This post is filled with SPOILERS about two different films so you have been warned.
This past week I’ve seen two movies that, while vastly different in tone, delivered the same essential message — BIG HERO 6 and INTERSTELLAR. I know people are going “seriously, Melinda? An animated light hearted romp and a deeply serious space odyssey? Yes, really because there were so many similarities.
First there was the celebration of science and technology. The idea that bright kids should be encouraged and supported. You have Hiro the brilliant ne’er-do-well wasting his life building fabulous robots and then betting on them in robot fights. His older brother Tadashi wants him to use those brains to improve the world, and entices Hiro by taking him to Tadashi’s “nerd school” where Hiro meets other brilliant kids doing amazing work. Result — he wants to be part of that world. (I can identify. I was the unhappy lawyer who met the writers and wanted to be in that world). At any rate you have a celebration of brains, and study and science. A lovely message in a time when our current Congress is filled with either the willfully ignorant or the truly stupid.
Tadashi’s life work is to create a robot that’s not a fighting mech, or a Terminator, or a Cylon, but instead a physician, a healer, kind and gentle. Tadashi is killed early in the film in what appears to be an accident, and Hiro’s work is stolen. What starts as simply an attempt to recover Hiro’s invention leads to a pursuit of vengeance for his brother’s death. In fact Hiro warps his brother’s creation and also his brother’s memory by turning the gentle Betamax into a killing machine.
He is saved from this path by the intervention of his new friends, and what he ultimately learns is that is brother’s death was caused by a man in pursuit of vengeance for the death of his daughter. Except she’s not dead. She’s trapped in, in essence, a wormhole, and Hiro and his large dumpy robot friend go in to save her. And Betamax does what he was designed to do. he saves and heals, and leaves Hiro with the means to create more gentle healers. It’s just a lovely message. A celebration of connection between friends and family and by extension to humanity at large.
Now we come to INTERSTELLAR. I talk a lot when I give writing workshops about figuring out the theme of a book or a screenplay. I always ask myself — what is this story about? Not the plot, but the heart of the story. What human condition am I trying to elucidate. Interstellar is an example I’ll be able to use in future lectures.
There was a lot of “plot” in Interstellar, and much of it I figured out early — the identity of the ghost for one. But let’s put all that aside and look at the issues that the Nolan’s explored. This was a story about the drive to survive. On the meta level of a species. As a single individual. As a family — to see a bloodline continue. As an individual because you want to see the face of a lover or a child again.
What’s interesting is that the character that personified the drive to save a species, but not necessarily individuals is one dark side to this drive to survive. The Matt Damon character — willing to lie to save himself is another dark side. What the Nolans appeared to be exploring is the idea that finding balance is hard and that sometimes all we have to go on is the human heart — Cooper’s need to see his children again. Brands desire to see her lover again.
I thought the exploration was fascinating and moving and beautifully done.
Other things I also really liked about the film (aside from the stunning visuals) — I loved the fact that The Others were humans who lived in a five dimensional reality and could reach back to their ancestors and communicate. It wasn’t godlike aliens. It was human ingenuity. It was us.
This is where the similarities with Big Hero 6 come in. This film was a celebration of the human mind and human drive and ingenuity. It’s science and technology wedded to the human heart that can solve problems. I loved the little swipe at the push by a certain political segment to warp and bend or outright ignore science in favor of ideological agendas.
I also loved the raw human emotions displayed by the characters. Murphy’s agony over being abandoned by her father. Brand pleading to see her lover again. Her moving speech about the power of love. Cooper needing to fly free one last time and yet feeling like he was abandoning his family. Telling himself it was to save them.
Other kudos — taking up and presenting complex scientific ideas to a general audience. Discussing relativity and black holes. Was it perfect? According to scientists no, but it might spark a young person to want to know more about that crazy physics stuff. And how I envy the power of Chris Nolan that he got to have no sound in space. It adds to the mystery and the majesty. I tried on my little pilot to win that battle. I lost. Another battle I lost was not having a robot in my pilot or at least a robot that was not humanoid in form. Hence I adored TARS and I want one.
My biggest complaint was with the score. I saw it in IMAX, and perhaps the mix was just off, but at points the music drowned out the dialog and I wanted to hear all the dialog. Some of the organ sections were very reminiscent of 2001 and I think that was deliberate, but it was too overpowering.