Pras on WorldFilms: INTERSTELLAR

InterstellarAn online piece written by a friend brought back to life thoughts long filed-away in the recesses of my memory. His mention of a poem written a long time ago by India’s poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore “Ekla Cholo Re” (Walk The Road Alone).

Tagore wrote the poem back in 1905, and went on to win the country’s first ever Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

It is a curious coincidence that I am thinking about this poem now, more than any other day.

This weekend I watched Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus INTERSTELLAR. Being a huge and longtime Chris Nolan fan since I watched his ground-breaking films (MEMENTO, INSOMNIA, THE DARK KNIGHT, INCEPTION, others), it was merely a matter of time that I would show up to watch his latest. (PS: No Spoilers Here !).

Its been a while since I watched a Sci-fi film that wrapped physics and the sheer power of story-telling around a core built on poetic sentiment. Read on.

Nolan has an unconventional style of creating his narrative & visuals in films he directs, or writes or produces. There are always deeper undercurrents flowing beneath the actual story playing out on the surface. Much like the century-old sewers that crisscross deep underneath the City of London where Nolan resides, moving huge volumes of waste totally oblivious to most Londoners living on its solid-surface. He also loves to challenge the audience with a cerebral, non-linear storytelling style, often provoking them to keep up with him.

Interstellar proved no different. But this time he had the advantage of added access to a formidable array of conceptual tools with which to weave all his complexity in the story. At the heart of, the film is a story of pioneers who chose to venture out into the ultimate unknown mankind has ever known – intergalactic space. But this attempt was prompted not by a sense of adventure (as most films would like to depict), but by an urgent need. Earth is close to its last gasps,food is running out, mankind is on the verge of doom.

But Nolan had the use of Time, Space and multiple other dimensions to transport our protagonists through. His non-linear style was made surprisingly easier this time around by the knowledge that theoretical physicists often use the concept of bending space & time around certain galactic objects. Something scientists have known a long time (thanks, Albert Einstein), observed in surrogate forms, but have never ever experienced directly. A group of brave scientists & engineers were being asked to now take a journey into that unknown aided only by a theoretical notion that still has many “holes” by way of proof.

Galactic Pioneers The protagonists were pioneers in every sense of the word. They were stepping into uncharted territory. They were surely scared. They were also terribly conflicted about leaving their closest human connections (family, friends, the familiarity of things around them), and to have to make an uncertain promise that they would ultimately return back to them.

THE SCIENCE OF INTERSTELLAR

Christopher Nolan clearly had a lot to draw from in the area of theoretical physics and astrophysics concepts. Kip Thorne ( a renowned physicist) who was also an adviser on the Interstellar project. One of the main themes in Interstellar is that characters can age at different speeds depending on where they are in the universe.

Interstellar Dimensions In 1912 Einstein predicted that gravity is a product of huge bodies, like Earth, bending space-time. What is even more extraordinary is that space is bending into a different dimension. On Earth the effect is minimal, adding just a few microseconds a day to the time of space. Consequently GPS satellites orbiting the Earth need to be adjusted to take into account that they are moving through time slightly more quickly – 40 microseconds a day – compared to a person with a SatNav on earth.

Bending Space The crew of Interstellar’s Endurance spaceship faced a headache when trying to get to Miller’s planet because it is trapped within the control of the huge black hole Gargantua. To avoid being sucked into the black hole, the spaceship had to be travelling at high speed to escape the huge gravitational and centrifugal forces.

“Wormholes” In Interstellar, the crew overcame the vast distances between galaxies by jumping through a “wormhole”. If you imagine the universe is a flat sheet of paper you could travel between two points by moving in a straight line. However if you bend the paper so that the points touch through it, and then make a hole, you can reach that point much quicker. Essentially, a wormhole is where space and time are being bent so that points are now closer together.But Prof Thorne hastens to add: “I doubt the laws of physics permit traversable wormholes. If they can exist, I doubt very much they can form naturally in the astrophysical universe.

THE POETRY OF INTERSTELLAR

We have come to expect science fiction films to create representations that challenge assumptions we have grown accustomed to living in. In that broader sense, Interstellar is no different. What brought out the core sentiment of Interstellar was really a few lines from a Dylan Thomas poem (see below), that were repeated several times in the film. In a way its also the core of what we know as the “pioneering spirit”.

Interstellar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its what led Steve Fosset to attempt the risky balloon-ride across the globe. It inspired Felix Baumgartner to attempt the highest ever jump from a balloon hovering 39-miles up at the edge-of-space. It inspired James Cameron to take that perilous submersible trip 7-miles deep to observe and film the Marianas Trench (the world deepest point in the ocean). It inspired Amelia Earhart to attempt her transatlantic flight back in 1928. It also inspired an intrepid 14-year old Dutch girl Janice Dekker to sail solo around the world in an old unpowered yatch her sailor-dad restored for her. (Her filmed-footage was turned into an amazing documentary MAIDENTRIP). And it keeps people like Richard Branson ticking restlessly with a vision of commercial space travel. Damn the celebrity, full steam ahead.

The poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was published in 1951-52, but couldn’t be more true for these pioneers. Here’s how it goes.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing

Pras on World Films: BERNIE

 

BERNIE” is Richard Linklater’s dark deadpan comedy and true-crime story set in the East Texas town of Carthage in 1996. Bernie Tiede’s story is factual, based on a celebrated Texas Monthly article titled “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” by Skip Hollandsworth. The late Mr. Nugent, apparently a prince of a fellow, owned the local bank. Marjorie took over after his passing and started throwing loan applications into the waste basket and otherwise offending the locals.

