A French astronaut named Sarah Loreau (Green) is chosen for a one-year long space mission onboard the International Space Station called Proxima, which is stated to be "the last mission before Mars". She tries to balance her training with her family life as mother to a dyslexic eight-year-old daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle). Wendy (Hüller), a psychologist, helps to guide Sarah and Stella through the complexities of the situation while Stella's father and Sarah's ex-boyfriend Thomas (Eidinger) also does his best to take care of Stella in Sarah's absence.
The film premiered in the Platform Prize program at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019.
Not to be confused with the science-fiction novel Proxima.
Proxima provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adult Fear: Stella gets bored of waiting for her mother during a briefing session about security in space where she was brought to and decides to go outside in the park, in the dark night. Sarah notices Stella's not there anymore and goes searching for her outside with an appropriately tense soundtrack. Then Mike finds Stella and they come back at Sarah.
- Bilingual Dialogue:
- There's dialogue in French, English, German and Russian, due to the international nature of the space mission. Sarah is fluent in all of these.
- Either Thomas or Stella can first speak French to Sarah then randomly switch to German (Thomas being German and having taught it to Stella, who's been raised bilingual).
- Central Theme: Family Versus Career and Parents as People, with the chosen angle being the particular estrangement and strain brought upon a mother/young daughter relationship when the mother is an astronaut who has months of training to do without seing her daughter and has to literally leave this world.
- Centrifuge: Sarah trains in a centrifuge at one point. The machine goes up to 9 G before Sarah's Russian training officer orders to stop the machine. Sarah seems to be doing just fine upon getting out of it, but then she throws up at her apartment.
- Creative Closing Credits: The end credits contain several pictures of Real Life mothers who became astronauts, as the movie is a tribute to them and the separations they had to endure. The names and years of their missions are indicated below each photo.
- Cunning Linguist: Sarah is fluent in French, English, German and Russian.
- Family Versus Career: Sarah's astronaut career takes a heavy toll on her available time for her daughter.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mild case with Mike (Matt Dillon). He is slightly sexist towards Sarah initially, telling her she should really take less training schedules (she took as much — if not more — hours than her male colleagues) and joking that "French women are good at cooking". But overall, he's not a major jerk to her, we find out he's a Shell-Shocked Veteran, and he progressively warms up to Sarah, eventually invoking Perfection Is Impossible to Sarah when she is at her lowest (after failing an underwater training and Stella ignoring her on the phone) and hugging her. Ultimately, he's as anxious to leave his family behind to go to space as she is.
- Multinational Team: The Proxima mission involves three astronauts - Sarah (French), Mike (American) and Anton (Russian).
- Named After Somebody Famous: Laika, Sarah's and Stella's orange tabby cat. Named after the first animal (a dog) to go to space.
- Nausea Dissonance: Sarah seems to be doing just fine upon getting out of the centrifuge after a session that went up to 9 G, but then she vomits at her apartment.
- National Stereotypes: Mike has some stereotypes in mind about France, like French women "being good at cooking" or Sarah "singing Frère Jacques" in her youth.
- Perfection Is Impossible: What Mike says to Sarah when they go shopping one last time before leaving Earth."There's no such thing as a perfect astronaut, just like there's no such thing as a perfect mother."
- Precious Photo: Sarah takes a photo of Stella with her in the Soyuz rocket when leaving Earth.
- Precision F-Strike: Sarah says "Fuck you!" to Mike after he finds a missing Stella in the park, following an argument.
- The Promise: Early on, Sarah promises Stella to bring her near the launching pad in Baikonur the day before the launch to see the Soyuz rocket. Comes the day, and a plane delay prevents Stella and Thomas from arriving in time, and thus prevents Sarah from doing it due to her pre-launch quarantine. Sarah then decides to break her quarantine and brings Stella to see the rocket.
- Science Fiction: The only science fiction element in the film is the fact that Proxima is considered "the last mission before Mars". There will be plenty of new missions at the ISS and decades will pass before a mission to Mars will even be possible. Everything else is straight-up Present Day astronaut training and launch to space.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Mike is a veteran from Afghanistan, and says he was "a wreck" upon coming home before starting his space program training.
- Shown Their Work: The film was shot at various real training facilities of the European Space Agency, at the Star City in Russia and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The training and other conditionings Sarah goes through are spot on.
- Slice of Life: The film focuses on Sarah's day to day life as an astronaut before going to space.
- Space Cadet Academy: As an astronaut, Sarah has hefty doses of training.
- Stay in the Kitchen: At one point during an official meeting, Mike congratulates Sarah for having been selected for the mission, and says it's great that she's French, because "French women are really great at cooking".
- Stock Footage: The shots of the Soyuz rocket being prepared for launch as well as those of the launch are Real Life footage woven into the film.
- Struggling Single Mother: Sarah is a single mother (being separated from Thomas) who is struggling psychologically (not financially), due to being estranged from her very young daughter for months and having to go to space. Thomas, while not being in a relation with her anymore, still helps her the best he can by assuming some of the custody of Stella.
- When She Smiles: Stella, who's had troubles socializing up to this point, spies on other kids from her apartment with her optical telescope. The kids spot her, go up to her door and tell her they know she's there and invite her to play outside, which causes a big smile to form on her face.