Rusalka In ‘Spaceman,’ Explained: Was Jakub’s Story Similar To The Water Nymph?

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It is said that in love, opposites attract. In Spaceman, Jakub Prochazka was an ambitious man with a troubled past. Whereas his wife, Lenka, was a simple artist with much simpler needs. It was Jakub’s ambitions that attracted Lenka at first, but she was unaware of the drama that lay ahead. In Lenka, on the other hand, Jakub saw a sorted woman who had always been aware of her needs. Jakub never really knew what he wanted until things were told to him. It was a tragic love story from the beginning, but we are surely going to find some meaning in it. On his spaceship, JanHus1, Jakub often played a tragic opera called Rusalka. While the film didn’t shed much light on the significance of the opera in Jakub and Lenka’s lives, I would like to bring a little piece of information from Jaroslav Kalfar’s book, which might help us understand its importance better.

Jakub’s life went downhill after his grandparents were evacuated from their family house. His parents had recently died, and slowly, Jakub was losing everything that he had. It was at this tragic time that Jakub first heard the voice of a woman on the car radio. His grandmother told him that it was called an opera and it was his mother’s favorite. Some three years later, after his parents’ deaths, Jakub attended the State Opera theater with his grandmother on his mother’s birthday. He kept an empty seat for her, believing she was always with him. It was the first time in his life that Jakub finally met the character of Rusalka, in the flesh.

On the stage, Jakub saw a wild-haired woman dressed in the muted colors of the forest. Rusalka was a water nymph who had fallen in love with a human prince who would come to hunt around the lake. But the Prince couldn’t see her, and it was the tragedy of their love story. To capture the Prince’s attention, Rusalka decided to go against her father’s wishes and approach the Prince. She yearned for human love and, therefore, drank the witch’s potion to become a human, just like the Prince. The two finally met and fell in love with each other. The Prince took her to his grand palace and made her his queen, only to betray her feelings in the end. 

The Prince, true to his nature, cast Rusalka aside for a foreign princess. Rusalka had no other option but to return to the very forest from which she had come. It is said that lovers can cross seven oceans and break the gates of Hell and Heaven to meet their love, but what if their lover doesn’t deserve such a sacrifice? It was the same thing that happened with Jakub and Lenka, where the woman left her entire world for Jakub, only to find her lover running away from her for his own greed and ambitions.

After being abandoned by the Prince, Rusalka was forever imprisoned in the human body. She had turned into a monster herself. The feelings of betrayal poisoned her heart and mind. She didn’t have the means to return to her original form and, therefore, became the curse of the forest. She would lure young men to the lake and let them use her body, only to drown them in the lake and keep their souls in porcelain cups. It was Rusalka’s revenge for every young man who “violated the nymph’s body.” Years later, Jakub’s subconsciousness, in the form of Hanus, spelled the same words to him, since he had violated the heart of a woman in his life and suffocated her feelings with his ignorance.

Sometime later, the young Prince came back to the forest once again, looking for his Rusalka as he realized that he could not live without her. But it was too late to make amends. Rusalka was a cursed woman now. Anyone who would touch her would die. Yet the Prince called for her and asked for a last kiss. A lover’s kiss that would cost him his life, but he was ready to sacrifice himself. Rusalka’s father, Vodnik, the feared water goblin, emerged from the water and said that all sacrifices were futile. It was indeed. Jakub broke Lenka’s heart. It was only after she left him that he realized his mistake.

As soon as the Prince touched Rusalka’s body, he collapsed into the water, making the ultimate sacrifice to prove his devotion. It was the first time Rusalka felt human love. She gathered the Prince’s soul, but instead of locking it in a porcelain cup, she released it to God, thereby letting her lover ascend to the heavens. The lovers are doomed forever. The Prince was free but dead, whereas Rusalka had to spend the rest of her eternity with her monstrous father in the ghostly forest, killing young men who were unaware of the trap that lay ahead. Jakub always found the ending to be extremely tragic, and listening to the same opera in space made him realize one simple thing: Love and sacrifice are not always futile. 

Rusalka’s story’s central theme is the sacrifice that the lovers made for each other. Lenka left behind her life and career for the ambitious Jakub, only to be betrayed by him in the end. He chose his ambition and his space mission over her, and that made her realize her worth in Jakub’s life. Jakub, on the other hand, was ready to sabotage the entire mission to return to Lenka so that he could rectify the mistakes he had committed in the past, but just like the Prince, it was too late. On Earth, everyone believed that Jakub had died, and therefore, Lenka moved on with her new life. Jakub was a mere ghost who somehow managed to return to Earth. Like the Prince, he went looking for his Rusalka but didn’t approach her. At this point, Jakub understood the fact that loving someone does not always mean being with them. And that is the point of Rusalka’s story. He had to make a sacrifice for Lenka’s happiness, and in his case, his absence from her life would be the biggest sacrifice he could make. In the real story, the Prince didn’t approach Rusalka and remained dead as she believed him to be. The two lovers were alive but apart, but at least one of them knew that his better half was happy without him. In the end, Jakub became the Rusalka of his story, who released his lover so that she could live a happy life thereafter.

While the parallels between Rusalka and the end of Jakub and Lenka’s story in Spaceman of Bohemia are pretty clear, the same can’t be said for Spaceman. For starters, the movie hardly touches upon the actual story of Rusalka and merely paints it as a story of star-crossed lovers who can’t be together, while lightly stating that Jakub sees that story playing out in real-time. In doing so, the audience can’t draw the parallels between the folklore and the protagonist’s journey, and see how one influences the other. In addition to that, instead of echoing the ending of Rusalka’s story in Spaceman, Colby Day and Johan Renck change things up and dangle the promise that Jakub and Lenka are going to reunite. That can seem like a massive deviation. However, you can also see it as Jakub’s way of taking notes from Rusalka and the Prince’s story and realizing that his story with Lenka doesn’t have to end in the same way. Will he stay true to his promise of being there for Lenka, though? I’ll leave that up to your imagination.


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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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