The movement is remarkable. It begins with a boy staring at a computer screen and the narrator, the film's director (Natalia Almada), wondering if her child will love this communication technology more than her. It is perfect; she, a mere mother, is not. Then we are in a passenger plane with rows of glowing screens and windows filled with a shifting twilight. The music is melancholy. Then there's a shot of a dry earth that ends with what appears to be an industrial forest. Then we are in a water recycling plant: bad water is, with the use of chemicals, transformed to drinkable water. Then we watch a baby being breastfed. Then we enter a massive factory of budding plants under artificial lights. Then there is a baby playing, a baby breathing, and cyber-optic cables rising and falling at the bottom of an ocean. At this moment, it becomes clear that the deepest meaning of this documentary, Users, is the terrifying future that capitalism is presently preparing for our one and only planet.
Up until Almada's documentary, the future of human survival was dominated by the idea that we had to replace Earth with another planet that was livable. This idea was clearly inspired by the kind of relationship we've had with commodities since the 17th century. In this understanding, or phenomenology, the whole Earth could be reduced to a mere product. When you wear out a pair of shoes or a cell phone, you just buy new ones. Why can't the earth also be just like this? We use it up and move on to a better one. Indeed, it might even have two stars instead of one. All we needed to do was develop spaceships that were powerful enough to make the journey as boring as a flight from New York to London. "Could the Wright Brothers," says Almada, "have imagined that flying would be so commonplace that we'd be disinterested in the miraculous bird's-eye view of the Earth below?" If the Wright Brothers could not imagine this future, which we are now in, then we (their technologically mature children) can surely imagine spaceships transporting us from planet to planet, star to star with no fuss. And for a long time, we did imagine exactly this.
But around the 1970s, the spaceship began to lose its power in the popular imagination. And by the 1980s, it was clear Earth was here to stay. It could not become disposable because the better planets out there were just too far away. Capitalism could conquer the continents, but not the stars. That kind of space resisted and finally defeated commercialization. But capitalism (which, by the way, is not mentioned in Users) made it clear that the destruction of our planet was also here to stay. If it stopped, then where would what it needed most (surplus value) come from? The solution? Make our planet a spaceship.
But this spaceship will not be like the one described in Liu Cixin's prose poem "The Wandering Earth" (which was made into a film that's bad and has almost no relationship with the original plot). Our coming spaceship, the one we find in Users, and the one that "total capital," as Rosa Luxemburg called the ruling order of her (and our) day, has planned for us, will stay put, continue to circle the sun, continue to rotate, but with stranger and stranger seasons. We will live not like the inhabitants on a planet, but the crew on a spaceship: One section will grow food, another will clean and recycle our water, another will generate electricity from solar panels, and, as with all spaceships since 2001: A Space Odyssey, our decision making will be assisted by a calm-speaking computer. Users also hints at the possibility of us living underground—this is certainly the case in Cixin's "The Wandering Earth." Humans only visit the surface when it's safe and the stars are out.