A Million Miles Away (2023) is based on ‘Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut’ by José Hernández. At the heart of it is José’s undying passion for space and the challenges faced by him to achieve his dream.
The article will explore the film’s plotlines and reveal certain crucial plot details, so a little heads up!
A Million Miles Away (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
Sometime in the late sixties, José Hernández and his family immigrated from Mexico and settled in Stockton, California. José and his siblings start attending an American school where the cultural tension is conspicuously heightened. The Hernández kids have to juggle school and working on farms at once. Their teacher, Miss Young of Fillmore Elementary School– who too seems to be an Asian immigrant– is considerate towards them. One day, when José is plagued by the question, “What are stars for?” it is Miss Young who kindles the dream of pursuing the question beyond the realm of classroom studies. The kids watch in awe the live telecast of the liftoff of Apollo 11. More noticeable is how young José receives this mega event.
The family’s constant travel for work worries Miss Young as it also means more hindrances for the education of José. When Miss Young broaches this topic to the parents, who are also not well-versed in English, José constantly deflects their understanding of her true words with false translations. José’s parents tell her that they keep moving in search of work, and they work to build a house back in Michoacán.
Before Miss Young leaves, José hands her his homework, which is a sketch of himself flying off toward the stars in a corn-shaped rocket. The exploitation of the family at the hands of the owners of the farms continues. Subsequently, this deeply impacts young José’s mind as there seems to be no end to their misery and no way out of this exploitation cycle. The father finally prioritizes the children’s education and decides not to move further for work.
José, now all grown up, works as a lab engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal research facility on strengthening national security. However, in order to prioritize his work, he has placed his actual dream in the backseat, and everybody– including his cousin, Beto, and his father– realizes this except him. The only thing that goes right for him is his meeting with Adela. His co-workers are difficult and dismissive of his capabilities. At work, he is mistaken as a janitor.
Adela has always wanted to be a chef and open a restaurant serving authentic Michoacán food. To this, José hesitantly replies that he aspires to be an astronaut. They get married soon. José also gets a chance to be a part of an enriched uranium program. The US is buying nuclear materials from Russia and planning to bring them to their own power plants in America. To this end, all the best minds from the American labs are deployed in Siberia to oversee the operation. José is asked to be one of them. He is also benefitting in the larger scheme of things as a job like this would enhance his application for the space program.
Why do José and Adela fight?
One night, Adela discovers that José has been applying to get into the NASA space program for quite a long time. Adela, who clearly has been oblivious to this, is infuriated. She is appalled to learn that José is seriously considering going to space and has hidden it from her all this while. When José asks her to be just proud of him instead, Adela says that it is quite daring to ask her to do that, especially since her dreams are not very well cared for by José.
Later, after sharing this instance with Beto, he realizes that it is best to let Adela know about everything. José and Adela make up, and she supports him. Adela asks José to name the reason that has kept him from getting selected in the program for these many years, a reason that sets the selected ones apart from him. Apart from other reasons, José strongly believes that it’s because the others are white.
Jose goes to NASA
José decides that mailing the application to the space center would not be enough this time, a decision supported by Adela, too. He flies down to NASA to hand over what would be his twelfth application. He meets Sturckow, who shows curiosity towards José’s tenacity to keep applying despite the rejections. José claims that this application is the strongest one to date as everything he has done hitherto, whether personal or professional, is centered around the space program forming the core. Finally, he received the acceptance letter.
The letter does not guarantee a sure-shot selection, as one has to undergo rigorous training. Kalpana Chawla introduces herself as the in-charge of the mock training of José and the others. The training is essentially about building muscle memory. The conditions are created so as to give a taste of what it feels like to be in space. Chawla describes it as a dangerous endeavor that can only be conquered by having a clear, trained mind.
The training period–which, apart from being grueling, is also consuming– takes José away from his family. He grows distant and unavailable. José’s unavailability upsets Adela. During this time, a phone call brings in the news of the death of Beto. This leaves José shattered. Beto dies in a shoot-out. José strikes a chord with Kalpana Chawla, who shared with him what it was to experience outer space. Her words inspire him as she shares his background of being an immigrant in America.
She reveals that she is soon going back to the space yet again. José soon gets a hang of the training and starts excelling at them. He also helps Adela start her own Mexican restaurant. However, one day, while at the restaurant watching TV, José receives the news of Chawla’s disappearance and subsequent death in the Space Shuttle Columbia. This, again, deeply affects José. Following Chawla’s death due to the spacecraft giving in, José becomes in two minds about whether or not he should really strive to go to space.
A Million Miles Away (2023) Movie Ending Explained:
Does José make it to space?
José is assigned as the Mission Specialist No. 2 for a new shuttle launch, STS 128. José goes to Adela to get her permission. With Adela’s permission and good wishes from his family, albeit with some anxiety, José takes off. José successfully travels to space and watches the Earth in fascination. He remembers Chawla’s description of the planet. After successfully completing the space mission, the shuttle safely returns. After dedicating the lion’s share of his life to space, José goes back to Stockton and becomes a complete family man by nurturing the Tierra Luna restaurant and winery.