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J.A.A. Purves

Gravity (2013)

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Shout-out to Ken in this piece on InterstellarGravity, science fiction, outer space and the question of God.

 

Improbably traveling to two different space stations, Stone encounters a Russian Orthodox icon of Saint Christopher carrying the child Jesus in a Russian spacecraft and a smiling Buddha statue in a Chinese spacecraft. (Strikingly, the only analogous object on the American space shuttle is a statue of Marvin the Martian — an ironic comment, perhaps, on religiously deracinated Western secularism?)

 
“Interstellar” shows no similar interest in religious themes or iconography — nor, as my friend Kenneth R. Morefield pointed out, in most other facets of human culture and history. It is biodiversity, not music, literature, or art (even popular art, such as Marvin the Martian), let alone religion, that “Interstellar” is concerned with taking into space.
 
The two film’s differing attitudes toward human religion may not be unrelated to their contrasting attitudes toward the Earth itself.

 

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Saw's Ken's post about this on Facebook, and didn't know where else to comment.

I have not seen Interstellar, so I can't offer much in the way of comparison/contrast between the two films, but I thought it was a very well written article, SDG. It reminds me of two more references for further inquiry I'd like to suggest, one is the work of Olaf Stapledon, especially Star Maker (1937), a mindblowing and extraordinarily beautiful history of the universe as seen through the eyes of an astrally projected English agnostic on the eve of World War II. I won't spoil its conclusion, but I will say that even if I don't completely share its ultimate vision, I admire its humane imagination and potent sense of awe. C.S. Lewis hated the ending, but the book as a whole is the prototype for "Man's Place in the Universe" narratives (it was a huge influence on Clarke, and thus 2001) that has never been bested.  To me, it's a more applicable literary reference to the concerns of this essay than Wells.

My other thought is in regards to taking "biodiversity, not music, literature, or art ... let alone religion" into space and that "Coop has made a sort of return journey -- not to his actual home, but to a facsimile" reminds me immediately of Tarkovsky's Solaris, for me the definitive statement on these matters. As Johnson and Petrie put it in their book on Tarkovsky, Lem's book is set entirely on the space station and is essentially a critique of anthropocentric thinking, whereas roughly a third of Tarkovsky's film is taken up by a "lovingly detailed presentation of the natural beauty of the earth that [the protagonist] may be leaving behind forever, and family and personal relationships have a central significance" -- "he even takes with him a box containing some earth and a plant". They also go on to note that "it is in the library, however, with its paintings and other art objects, its fine furniture, china, and glassware, and its books, that Earth becomes most inescapable and Tarkovsky makes it clear that, for truly 'human' values, we must look to the past (Brueghel, Cervantes, Bach) rather than to a soulless future."  And of course, the film ends with the protagonist mysteriously reuniting with his father in a Solarian facsimile of their home, directly homaging Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son.

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