‘Rubikon’ Ending, Explained: Why Were The Algae Turning Brown? Did The Astronauts Save Mankind?

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“Rubikon” is a sci-fi film set in 2056 that unfolds in the confinement of a space station. By 2056, the world has done away with countries and governments, and every piece of land is taken over and divided between giant corporations. The environmental conditions are fragile, and only the rich live in air domes that were built to filter the contaminated air. The corporates have their armies now, and in the case of territorial conflict, the armies fight it out between them. The space missions failed, which meant life other than Earth was no longer a possibility. The last space station owned by Nibra Corporation has a research base dedicated to finding a solution to the deteriorating environmental conditions.

“Rubikon” is a predictable film where the characters mostly remain underexplored. The moral dilemma of having to choose between saving oneself or the entire remaining human population is what the film attempts to explore. But what it suggests, in the end, is quite superficial and insensitively stresses impractical humanism.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Rubikon’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Hannah Wagner, a Nibra soldier, was sent to “Rubikon” on a secret mission by the corporation, and she was accompanied by Gavin Abbott, a chemist who belonged to an influential family. Dr. Dimitri Krylow worked at the space station lab; he formulated an innovative way to generate oxygen using algae. This innovation was what the corporation was after, and Hannah’s task was to secretly bring it to Earth. The astronauts at Rubikon were taken aback when they realized that a soldier had stepped into the space station, anticipating a motive behind her presence. Nonetheless, the newcomers were welcomed with a drink. Hannah’s job at the station was to navigate, whereas Gavin’s was to assist Dr. Dimitri in his lab. The rest of the crew were called off from their duties in space, and they had to return to Earth. Surprisingly, the route of the space station was altered due to a sudden cloud formation in the northern hemisphere, and many green rights activists died as a result of this environmental catastrophe. Gavin was an activist, and the thought of his friends losing their lives troubled him. Gavin decided to use an atmosphere analyzer to understand what had happened. Meanwhile, Wagner was instructed to continue with her secret mission, IKARUS, and bring the innovation to Earth within the next few days. Even though Wagner had realized by then that the algae system was wired throughout the station, the corporation refused to allow her more time and asked her to work on it immediately.

The crew members who left on Vesta 2 could not reach ground control and asked Wagner to help them contact. Even after multiple tries, she could not connect, and Vesta 2 was gradually losing control. The capsule started to overheat uncontrollably, and within a few minutes, it caught fire. Hannah received a message from her sister, stating how chaotic everything was back at home. She was a soldier as well, and she was assigned the task of evacuating those near the northern hemisphere. The three astronauts saw from above how the Earth was enveloped in a thick dark fog. They lost all connection from ground control and were left in the space station all by themselves. The atmosphere analyzer finally worked, and after studying its reading, Gavin attempted suicide, though Hannah was able to save him. He later informed Hannah and Dimitri that the Earth’s atmosphere was extremely toxic, and it was almost impossible for anyone to survive it. There might be a few people alive in the bunkers, but they would run out of food, water, and clean air soon. The chances of the survival of mankind were slim, and they assumed that they were the last humans left alive. Though they were not sure if they could continue living in the station, Dimitri assured them that his algae system worked; the carbon dioxide they emitted was converted to oxygen by the algae, and therefore, they would never have to worry about clean air. Though he warned that the system was designed for six members, and now there were only three, which was the minimum number of humans required to keep the system functional. Therefore, they had to survive because even if one of them chose to give up on life, it would mean death to the remaining two.

Thus began the attempt to survive within the confined space of the station. The German soldier, Hannah, worried for her sister, Knopf. While the Russian scientist, Dimitri, mourned the death of his son in Vesta 2, Gavin was struck with the realization of how futile those protests were considering the inevitable fate of mankind.

How Does The World Work In The Film? Were Other Humans Alive?