Bernie movie posterIt stars Jack Black as Bernie Tiede — a small-town funeral director beloved by nearly everyone in Carthage, Tex., sweet-natured and gregarious, a lover of show tunes and Jesus. Bernie ends up murdering an ornery wealthy widow, Mrs. Marjorie Nugent played by Shirley MacLaine and stuffs her in a freezer, after shooting her four times in the back. Her frozen body stays there for nine months while Bernie spends a big chunk of her fortune, millions of dollars, on assorted good deeds and indulgences, buying the people of Carthage pretty much whatever they want — cars, Jet Skis, airplanes — and pledging a new wing for the Methodist church with hardly anyone bothering to ask where he got so much money.

The script for Bernie was in part dictated from the stand: In a 1997 murder trial in Carthage, Texas, Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede confessed to the shooting of his benefactress, millionaire widow Marjorie Nugent. Tiede, a former mortician 43 years Nugent’s junior, had become her constant companion shortly after their meeting at the 1990 funeral of her oilman husband. Mrs. Marjorie Nugent was 81 when she was murdered, and Bernie Tiede, her constant companion and rumored paramour, was 38. He’ll be eligible for parole in 2027, when he’ll be 69.

Was it her money that attracted Bernie? No one can say. Even after the body is discovered and Bernie confesses to the crime, a lot of people in Carthage are so sure he couldn’t have done it. The district attorney (played by Matthew McConaughey) has to move the trial two counties south just to find a jury that’s willing to convict him. It’s a story about people believing what they want to believe, even when there’s evidence to the contrary. It’s a story about people not being what they seem.

Tiede testified that Nugent kept him on an increasingly short leash as, through the years, Shirley MacLaine in BERNIE_MG_0419.CR2 Photo: Millennium Pictures / SFthe relationship turned to servitude. Following what Tiede described as a breaking-point, impulse killing — four shots into Nugent’s back with a .22 rifle — he hid her body and, already well-established as her public face around Carthage, commenced with uncharacteristic acts of philanthropy, giving away Nugent’s money and becoming a sort of Robin Hood figure in the process.

A Nugent nephew, Joe Rhodes, has come out in The New York Times Magazine confirming the basic veracity of the film’s defaming portrayal of his aunt. She was estranged from her family and was by almost all accounts a sour and unpleasant woman, so in the film’s version of events, Tiede was the only person besides Nugent’s stockbroker who cared to know her whereabouts.

According to Joe Rhodes account  “Aunt Marge wasn’t on speaking terms with anyone in her immediate family when she died. Not my mother, with whom she’d had an ugly falling out over the terms of my grandfather’s will. Not her only child, Rod Nugent Jr., a successful Amarillo pathologist she hadn’t seen in years, or her grandchildren, who sued her over some trust money she wouldn’t let them have. When informed that Marge died, the first thing my Aunt Sue, her other sister, said was, “What a relief.” “Aunt Marge met Bernie Tiede at my Uncle Nugent’s funeral in 1990. Bernie did the embalming. He helped pick out the coffin and the headstone. He arranged the flowers, sang a hymn at the memorial service and escorted my aunt to and from her husband’s grave. He offered her his coat when a chilly breeze blew through the cemetery. She ended up wearing it home.”

Shirley MacLaine as ÒMarjorie NugentÓ and Jack Black as ÒBernie TiedeÓ in BERNIE. Photo: Millennium Entertainment / SF
Bernie is a fascinating character, an assistant funeral director with a way of making everybody feel special. He sings at services, comforts widows, visits the lonely, buys berniepeople flowers and chocolate. He adored doing community musical theater, and whose showbiz aspirations are perfectly channeled by Black’s soaring tenor. He is about the nicest guy on earth, certainly the nicest and most popular guy in Carthage, Texas.He’s also a closeted gay man and not sexually active, but he has a gay essence about him, which Black conveys, but gently. Perhaps his homosexuality is a source of pain, with his evangelical background. Played by Jack Black – this is the most penetrating and detailed work he has ever done.
Shirley MacLaine plays the richest, meanest woman in town, a lonely widow who takes a liking to Bernie, and she starts bringing him on vacations with her. MacLaine doesn’t do the things you might expect with the role. Her way of playing mean here is low-key, inward, disgusted and impatient.
The third strong performance in “Bernie” is that of Matthew McConaughey, as the town prosecutor. It’s a nice character turn for McConaughey, who plays the prosecutor as the smartest fish in a small pond, who thinks he’d be just as smart in a big pond, but we see otherwise.

Linklater, who co-wrote the script with Skip Hollandsworth, tells the story in a documentary style, interspersing straight scenes with interview scenes and “real” people with professional actors, set in the present, in which townspeople look back on the events presented in the film. These interviews, which are lively, feel off the cuff, but they were scripted. They allow Linklater to show a cross-section of the town and to give the flavor of the local humor. That humor is distinctly Southwestern. Linklater creates a vivid, gossipy Greek chorus that serves as a kind of collective unreliable narrator — an altogether appropriate stance given the moral gray zone that Bernie inhabits.

BERNIE:         Directed by Richard Linklater; written by Mr. Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Sandra Adair; produced by Mr. Linklater and Ginger Sledge; released by Millennium Entertainment.Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.

WITH: Jack Black (Bernie Tiede), Shirley MacLaine (Marjorie Nugent), Matthew McConaughey (Danny Buck), Brady Coleman (Scrappy Holmes), Richard Robichaux (Lloyd Hornbuckle) and Rick Dial (Don Leggett).

A scene from “Bernie,” with Shirley MacLaine as Marge, and Jack Black as Bernie, with the real Marge & Bernie on left.