Thursday, 4 December 2014

Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey

[Again - full of spoilers. Be warned.]

I had the fortunate accident of seeing 2001 shortly before seeing Interstellar. It didn’t take long to see references to 2001 start to fill the screen. Many of these I took as simply nods to Kubrick’s groundbreaking film. But what grabbed my attention were a few moves which seemed to be deliberate attempts to respond to Kubrick’s vision of the nature and future of humanity in time and space. 

The Redemption of Computers. Instead of HAL we have TARS, both incredibly advanced and laidback computers that attend to many of the human needs for coordination of logistics in space. HAL, of course, reflect the human fear of computers. How long can it be before they betray us and attempt to rid the world of messy, mistake-making humans? TARS, on the other hand, is a trustworthy servant to the end, naturally sacrificing himself for the human mission and miraculously staying in contact with Cooper on the other side of a black hole.

The Drifting Man Found. One of the poignant images in 2001 was that of the freely drifting last moments of the astronaut that HAL cut loose. Could we imagine a lonelier end than this last flailing around in empty, silent space. In Interstellar, the drifting man is somehow saved (how hard could it be to find a guy in space after going through a black hole?) 

Starchild vs Cooper Station. Where 2001 ends with a giant space baby (presumably suggesting something about the evolution of humanity), Interstellar ends with a much smaller step in evolution – a rather perfectly built space station looking like a centrifugal version of small town America, complete with the hero’s house made into a museum. 

When I compare the two films, I find myself (surprisingly) appreciating the pessimism of Kubrick on the first two points. I think a little fear of computers (particularly AI-based computers) is appropriate, and I hope developers remain wary. And space seems to me like a dangerous place – much more like Kubrick’s empty world than Nolan’s cosmic theme park. 

At the same time, I did appreciate the warmth that the themes of love and, perhaps, spirit add to Interstellar. Kubrick's vision is pretty cold throughout. 
But, when it comes to the ending, I need to depart from both films. I actually feel like crying out a little in despair. Is this the best we can do for imagining the future of humanity? Space babies or floating Americana while the Earth gives up the ghost? I appreciate the creative motifs of a coming apocalypse and of hopeful evolution – worthy themes indeed for epic films. But again I will point to Gravity as the one that gets the end right – coming back, with gratitude, down to Earth.

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