alien spider he names Hanuš (voiced by Paul Dano). Hanuš can read minds, and, in seeing into Jakub's memories, the creature psychoanalyzes the cosmonaut's issues with his father (a violent communist informant he wants to maintain was still a "good person"), his wife (who he wasn't there for when she had miscarriages), and with other people in general (he really doesn't care about anyone except when it suits his personal needs). Jakub is far less inquisitive about Hanuš, but he does end up learning that Hanuš is the sole survivor of an infestation that wiped out his species — and that he's also become fatally infected.

What happened at the end of Spaceman?

When the spaceship finally arrives at the Chopra, it begins to malfunction. Amidst the chaos, Hanuš leaves the ship, feeling that the anomaly's silence is "calling" to him. Jakub goes out after his friend, despite mission control's orders that he save himself (remember, nobody else can see Hanuš). Drifting into the purple void together with Hanuš, Jakub remembers a moment from his childhood when his father saved him from drowning — a memory that allows him to make peace with his daddy issues.

Deeper into the anomaly, Jakub experiences what Hanuš describes as "the beginning and the ending, every vibration of all time." Experiencing past, present, and future all at once while feeling "the truth of the universe," Jakub remembers when he first met Lenka at a costume party, and decides that the one thing he can truly say he "knows" is that he misses her. Hanuš finally dies, with Jakub offering him Nutella as a parting gift. As Jakub continues to drift through space, Lenka back on Earth sees one of the anomaly's floating particles, which seems to allow Jakub and Lenka to call out to each other across time and space.

In the end, a rescue ship approaches Jakub, saving him from near-certain death. Jakub makes a phone call to Lenka, thanking her for everything and telling her, "If I had known then what I know now, I never would have left." She responds, "If I had known then what I know now, would I have kissed you?" When asked if she'd kiss him again, she answers, "It was a really good kiss."

What the ending means for Jakub

Ultimately, "Spaceman" is less a big science fiction epic and more a marital drama that just happens to involve space. It's about a man who chooses his career over his relationship with his wife and comes to regret that decision. For Jakub, going into deep space is simply a means of running away from his problems, as well as him trying to prove himself as a national hero in defiance of his father's darker legacy. But not being there for his wife when she most needs him causes even more problems than the ones he is running from. The final scene offers hope of a possible reconciliation between Jakub and Lenka.

Hanuš is there to serve as a catalyst for Jakub to become aware of his selfishness: When the alien spider is in danger, Jakub demonstrates his capacity to act selflessly toward someone he cares about. His phone call with Lenka in the final scene doesn't give definitive answers about their future together, but it ends the film on an optimistic note, implying that, after the lessons he's learned out in space, their relationship stands a chance of being repaired. At the very least, it seems as though they've made peace with the past.

What the ending means for the universe

The question of what the ending of "Spaceman" means for the universe at large is less easy to answer definitively. While Hanuš provides solid enough explanations of what the Chopra is (how it connects to the birth and death of the universe and contains a repository of all information beyond human comprehension), the mystery of why this anomaly suddenly appeared is never answered. Given that finding an answer to that question was the goal of Jakub's mission, it would seem reasonable to conclude that his mission was a failure in the end. Such failure is thematically appropriate for a story that's about Jakub realizing that he never should have gone on such a mission in the first place.

A lot of questions that Jakub was supposed to find answers to are still unanswered by the time the credits begin to roll, but, as far as Jakub is concerned, his personal failures far outweigh the mission failure. As viewers, we're expected to feel the same: The science fiction elements are just the background for a character study centered around more down-to-Earth relationship issues. Perhaps going deeper into sci-fi world building could have resulted in a more interesting movie, but it's not the one that writer Colby Day and director Johan Renck set out to make.

Is Hanuš real or imaginary?

The question of whether Hanuš is an actual alien presence or a hallucination manifested by the loneliness of solo space travel is left to interpretation and is sure to be a subject of debate among viewers. There's a lot of evidence for the hallucination reading: Jakub has nightmares about spiders crawling under his skin before he meets Hanuš, the creature is invisible to everyone except Jakub, and Hanuš attributes some of the things he says to "discovering" the thoughts Jakub is having but won't say out loud.

And yet, there's also one strong argument in favor of Hanuš being real: It makes more sense for Jakub to come to his big revelations through interacting with someone else as opposed to him being his own psychologist. Jakub may have just become seriously self-reflective in his isolation, but the way Hanuš eviscerates his personality feels like it comes from an outside perspective rather than an internal one. Also, given that the message of the film is about Jakub learning to be there for other people, it's all the more meaningful if there actually is another being there with him. The book upon which the film is based offers an additional hint about Hanuš being real — but more on that later.

