“A Million Miles Away” (2023). Cast: Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Veronica Falcón, Bobby Soto, Juan Pablo Monterrubio, Michelle Krusiec, Garret Dilahunt, Jordan Dean, Eric Johnson, Sarayu Blue, Emma Fassler, Leonardo Granados. Director: Alejandra Márquez Abella. Screenplay: Bettina Gilois, Hernán Jiménez and Alejandra Márquez Abella. Book: José Hernández, Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut. Web site. Trailer.
We all have aspirations we’d love to see fulfilled. Much depends, of course, on how diligent, committed and enthusiastic we are at putting in the legwork to see things through. But perhaps even more important is how strongly we believe in the dream’s realization. If that’s not in place, the rest of this effort may fade away over time or not fall into place at all. So how determined are we when it comes to the strength of our faith and conviction? That’s the question raised in an inspiring new fact-based biopic about an ambitious young boy who strives to overcome the formidable odds seemingly stacked against him, “A Million Miles Away.”
Young José Hernández (Juan Pablo Monterrubio) underwent a difficult childhood. As a Mexican-American migrant farm worker harvesting crops in California, he travelled from location to location in search of job opportunities with his father, Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo), his mother, Julia (Veronica Falcón), and his cousin, Beto (Leonardo Granados). The work was hard, and he grew to dislike it, especially since the upheaval of constant relocations kept him from being able to acquire a proper education. But, while attending one of the many schools he encountered in the course of his travels, he met a teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec), who recognized and actively encouraged his talents and ambitions, particularly his interest in space science and his desire to reach for the stars – literally.
However, as someone who came from such an economically challenged background, how could José realistically see his dream of becoming an astronaut realized? Thankfully, Miss Young’s encouragement, his cousin Beto’s ongoing support and his avid viewing of moon landing TV coverage did much to inspire him. But perhaps José’s greatest inspiration came from his father, who told him he could achieve anything as long as he had a plan in place to do so. Salvador outlined a five-point program that José embraced and put into practice, one that eventually enabled his older self (Michael Peña) to move ahead with his objective.
Having successfully earned a college degree as an engineer, José landed a position at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. But, even with such a prestigious pedigree to his name, he initially faced his share of challenges in this environment. After all, in those days, minority professionals were still few and far between in organizations like that. He was even initially assumed by some to be a new member of the facility’s custodial staff. However, through a string of fortuitous synchronicities in which he was able to demonstrate his considerable expertise, he managed to get noticed and steadily began rising through the ranks of the engineering staff. That kind of attention subsequently helped open the door to NASA, which, in turn, put him in touch with opportunities to try out for the astronaut training program.
Joining the astronaut training corps was easier said than done, however. José soon learned that he needed more skills than just his engineering background and accomplishments at Livermore. He needed to develop additional aptitudes educationally, as well as the state of his physical condition. This wasn’t easy given the fact that he was now getting older and was attempting to do all this while holding a full-time job and being a husband and father of five. His 11 applications to the astronaut training program were all rejected, raising doubts whether he’d ever qualify for admission.
José’s pursuit of his goal led to strain in his family life as well. His wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar), became frustrated that she had to shoulder the lion’s share of the household duties and that her dreams of opening a restaurant of her own were continually put on the back burner. These difficulties and the potential costs to his marriage prompted him to wonder whether the dream was worth it. But, when Adela confronted him about continuing his quest, she agreed to go along with it as long as he remained serious about it – and that, if he wasn’t, he should give it up for good. With his wife’s renewed support and the ongoing encouragement of his family (most notably his grown-up cousin Beto (Bobby Soto)), José forged ahead.
After his many denials, José decided to take a different approach when it came to submitting his 12th application: He hand-delivered it in person to Clint Logan (Eric Johnson), the NASA official in charge of reviewing candidate applications. That kind of ambition – the sort of “can do” attitude that had come to characterize the space agency over the years – won over Logan, despite José’s long string of rejections. He was thus accepted into the program. But, with so many participants selected for training, there was still no guarantee that he would be chosen to go into space.
