Interstellar: A Tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey?


Spoiler Warning

Following Gravity last year, Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is another major science-fiction film. Unlike the personal struggle in Gravity, however, Interstellar is of an epic scale. It concerns with the survival of the entire human race, and explores scientific concepts as deep as relativity, worm hole and black holes. No major scientific-fiction film has dared to embark on such an ambitious project since Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For the plot summary, I will outsource it to Wikipedia.

The parallels with the 2001: A Space Odyssey are not difficult to discern. Both missions are occasioned by mysterious beings. Jupiter in the 2001: A Space Odyssey is replaced by Saturn in Interstellar. The strange psychedelic experience is visualized in more comprehensive form as the passage through the worm hole. Even TARS, the robot, is in a monolithic shape not unlike the extra-terrestrial monolith in 2001:A Space Odyssey. 

One crucial difference lays in the treatment of the hero. David Bowman in 2001:A Space Odyssey, defeated HAL, stayed in a chamber and was then transformed into an unknown substance that floated back to Earth. Cooper in Interstellar has undergone a similar but different journey. Not only did he remain a human at the end, he brought back the fruits of his heroic achievements to save the human race.

Dr. Mann was thought to be John the Baptist. He was lauded as the hero who persuaded the other 11 astronauts to join and led them for the Endurance mission. His data proved to be the most promising and his intelligence and ability were thought to be valuable addition to the desperate Lazarus Mission. Yet he was a false dawn and turned out to be a selfish person who forged the data to lure people rescuing him. However it was by this very selfishness that propelled the heroic journey of Cooper. His luring left Cooper with little choices but to lend the force of Gargantua, the supermassive rotating black hole, for going to Edmunds’ planet.

It is Amelia who was the true John the Baptist. As Cooper’s shuttles only had very little fuel, they can only support one person. He sacrificed himself and let Amelia’s shuttle to travel to Edmunds’ planet. If it were Dr. Mann, it would have been Amelia who get sacrificed. However Cooper did not do it, otherwise he would not be the hero. More importantly it was this act of self-sacrifice that ultimately allows him to get access to the boons. Amelia was a heroine in her own right but she was a conventional one. She would be a founder of a new colony and would die lonely for her effort. Her own trajectory left Cooper to continue his own heroic journey.

Falling into Gargantua, Cooper was trapped inside the extra-dimensional arena but he discovered the secrets behind the black hole. He received crucial help from TARS. This is another difference with 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL engineered the deaths of the astronauts and almost wrecked the whole mission. TARS, however, not only remained faithful to human commands (to the point of willing self-sacrifice) but was invaluable in assisting Cooper to fulfill his heroic mission.

By transforming TARS’ data on singularity into Morse Code, Cooper fulfilled two objectives. Firstly he materialized his boons by supplying the crucial details for Murph to perfect the gravity equation left by Professor Brand. Secondly he managed to connect with her not by means that can be explained in science. In fact, the science-fiction was transformed into science fantasy. Throughout the whole journey, Cooper’s love to her daughter is unwavering and through this love, he transcends the time-space dimensions. This echoes Kant’s philosophy: human freedom/passions transcend time.

This is where Interstellar departed from 2001: A Space Odyssey and went a step further. Miraculously Cooper emerged unscratched afterward and was rescued by the NASA ship. As a result of the relativity, he can witness the fruits of his efforts, but he did not stay to enjoy a retired life. He continued his journey to find Amelia. At the end, we saw Amelia building her colony and it was not sure whether Cooper was to find her as she presently was or whether more inspiringly, Cooper was to find her by transcending the space-time dimension for yet another times. In either case, the hero is not only concerned with the survival of the human race. He was responding to a higher calling: love.

Extended reading: 2001: A Space Odyssey: A Film of Music and Mysticism and Interstellar (Reviews) 

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One thought on “Interstellar: A Tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey?

  1. […] Extended reading: Music, Structure and Metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Stanley Kubrick’s Revolution in the Usage of Film Music: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Film Director as Superstar and Interstellar: A Tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey?  […]

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