not in our stars, but in ourselves
1.a. Not that I care, but very few people in my acquaintance have shared my enthusiasm for Interstellar. They think it’s ponderous, and slow, and badly written, and riddled with plot holes. Blah, blah, blah. Ponderous, I won’t touch; there are surely some works out there that are far heavier and denser and self-serious than necessary, and it’s a subjective matter to decide what’s what. But yes, Nolan takes himself very seriously. Why not. Who else is going to. Slow? I don’t think so. Sure, it’s long, but I wasn’t fidgeting in my seat, waiting for it to be over. Especially for a Nolan film, I thought it had remarkably little fat on it. Badly written – well, it’s not exactly a Noel Coward, now, is it? All the same, he did much better than usual. As for plot holes, explain to me what plot holes you found. Were they based on the plot itself, or on a lack of understanding of theoretical physics? Neil de Grasse Tyson tweeted about the good science in Interstellar the other day; today, he tweeted about the “mysteries” in the film (i.e., why not just set up a colony on Mars instead of going to a distant galaxy? – and admittedly, that is a pretty good submission to the “plot hole” category); generally speaking, he seems to hold the film in high regard. He doesn’t offer an opinion of the movie qua movie, but he generally thinks the science is solid. And all the main characters are scientists or engineers – points for visibility. I don’t claim it was perfect, but I think it was an incredible movie, and I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it last week, and I think it elevates the old sci-fi questions to new heights. That’s just, like, my opinion, man. Take it or leave it.
1.b. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how Interstellar shows, without a lot of proselytizing or grandstanding, a very plausible future if we keep pretending humans haven’t accelerated climate change exponentially. The Earth of Interstellar is subject to enormous wind storms, insufficient rain, blighted crops, dust everywhere. During an early scene at Murph’s school, Coop alludes to the fact that – in a moment of panic and/or cruelty – technologically advanced machines like MRIs were outlawed or destroyed or something. Murph gets into trouble in the first place for bringing in a book about the lunar landing, when the school provides textbooks about the “corrected” version: a hoax by the U.S. to induce the Soviets to deplete all their resources on the space program. It’s as if the climate change deniers, the ignorant, the fearful, took over and let everything go to hell. It’s a Tea Party future. Interstellar doesn’t make a big to-do out of any of this; it’s just there as background. But even if the space travel is implausible, the Earth it presents is entirely possible, and probable if we don’t stop electing these chuckleheads.
2. Speaking of elections, weren’t those a bad joke. I voted, because I’m a good girl, but all day – somewhat by accident, then it became by compulsion – I listened to one song on repeat: “United States of Eurasia” by Muse. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s nothing new and Muse take themselves very seriously and blah blah blah, I don’t care about your opinion any more than you care about mine. I love the song: strong elements of Queen, a nice exoticized Russian-ish string motif, lyrics about a dystopian-but-plausible (here we go again) society. What I love more than the song itself, however, is the end: after all the pounding and guitars and ornate rock music, we have Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major (Op. 9, No. 2). Just behind the piano music, we hear voices, radio static, fighter planes soaring overhead. Rather than call it “United States of Eurasia/Nocturne in E flat major,” Muse have called it “United States of Eurasia/Collateral Damage.” I know it’s all very heavy-handed, I know, I know, but as you can imagine, it gets me – fascinated as I am by nineteenth and early twentieth century European history. Here we have this tender, dreamy, sad, gentle, intricate piece of music from a Polish composer who lived mostly in France, who died of disease when he was still a youngish man; from a part of the world that still held to all the old pomp and ceremony and unfairness it had developed in the Middle Ages; from a continent that would continue to cling to all that rigid unfairness and splendor, in equal measure, until the cataclysm of the two World Wars. A friend of mine, who lived in Moscow for a while and who has remained a devoted Russophile ever since, was talking about Putin with me recently. It spiraled out into discussions of other Russian things – music especially – and she wondered quite despairingly how such a culture could come from the same place as such a political culture. It’s all part of the same story, and it always has been: these tender, lovely artists come from shocking, brutal worlds. I can only look at these things from the outside, since (white) Americans have no similar point of reference. (I will make no attempt to speak for anyone outside my own privileged group.) It all gives me a very funny pang, though: perhaps related to my so-called émigrée complex; or perhaps because it’s just a smallish but telling human tragedy, and because it’s unfair, and because so much of the art and music I love is borne of suffering, and because it’s hard (for me) not to suffer along with it. And in a larger sense, all that tenderness and fragility and love and beauty is just collateral damage, more often than not.
It’s like Maude says to Harold: much of the world’s sorrow is from people who are this – this specific flower, this specific human, this specific living thing with all its own peculiarities – who allow themselves to be treated as that – just a field of flowers, of soldiers, where everyone’s the same and no one matters all that much. Well. Anyway. I probably do just think I’m Ethel Merman.
3. I have already watched a trash-barrel made-for-TV movie about princesses and Christmases, and I think that’s about all I can stand this year. No more Christmas movies for me this year, except maybe Die Hard
(and The Shop Around the Corner ). The advertising onslaught began on November 1st, and I just can’t take it. If you want to read about me eviscerating a Christmas movie, go here. If you want me to get you a present, you’d better mean a LOT to me. And let me give you the red hot tip: most of you don’t. So there.