Space | Interstellar

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

-Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953

Interstellar is said to have set the bar for modern science fiction films, redefining and reinvigorating the genre on its own. Renowned theoretical physicist Kip Thorne was Christopher Nolan’s scientific consultant in making the film, even working on equations to accurately portray the behavior of light rays around a black hole. Thorne himself said that the greatest degree of artistic freedom is not the film’s depiction of traveling through a wormhole or the terrifying effects of time dilation, but the ice clouds in one of the scenes. Tim Robey of the The Telegraph describes Nolan as a “merchant of awe,” interlacing science, love, what it means to be human, and what destiny lies for us among the stars. However, it is not the film’s ambitious reach, physical and metaphysical beauty, its commitment to scientific reality, nor its portrayal of never-before-seen cosmic phenomena that make Nolan’s work a masterpiece. These elements enhance, but should not distract, from what the film really is, the heart-wrenching story of a father and his daughter.

When Christopher Nolan approached Hans Zimmer to make the soundtrack for the movie, he wanted to free Hans up from the usual trappings of making film scores, to ensure a pure and fresh creative process. Nolan told him the story was about the relationship between a father and his son, leading Hans to create music which solely reflected what it felt like to be a father to his own son. Only later did Nolan reveal it was about a father and his daughter experiencing one of the greatest epic science fiction adventures of all time.

Zimmer’s work is nothing short of spectacular, ditching the traditional and bland orchestra sounds for a much more raw and human tone. Essential to the music score’s power is the organ, which Zimmer recorded in a cathedral: Nolan intended to blend Kip Thorne’s scientific accuracy with the emotional power of religiosity, almost creating a perspective on science fiction we haven’t seen before. Nolan states that he wanted the journey to have a religiosity to it, capturing the power of religion’s attempt to portray the metaphysical and the other-worldly, but without being trapped by it. As Zimmer explains, the organ is human in a way, its sound comes from blowing air and each burst of sound feels like the breath of a living being struggling for life. Perhaps no scene better demonstrates the gripping power of Nolan and Zimmer’s fusion than the docking scene: Dr. Mann betrays Cooper and ignorantly attempts to dock his ship onto The Endurance, leaving Cooper no choice but to save The Endurance by matching its RPM with his ship as it falls into the stratosphere. Nolan’s ability to craft a tense, emotional, and scientifically astounding scene is enhanced by Zimmer’s perfect organ-based soundtrack:

Once again, Nolan demonstrates his incredible ability to let a scene build and build. Your anxiety grows as you slowly realize exactly what Cooper is figuring out, synchronized with Zimmer’s eerie music that begins as a slow creep, gaining momentum until it reaches full sprint:

This scene, though an amazing feat of scientific imagination, means little without context. The father daughter love serves as a tether through time and space, linking Cooper and his daughter across galaxies and decades. That tether allows us, as the audience, to experience the cathartic throes of the film’s most impactful plotlines. We feel Cooper’s utter desperation to save his daughter back on Earth, because his daughter is the face of all humanity: a fragile, and lonely species confined to a remote and minute dot in the vast cosmic expanse, desperate to cling to life. This tether stretches across space and time irrespective of time dilation; though decades have elapsed back home in the few hours Cooper spent on Miller’s planet, his love for his daughter is an unbreakable bond. The giant wave scene has bitter consequences: due to relativity, in mere minutes Cooper has missed years of his children’s life:

The time dilation is so severe that in the span of minutes, Cooper watches his children become adults and suffer through the agony of missing him. He learns he has a grandson and that it died prematurely in the span of 38 seconds. He loses his own father. In the end, when he is finally reunited with his daughter, she has surpassed him in age.

So what is Interstellar really all about? Well, normally the YouTube comment section is the worst place to go for an answer to anything, but even a broken clock is right twice a day:

“I have never cried at a movie. Not once. Not even when I saw simba watch his dad die as a kid. This scene though, which I saw with college friends, gave me a tight feeling in my throat, and tears falling from my eyes. So did they. I guess it comes down to loving your parents, and all the shit they went through to get you to this stage, and no matter how much you fought with them, threw venom at them, or didn’t agree, how much you’ll miss them when they’re gone.”

Each person who watches Interstellar will see something different, but the common thread is love. Parents will see a mimicry of the desperate love they bear for their children. And children will be washed over with a wave of guilt about how misguidedly they view their relationship with their parents.

There was a quote that went something like ‘we all spend our entire lives searching for the meaning of life, going to the farthest corners of the world, only to end up right where we started.’ This random person on YouTube saw the tether, the cathartic truth at the heart of this film. The irony of Interstellar is that humanity reaches out into the universe, making a grand leap forward into the unknown, searching for truth, clawing at meaning, and gasping for life. And yet, no matter how many galaxies we traverse or centuries that elapse, what we are looking for is right where we are. It’s each other.

-JS

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