The training that José underwent was just as arduous (if not more so) than anything he endured in preparing for the program. But, once again, he had support to keep him motivated, especially Kalpana Chawla (Sarayu Blue), a former Space Shuttle crew member now in charge of overseeing candidate training. She recognized José’s gumption and urged him to remain vigilant, telling him that there was nothing like seeing Earth from the heavens above. Her words inspired him, especially when she added that she had been selected for a return to space aboard a flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia scheduled for early 2003.
Through all of his training, the exhilaration of space flight kept José going. But the Columbia disaster in which his friend Kalpana was killed opened his eyes to the potential dangers involved in such ventures. It also raised new doubts for Adela, who wanted to see her husband’s dream realized but did not want him to perish because of it. And, with the Space Shuttle program put on hold after the Columbia’s tragic re-entry accident, it was unclear if José would ever get to reach for the stars.
Still, José remained hopeful, despite the many delays, the anguish of losing his friend and his wife’s concerns. And, somewhat unexpectedly, he eventually got his shot in 2008, when he was named a mission specialist for an August 2009 flight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. It was a long journey from the California migrant worker camps to the International Space Station. But it’s proof that dreams can indeed come true as long as we believe in them – and make the effort to see them realized.
The significance of this film should be plainly apparent from the nature of its storyline – how to successfully live one’s dream, particularly when it involves rising above one’s circumstances. It’s the classic underdog narrative put on display. And it illustrates the importance of the power of our beliefs, something we should not lose sight of given the role that they play in the manifestation of our existence, a product of the core philosophical principle of the conscious creation process. It’s unclear how many of us are familiar with this line of thinking, but examples like those of José Hernández should serve to show us how it works and how we can employ it in our own lives, no matter what our dreams may be.
Considering where José began his life and where he ended up, he indeed traveled a million miles, both metaphorically and literally, from where he started. And that journey was fueled to a great degree by the beliefs propelling his odyssey. In light of that, there’s much to be said for the power and persistence behind the intents that got him there. Even at those times when he was tempted to give up, the reinforcement of those beliefs – thanks to the fortification of his own resolve and the encouragement of others – kept him going.
This is crucial to bear in mind when we may feel like abandoning our aspirations. As conscious creation practitioners are well aware, doubt, fear and contradiction are the forces that can most readily undercut the functioning of this process. However, by vanquishing those potentially undermining influences, we can keep going, as José’s experience so clearly shows.
As uplifting tales of inspiration and motivation, movies about underdogs and beating the odds have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially when based on true stories. And this latest Amazon Prime Video production is yet another offering to come out of that genre. Writer-director Alejandra Márquez Abella’s biopic chronicles the impressive journey of a migrant farm worker-turned-astronaut. The film provides a comprehensive view of this unlikely hero’s life from his often-disrupted childhood to his impressive space-faring explorations, an uphill battle during which the odds were often stacked against him, both professionally and as a dutiful husband, father and son. It’s a moving story, the kind of picture that makes a good viewing choice for impressionable, wide-eyed grade school students with big dreams of their own.
However, despite these strengths, the film has some issues working against it. The narrative is rather formulaic in its storytelling approach, precisely hitting all of the requisite high and low points in just the right amounts and at just the right times, making the story somewhat predictable, at times blatantly so. The screenplay also takes some liberties with the timeline of actual events, despite its contention of being fact-based. And the picture is also a little on the long side; in its sincere attempt to be thorough, it sometimes incorporates so much detail that the story’s more incidental moments start to bog down the flow of the film. To its credit, though, this release also has its delightful moments of unexpected humor and features fine performances by its capable cast, even if the material they’ve been given to work with at times seems a little conventional. “A Million Miles Away” is certainly an enjoyable watch, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t quite feel like you’ve been rocketed into orbit by the picture’s end.
In an age as cynical as ours can be at times these days, it’s refreshing to still have inspiring, heroic stories out there that uplift us and give us encouragement for the fulfillment of our dreams. We may not all have aspirations as big as those of this film’s protagonist, but it’s comforting to know that the message of this picture can trickle down to each of us in our own respective ways. Reaching for the stars need not be a literal objective, but the metaphor may well be enough for many of us – and its fulfillment can be just as satisfying in the end.
Copyright © 2023, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.