In a time of global peril, Earth receives a mysterious message from an advanced intelligence. A group of astronauts, equipped with a talking computer, a spinning ship which simulates gravity, and deep-freeze beds in which to sleep, head for a cosmic gate in orbit around Saturn. In the end, the main character transcends time and space and changes the future of the human race forever.
Sound familiar? That’s right, I’m talking about Interstellar.
I could fill a book with comparisons between Interstellar and 2001: a Space Odyssey (both film and novel), so to keep on topic for this class, I’d like to compare two scenes from Interstellar with the sequence from 2001 that we studied and make the case that by their representation of the sublime, Interstellar has more in common with 2001 the novel than the film.
There are two scenes in Interstellar which I want to compare to Dave’s passage through the monolith in 2001: a Space Odyssey. The first is near the beginning (relatively – it’s a long movie) when the Endurance passes through the wormhole and cross into another galaxy. The second is near the end (relatively – it’s a really long movie) when Cooper dives into the black hole and finds himself in four-dimensional space.
For those of you who wrote your essay on this topic, you may have worded it differently, or come to a different conclusion altogether, but the main difference between the presentation of the Sublime in the novel and film versions of 2001, is that the novel explains the events in detail and relies on you to agree that they are sublime, whereas the film is vague and surreal and tries to leave you to interpret what you see and to be as amazed as Dave is. The book tells you about something sublime, but the film tries to be sublime.
In the sequence we studied, Dave passes through the star gate and sees stars, galaxies and other objects pass him by. He sees what he interprets to be a “Grand Central Station of the galaxy”, passes what he thinks must be alien ships, and comes out near a globular cluster and a binary star system, where the hotel room habitat is waiting for him. In the film, Dave sees the monolith, and then is treated to a psychedelic light show before landing in a more surreal version of the hotel. Whether you think Kubrick preferred his idea of the sublime, or just had to choose it because of the technical limitations of making a film at that time, the result is this difference. Have a look to refresh your memory:
Interstellar is fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to have been made at a time when CGI can create just about anything you can imagine for a film. Interstellar is not restricted by the same technical limitations and can afford to present the wonders of the universe in a literal, explicit way. The filmmakers had physicists for advisors and attempted to show what the most up-to-date science indicates a wormhole in space would actually look like. The transparent sphere which warps light like a funhouse mirror is consistent with the current science. Even the Bulk, (the non-space inside the wormhole) which is more artistically imaginative than scientifically deduced, is presented in a way that we can look at and understand. It has clear boundaries, shape and features we can see and understand. Like the novel version of 2001, this sight may not be something we and the characters recognise and understand, but it is comprehensible as a new experience. See here:
Later, when Cooper flies into the black hole, the film has to rely more on artistic interpretation, and crosses into more expressionistic science fiction, but in case you’re thinking that means psychedelic light show, have a look at the scene:
It’s definitely trippy and certainly not a depiction of space that you’ll find in an astronomy book, but even so, your eyes can pretty well follow and interpret everything that’s going on. It’s not just nonsense. And just in case you didn’t follow it all, the movie will go on to explain it through dialogue. In 2001, you can work some of what you see out on repeat viewings, but you’re on your own to decide what’s going on for yourself. Only the book will lay everything out on a platter for you. Interstellar crams all of that in there; the visual and the exposition. Did I mention it’s a long movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, 1968. Film. Clarke, Arthur. "Part VI: Through the Star Gate." 2001: A Space Odyssey. 25th ed. New York: Penguin/ROC, 1993. 207 - 236. Print. Interstellar. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2014. Film.