Monday, November 17, 2014

At the End of Time and Space There is Love

The mind and the heart, in the world of fiction, are typically considered to be two separate things and stories are often written about the conflict between the two--and generally the right path is the path of the heart. Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar is this kind of story, and it's a true Science Fiction film--and it's so nice to see one nowadays--about a mission to find a new planet for the human race while Earth is in its death throes. It's been compared to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey quite a lot and there are no small number of homages in the film. Though in a way, the message of the film is almost the exact opposite of 2001 and, oddly enough, Interstellar is fundamentally a more conservative story. As a result, the final act of the film feels much smaller in scope but that doesn't change the fact that it has a lot of beauty and intelligence.

I kept thinking of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo as I watched Interstellar. Madeleine telling Scottie her dream foretelling her death--a dark corridor where she knows she'll die when she gets to the end of it. Scottie says, "If I could just find a key . . . the beginning and I could put it together," and Madeleine says bitterly, almost sarcastically, "So you can explain it away?" There's a term going around the Internet--I guess it's a couple years old now--"mansplaining" which refers to the tendency some men exhibit to explain things to women even when the woman in question clearly knows more about the subject than the man. I have observed men do this to men and women--though I've observed women do this too, I should say. Possibly men do it more often--I suspect there's only anecdotal evidence.

In any case, Interstellar is extremely traditional when it comes to gender behaviour--the men want to explain, the men want to take violent assertive action while the women insist on the existence of ghosts, insist on an inherent power to love that science hasn't identified yet. When Chris Carter created the X-Files and made Mulder the believer and Scully the skeptic, it was exactly this convention he was reacting against. But Interstellar is the sort of story that contemplates those two ends coming full circle and meeting--the wisdom of the heart turning out to have a completely rational explanation and the most rational men turning out to be psychopaths.

Though, if you follow that logic, both men and women are on the "mind" side ultimately but maybe I'm going astray in following logic. Nonetheless, one of the key differences between Interstellar and 2001 is that Interstellar explains just about everything while 2001 leaves a lot to mystery, to interpretation. Interstellar becomes more like a detective movie with a puzzle to be solved while 2001 is a more accurate portrait of how it might feel to encounter things beyond our conception.

There's an anime series called Gunbuster--Top o Nerae--which might well have been another influence on Interstellar. Like Gunbuster, a lot of the drama in Interstellar revolves around Einstein's theory of relativity, relative time--how time is distorted for those who travel closer to the speed of light or close to a black hole, how time is slowed down for those people so that one hour for them may be several years on Earth. Like in Gunbuster, this provides an essential element to the young female protagonist's relationship with her father. Considering how much Neon Genesis Evangelion clearly influenced Pacific Rim (despite Guillermo del Toro's denials) I'm wondering if we're seeing the Hideaki Anno influence on western cinema come to roost.

Though the conclusion to Gunbuster isn't quite as tidy as Interstellar, both are sentimental in their ways. Though I'll be damned if the big "Welcome Home" sign in Gunbuster doesn't get me every single time so I guess I can't really blame people who find the conclusion to Interstellar effective. It wasn't quite my cup of tea and I found myself wishing Stanley Kubrick would come back from the dead and start making movies again. But Interstellar looks great, has some nice action sequences, and performances from McConaughey, Hathaway, and Michael Caine were really good. I particularly liked Caine reciting Dylon Thomas.

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