I finally went to see Interstellar this week, just as it’s coming to the end of its run. I didn’t know much about the film before I went to see it, but I do love the work of its director, Christopher Nolan – Inception, Memento, The Prestige and of course one of my all time favourite trilogies – Batman. (We won’t mention his involvement in the terrible Man of Steel though).
Interstellar does not disappoint. In fact, it exceeds, outstrips and blows to pieces my expectations. Don’t get me wrong – there are plot holes in there that are far bigger than the wormholes Mr Nolan takes us through with such visual exhilaration. But boy oh boy – the ride he takes us on is well worth a few dodgy plot lines, and a little bit of clunky dialogue – it is by turns electrifying, terrifying and ultimately I found it euphorically uplifting.
But can this awe inducing cinematic extravaganza really teach us how to cope with the Horroffice? How? What have space and time travel got to do with the mundane world of daily to do lists and unmanageable workloads?
Well – it all comes down to the characters Nolan populates his masterpiece with. Let’s take Cooper – the main man, the stellar space traveller of the title. Cooper has a vision, a dream, a goal. He trained for that goal. He trained to be an astronaut. Then his goal is taken away from him. He toils the dust filled fields of his farm instead. Not quite as fulfilling. And he can’t or won’t let go of his dream. Even when everyone and everything in his world tells him he should.
We also have Professor Brand. A man who has set himself a mammoth mission – to save mankind. It drives him to become the very best he can be, get to the top of his field, and even send his one and only daughter out into the inky black galaxy to try to save the people he knows are slowly but surely being killed by the planet he’s living on.
Finally there is Dr Mann – a scientist who has the not insignificant goal of keeping the human race going by inhabiting and populating a new planet. A man prepared to live and die on this new planet, and never see, hear or speak to another human being from Earth again as long as he lives, in order to achieve his goal.
Pretty lofty goals, I think you’d agree. Goals so big, so full of passion and so strong that failing isn’t an option, you’d think.
I have to warn you that if you haven’t seen the film, I’m about to reveal some plot spoilers – back-up now, watch the film and come back to the article if you need to – you have been warned!
So let’s go backwards in moving forwards – Dr Mann first. He thought he believed in his goal. It was a lofty goal. A huge goal. To be fair, it was actually Professor Brands vision. But the part he was offering to Dr Mann was fundamental in the achievement of said goal. Logically and rationally it was a truly stupendous goal – to save the entire species. But it wasn’t enough. For all its loftiness and importance, it lacked one vital ingredient – love wasn’t a part of the package. I don’t mean mushy soppy lurve. I mean the gut-wrenching, I need to do this or die trying because it is all I care about. all I can think about, all I can dream about kind of love. Dr Mann had actually bought into someone else’s goal, and by the end of the film (or his part in it) we realise that the love he had was actually for the planet dying in another part of the galaxy. The goal was far too big and galactic to keep him focussed when the road ahead of him became as uninhabitable as the new planet he was on. Dr Mann had stopped caring about a place he didn’t love and people he didn’t know. He just wanted to go home. That’s what he loved enough to risk the destruction of the human species for.
But saving the species was exactly what Professor Brand was passionate about. It was what he had dedicated his whole life to. It was what he had dedicated his family to also. At first glance, he was choosing to make the ultimate sacrifice – losing his one and only daughter to an eternity in space, and spending his last days on a dying planet without her. Or so we thought. But actually, what you saw beyond the surface was that Professor Brand had lost hope in his goal. He hadn’t stopped wanting to achieve it, but he couldn’t see a way to adapt, a way to make it happen. And with that loss of hope what he wanted, what overrode everything he did, was not his need to see the human race survive on Earth, but to know his daughter might survive away from Earth. Sending her out there, where there was the tiniest glimmer of hope, was all that was left of his huge lofty vision.
What about Cooper? Well, Cooper had always had a vision and a dream. Then he became a parent. And he had more dreams, but they were centred around his children. He hadn’t lost his old dream though. He was always a space explorer at heart, but added to that was a promise from a father to his daughter that no matter how far into the galaxy he travelled, he’d come back to her. Everything Cooper did out in space, every time he saw what he thought was the end of the line, he found a way to adapt and to cope. Every setback was yet another problem to solve. Because his goal was so full of love that failure was just not an option.
And I think, for me at least, that’s the way Interstellar teaches us how to cope with the Horroffice. It’s about making sure you have a goal in mind that is so strong and so anchored in love for the achievement of it, that failure is just not an option. It’s about making sure the goal you’ve chosen is truly your goal, not a goal others think should be yours. And it’s about taking every setback as a learning, about adapting what we have now to get us where we need to be tomorrow. If all that holds true then we can be sure that we will keep that promise we have made to ourselves, and we can achieve our goals, however outrageously stellar they may seem.