The “Rubikon” world functioned on debit points and is pretty much the degraded version of the world we know of. The rich thrive, whereas the poor scavenge for food. No government exists, implying human rights and benefits are out of the picture. People are owned by corporations, and the privileged class lives their joyous lives in the air domes. The soldiers are responsible for keeping the elite class safe, even if that means losing their own lives. The system was designed to cater to the few, and Gavin was among those people. His father was a CEO, and even though Gavin was empathetic towards those around him, his moral sensibilities always took over. While he assumed he was working for the greater good, he never truly knew what it meant to be on the other side of the track.

A chip was inserted into every soldier’s neck to keep them under control and monitor their movements. Female soldiers were to remain sterile till the end of their service, and for that, they were induced with hormones. Hannah had lived her life following instructions to collect more and more debit points in an attempt to survive. Therefore, when they received no response from Earth, she was clueless about what she was supposed to do. She had always been strict with herself, but now she wondered if it was all even worth it in the end. Hannah and Gavin found comfort in each other. They made love in the station, overlooking the Earth that had turned brown. The three played drinking games, danced to music, and found ways to amuse themselves.

Dimitri was concerned when he started to notice there was a sudden change in the color of the algae. It was turning brown from green, though he did not raise his concern to those on board with him. Meanwhile, Hannah was able to connect to a laser comm and found humans reaching out to them from Earth. These were the CEOs of multiple companies who survived the catastrophe by hiding in their bunkers. There were 300 of them, and they needed help from Rubikon. They wanted the astronauts to bring the algae system since their oxygen level would eventually lead to a critical level. It was only through the new system that they could survive. Even though Hannah and Gavin immediately agreed to risk their lives to save the lot, Dimitri was not too sure if that was a practical idea.

‘Rubikon’ Ending Explained: Why Were The Algae Turning Brown? Did The Astronauts Save Mankind?

All three of them started to notice how the algae was turning brown. Hannah wondered if the system was failing, but Dimitri assured her that there was no reason to worry. He started to study the brown algae sample, and when Hannah and Gavin proposed traveling to Earth, he revealed that Hannah was pregnant. She was shocked since she believed that all soldiers were sterile, but the hormone system seemed to have failed after the collapse of the central control system. It was her hormonal change that affected the color of the algae, though that did not change their performance. While the news did take them by surprise, Hannah wanted to continue with the plan. She could not give serious thought to raising her child in the current scenario and wanted to focus on the mission of bringing the algae system to the remaining humans. As they prepared to launch, the capsule overheated and was about to disintegrate. The three left the capsule and entered the station. Gavin wanted to fix the capsule, knowing that they did not have an alternative to save lives, but Hannah locked him out of it. She knew it was dangerous, and he would have lost his life in the process. They watched the capsule disintegrate, implying that their last chance to connect with mankind was lost.

When Gavin shared the news of their launch failure, Esther, the human representative, informed him about the IKARUS mission. Gavin asked Hannah to explain the mission to him. She said that the mission required her to bring the entire algae lab to Earth. For smooth transportation, the algae laboratory was designed in a way that it could be flown down separately. Gavin proposed they use it to reach Earth, though Hannah warned that it was risky since it could not be steered and was not meant for ordinary people to fly. 

Nonetheless, he wanted to give it a try one last time, and Hannah supported his decision. She woke up one night and noticed that the cooling system was disconnected from Vesta purposefully. She confronted Dimitri, and he agreed that he betrayed their trust, though he did not know that the result would be as disastrous. Hannah refused to listen to any explanations. She stated that they would detach the laboratory and use it to launch one more time. Dimitri knew that Hannah was not completely convinced of the plan, and he asked her to be shameless about wanting to save her life before anyone else. Dimitri raised pertinent questions regarding the reason why Nibra was suddenly so interested in the algae system, whereas a few years back, they did not even care about it. They chose to send a soldier to get it, but what was the reason for the sudden hurry? He implied that Nibra knew what was coming and chose to keep the truth away from the people. He asked if she believed that the CEOs would have helped her had they been in her position. Would she, as a soldier, receive the algae, or would it be used by them to cater to their selfish interests?

