In his speech, ‘Why I am not a Christian,’ Bertrand Russell conjured up an image of Earth’s distant future by pointing to the barren surface of moon. Dry and empty of life and all that can possibly give it (life) a new lease. Just a ball of rock swirling aimlessly. Intellectuals agree on this possibility. Even if spared by rogue asteroids which can wipe out the last traces of life from our planet upon impact, the Earth one day will simply run out of life and retire to an abundant supply of day and night until an expanding red giant Sun will probably consume it like a candy. The question therefore, as always, is about saving ourselves and not the planet and whether human kind gets to be evolved enough to meet the ever escalating challenges of nature or simply allows itself to sleepwalk to its demise with bowed down heads. A choice has to be made by every discerning individual between continuing the human journey and voluntarily regressing to seek so-called harmony with a nature which is amoral and indifferent.
Interstellar, the new movie by Christopher Nolan spectacularly raises this question and given the similarities the movie shares with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, some comparative analysis can definitely be made.
With Kubrick’s Odyssey, Nolan’s Interstellar shares the awe for the next stage of human evolution. However, unlike the former where the protagonist thrusts into the unknown struck numb by betrayal and quite unconcerned about the future, in the latter Nolan shows his genius by portraying the main character’s fall into the black-hole as a supreme act of altruism with his heart shaking by a mix of pain of separation and the uplift of the only possible sacrifice which can be made for greater good: self-sacrifice. In Kubrick’s scheme of things humanity will need to be wiped clean of its emotional attachments before a breach into the beyond can be made and the last lap of arriving into the next stage of evolution will only be made by ascetic individuals, and not communities, who will burst forth fueled only by their urge to know.
On the other hand, Nolan keeps the emotions intact and fuels his hero’s descent into the abyss by the bonds he shares with his loved ones. As the cliche goes, it’s the power of love whereas Kubrick’s guy is quite close to Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’ obeying in one direction alone.
God is possible in Kubricks’ movie as the faceless entity helping humanity to ascend with ever nimbler feet while Nolan leaves the human ingenuity alone to find the final pieces with no divine intervention whatsoever.
The elaborate scenes about docking a space craft to a space station are also present in both the movies which highlight the importance of finding a piece of familiarity in the limitless and silent universe.
But that’s not all. Nolan’s movie talks more and even through poetry. The poem of Dylan Thomas, ‘Do not go gently into that good night’ is repeatedly recited in the movie to emphasis the essentially absurd state of human existence and endeavors. And here, man and machine do not compete but work together towards a future of companionship and limitless possibilities. And yes, brushing up one’s knowledge about singularities and black holes will definitely make the experience of watching this movie more engaging and rewarding. One of the most unread bestsellers Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ can be referred to.
Like the real world here too we find cynics and the weak ones, the deceivers and the dreamers, the passionate novice and the calm expert and not everything is answered. Whether love is an attempt by select individuals to transcend the barriers of time and space or it does so without them, whether it’s a human construct or a natural phenomenon is one of dilemmas left for the audience to resolve.