Similarities to the endings of 2001 and Interstellar

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, director Johan Renck said, "I didn't use any other movies as references for 'Spaceman.'" However, whether it was his intention or not, there are definitely some similarities: It's hard to avoid comparing the ending of "Spaceman" with other serious-minded science fiction films involving astronauts entering strange cosmic phenomena and experiencing time in a new, non-linear fashion. Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" has been a point of comparison in practically every critical review of "Spaceman," and some of the specific details that don't line up with "2001" do match well with Christopher Nolan's Kubrick-inspired 2014 epic "Interstellar."

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) from "2001" and Jakub Procházka from "Spaceman" are both heading to Jupiter to experience the psychedelic light shows that make up their respective movies' climaxes. Jakub calling out to Lenka across space from within the Chopra can also be compared to the climax of "Interstellar," where Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) sends messages to his daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) and his past self through spacetime from inside a black hole. The Chopra scene in "Spaceman" lands in between the silent wonder of the "beyond the infinite" sequence from "2001" and the extensive explanation of the Tesseract in "Interstellar."

How the ending differs from the book

If you think Netflix's "Spaceman" is a little too glum in terms of tone, you might be surprised to hear that Jaroslav Kalfař's "Spaceman of Bohemia" is even darker. The movie's optimistic ending scene in which Jakub and Lenka talk to each other doesn't exist in the original book. Instead, when Jakub is rescued from the Chopra, the cosmonauts who take him in are part of a secret Russian program that plans to imprison him upon their return to Earth. Interestingly, one of the Russians also claims to have communicated with Hanuš. The two men form a bond over this shared experience and the Russian agrees to help Jakub escape.

Unfortunately, the escape plan that they hatch goes horribly wrong when they attempt to carry it out. The ship crashes upon its return to Earth, killing the Russian, and — as far as everyone else believes — Jakub, too. While Jakub somehow manages to survive, he's declared dead. This essentially forces him to abandon everything from his former life, including cutting off all contact with Lenka. It's understandable that the movie decided against adapting the book's gut-wrenching final chapters, both for the sake of avoiding extra narrative complications and to conclude the picture on a more positive note.

What has the cast and crew of Spaceman said about the ending?

The cast and crew of "Spaceman" understandably avoided going into spoiler-y details about the ending of the film in pre-release press interviews. However, some of their comments on the themes of the story and their experiences working on the film do shed some light on what they think the big takeaway should be. Speaking to Vanity Fair, director Johan Renck gave a poetic description of his personal connection to the story.

"I'm three times married, and two of my marriages crashed and burned because I was out looking for Chopra Clouds instead of actually seeing the people who were there next to me," the director said. Seeing his own failures in Jakub made the film's ultimate message all the more potent for Renck. "No matter how pleasurable and how much we love our job and all that, it's never going to be more important than the true love of other human beings or a relationship or kids or families — whatever it is," he added.

Jakub spends most of the third act floating in zero gravity, and at the film's Berlin Film Festival press conference (via Variety), Adam Sandler discussed how difficult filming those effects sequences were, admitting that he doesn't have "the most flexible body." However, that wasn't the only challenge. Getting emotional with a CG co-star (represented by a tennis ball on set) was also tough, but the ending wouldn't have hit as hard without those scenes. "I never cried in front of a tennis ball before," Sandler told Polygon. "I mean, one time at the Jewish Community Center when we lost the match. But that's when I was seven. A long time ago."

There won't be a Spaceman sequel, but there's another space spider movie in the pipeline

When the "Spaceman" movie was announced, some people who weren't familiar with the "Spaceman of Bohemia" novel immediately compared the premise to a different book: "Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir (best known for "The Martian"). Both stories follow lonely astronauts who form unexpected friendships with aliens resembling giant spiders, which is a specific enough logline that it's natural to assume someone was inspired by someone else (for the record, "Spaceman of Bohemia" came out four years before "Project Hail Mary"). However, given that all other aspects of the two books are entirely different — with "Project Hail Mary" offering a more urgent, science-based, saving-the-world type story in contrast to the quiet character study of "Spaceman of Bohemia" — it seems that this was just a case of great minds thinking somewhat alike.

"Spaceman" is not a film that lends itself to a sequel, but viewers who found themselves surprisingly emotional over the fate of Hanuš (and those who wish the Netflix offering had a bit more fun with its out-there ideas) have another space spider movie to look forward to in the form of the upcoming "Project Hail Mary" adaptation. MGM acquired the movie rights for a whopping $3 million in 2020. News soon broke that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, screenwriter Drew Goddard (who adapted the screenplay for "The Martian"), and A-list star Ryan Gosling were all attached. The movie is reportedly going to start filming in the United Kingdom in June 2024.