The next day, Hannah and Galvin spoke with Esther, informing her about their plan to fly with the laboratory. Though Hannah had a condition before discussing the mission, she wanted to have a word with any soldier. She knew there were evacuated soldiers since her sister was one, and it was her desperate attempt to know whether the soldiers were kept alive or not. Esther was informed that none of the soldiers survived anymore. Their job was to protect the privileged, and after that, they were left to die. The bunkers had only space for the influential, and they did not wish to share it with others, knowing that would affect their supplies. Hannah was devastated after facing reality. She secretly hoped for her sister to be alive, but she had forgotten how insignificant the lives of soldiers were on Earth. This changed her heart, and she refused to risk her life to save the lives of the selfish bunch who survived. Gavin, though, believed that it was their duty to share what they had even if mankind was not generous. He thought that saving 300 lives was more important than their three lives, especially knowing there were children in the bunkers. He tied Dimitri to a seat, kept Hannah locked out of the lab, and allowed her to enter when they were about to take off. Hannah tried to be selfless, but she could not reason with herself and ultimately chose to fight Galvin to get access to the system and destroy it. Gavin was furious. He was ashamed of how self-absorbed Dimitri and Hannah were. To force his will upon them, he entered the depressor area and committed suicide. He knew that the algae system required three people to function properly, and he hoped that Hannah and Dimitri would fix the system and fly down to Earth if their own lives were at risk. Dimitri could not hold back his tears since the three-people rule was something he made up to prevent Galvin from committing suicide. Galvin’s body was pushed out of the station, and we see him float in a water body at the end of “Rubikon.” He always believed that a life spent without living on Earth was not worth living, and, in the end, his spirit did flow on the water body depicting his oneness with nature.

“Rubikon” takes us back a few years later, and we learn that Hannah gave birth to a girl who knows the Rubikon as her home. Hannah and Dimitri continue to live in the station, implying that they chose to survive in the end, no matter what. When Hannah went to sleep, the little girl sneaked out and discovered the laser comm. She heard a kid speaking from the other end, and she responded. They were children from Earth who were playing with the old device. They spoke from the southern camps and wondered where this mysterious girl lived. She responded that she was from Rubikon. They asked her if she could play outside now that the air was clearing, but the little girl said that her mother instructed her to not go outside since she could not breathe there. The children assumed that she was from the Northern Hemisphere since that was the area where the air continued to be toxic. They asked her to look for help since there were always people searching for survivors. They added that grown-ups now believed in helping one another since everything is different now. The little girl looked out of the station window at the Earth. The planet was back to its previous form. This interaction implied that mankind was able to fight the catastrophe, and it was only after an apocalypse that humans learned to help each other. Even though Hannah chose to not help mankind, people together found a way to fight the crisis. But in an attempt to save their lives, Hannah and Dimitri were stuck at the station, and it was their decision that left the little girl, Knopf, away from all that the world had to offer. “Rubikon,” in a way, criticizes the decision made by Hannah and Dimitri and upholds the point of view of Galvin. However, I feel that is a superficial way to deal with a deep-rooted issue such as class politics.

At the end of “Rubikon,” it can also be speculated that the whole catastrophe was man-made. Maybe it was a way to cleanse the Earth of the working class whose consumption of natural resources would have affected the privileged someday or another. Especially knowing how the Earth was the only inhabitable planet, the elite class could have found a way to keep the abundance of nature for themselves, even if that meant spending a few years in their bunkers. Though this is a highly speculative argument, and there are not many hints left of it in the series, apart from the fact that it is strange how normalcy was reached and the planet now belongs to the affluent only.

“Rubikon” is a 2022 Drama Science Fiction film directed by Magdalena Lauritsch.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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