I was utterly gripped watching the magnificent new Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar. I can’t think of a more successful marriage of big-budget bombast, mindbending ideas, raw emotion and wry humour – three hours went by in an instant. And yet, as fully committed as I was throughout, I found myself thinking increasingly about the Scottish Independence referendum.
There are two main Indyref parallels that arrested me watching Interstellar. The first is relatively uncontroversial; a glimpse at any trailer or capsule review will have provided you with all the relevant information. The second (and far more acute) relates to a MAJOR plot spoiler, so I’ve put a good few lines of dashes before it (primitive, right?), and I would *strongly* advise you not to read it until you’ve seen the film. And you definitely should see it, by the way – probably my favourite blockbuster of all time.
****INTERSTELLAR SPOILERS FOLLOW****
So, the starting point of Interstellar – Cooper, a US farmer (played by Matthew McConaughey) is dismayed by the ecological mess that Earth has become, and desperately wants a better world in which his two kids can grow up. He also yearns for a lethargic populace to rediscover its sense of ambition, adventure and self-confidence. Through a series of seemingly unconnected, sometimes inexplicable but nevertheless irresistible incidents, he suddenly finds himself with the opportunity to go into space in search of a glorious future for his fellow man, and the rest of the film details the hopes, fears and struggles of that search.
The ability of humans to shape their own destiny, and the conflict between wider social responsibility and our own base self-interest, is a recurrent theme.
Now, the second parallel – BIG SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN!!!
In a nutshell, Matt Damon’s character, Dr Mann, *is* Gordon Brown; specifically, Gordon Brown from the start of the Indyref, up until the Westminster debate on “Scottish powers”, and arguably beyond.
Dr Mann is first mentioned in awed, hushed tones – the greatest and bravest scientific mind of his generation, he has voyaged forth many years ago in search of planets capable of sustaining life, and has contacted Earth to advise them of his success. Out of all the known options available to NASA, Mann’s proves to be by far the most tempting – “He’s the best of us”, as Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia breathlessly opines.
The team visit the barren, icy world reached by Mann, and wake him from his cryogenic slumbers, where they are slightly taken aback by the force of his tearful emotional reaction to receiving company. At first Mann is enthusiastic about the possibilities of NASA’s plan and the resources available at his new location. Gradually, however, it becomes apparent that the powers that be (including Mann) have in fact given up on saving the majority of the world’s race, choosing instead to put their true hopes in the nebulous future of a brand new colony in a location as yet unknown; the so-called planet of opportunity discovered by Mann, is in fact, a barren wasteland.
Mann is scornful of the concern shown by the new arrivals for Earth’s inhabitants and indeed their own families, accusing them of being motivated by venal self-interest. Further discussion sees him soften slightly, as he attempts reconciliation with Cooper by appealing to the latter’s sentimental, emotional side (“the last thing you’ll see before you die is your children’s faces”).
And then the ultimate betrayal – after leading him to the top of a yawning chasm, he pulls off Cooper’s transmitter and shoves him off a cliff! This approach having proved unsuccessful in defeating his suddenly self-appointed adversary, he then grapples with Cooper before breaking his visor and leaving him to suffocate in the deadly natural atmosphere. Despite “winning” the battle, he is instantly regretful, abjectly accepting Cooper’s accusation of “Coward” even as he tries to ensure the latter is beyond help, and going so far as to admit: “I put it off for years, but I couldn’t help myself – I knew that if I hit the distress button, someone would come and rescue me”.
His final, pathetic actions of the film are to steal a space shuttle (having attempted to kill or maroon all of his “rescuers”) and commandeer the main craft of those who tried to help him. Now single-mindedly focussed on self-preservation (though he claims his actions are for the good of the human race), he refuses to listen to Cooper and Amelia’s warnings of the cataclysmic consequences of his intended actions – after ignoring their pleas for five minutes of screentime, he finally switches off the intercom to block them out. Sadly, he’s unsuccessful (and how!) in his attempts – despite being a technological whiz in his day, he can’t get to grips with the everyday space station equipment of the current time – there’s an excruciating sequence as he gingerly tries to secure his space shuttle to the docking bay of the main ship, with his complete failure to do so ultimately leading to his own death.
Eventually, as the warnings from his pursuers finally become unavoidable, he attempts entry into the ship, with one final attempt at self-justification – “This is not about me, or my team” – abruptly halted as he is sucked out of the airlock and the surrounding area detonates, putting the whole ship (and therefore the future of mankind) in appalling jeopardy, from which it is only narrowly rescued by Cooper and Amelia.
So to summarise, we have
– Intellectual heavyweight, revered in certain circles of influence, currently “at rest” out of the public eye
– Shaken into action by external events
– Displays an immediate enthusiasm for the way forward, or at least some semblance of enthusiasm
– The gradual dawning realisation that his plans are unrealistic and driven by dubious motivations
– An appeal to sentimentality over reason
– A sudden violent lashing out against those he perceives as a threat
– The revelation that, despite his initial claims to the contrary, he’s just as cowardly, stubborn and self-regarding as the caricature he puts forward of his “antagonists”
– A final, desperate lunge at glory, despite a singular inability to cope with the new surroundings in which he finds himself
– One last attempt at self-justification, ended by his absolute obliteration and the severe, near-terminal damage of the hopes and dreams of his fellow countrymen
P.S. In terms of the end:
The general public decide that, actually, what they really want is more of what they’re used to – so they simply replicate what was there already, only it’s a bit more artificial, and a bit depressing that they’ve actually chosen to stick with how things were in the past. The truly pioneering spirits find all this far too cosy, unimaginative and unsatisfying, so they break out of their suffocating surroundings and keep searching for a truly revolutionary and life-changing alternative existence. The inevitable sequels are planned for 2016 and 2017.
Interstellar, on the other hand, has no sequels planned…