Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interstellar: Last Mohicans and Elysian Fields

I went to the first local screening of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar on Friday, November 7, 2014, at the Cinemagic IMAX, here in southern Maine. It was a visually compelling experience.

(BTW, watch the movie, then read this essay. Spoilers aplenty.)

Seeing it there, on that huge screen, with a great sound system, did remind me of my first viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That occurred when I journeyed to St. Louis, from Carbondale, Illinois, in 1968, to see 2001, presented in 70 mm, at a widescreen theater.

I saw Stanley Kurbrick's film at St. Louis' Martin Cinerama, which was said to have the world’s largest indoor screen, measuring 100 feet on a curve. The two story building attempted to be a “modern movie palace.” It was a wonderful venue to see 2001. Bye bye to the retro Cinerama.

There are many ways to observe and analyze, synchromystically, a cinema event like Interstellar. In the beginning, such an analysis, whether critically inclined or dynamically detailed, is, by its very nature, extremely personal. So seeing Interstellar at an IMAX, of course, did parallel my 2001 experience at the Cinerama.

The word "synchromysticism" was first coined by Jake Kotze in August 2006, on his website-at-the-time, Brave New World Order. Kotze defined the concept as: "The art of realizing meaningful coincidence in the seemingly mundane with mystical or esoteric significance."

How do we do that exercise with Interstellar?

What items in the movie appear to stand out with some connection to other events, fictional or nonfictional. What links to other movies were placed internally on purpose? Or showed up by coincidence?

Which seemingly hidden meanings are to be inferred from names, locations, and incidents that seem to be tied to others? What in-jokes were planted within the movie versus some source beyond our understanding seemingly intervening?

Synchronicity. The justification or the rationality for this type of activity usually involves a direct or indirect reference to the "collective unconscious mind," thus the "synchro-" in "synchromystic," refers to "synchronicity."

"Mystic" = from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.

The notion is that some items in, for example, a motion picture are there by "coincidence," whatever that means.

But part of what must be understood and deciphered are the objects placed there by Christopher Nolan or his brother writer Jonathan Nolan, deliberately, as tributes and homages to others. I cannot read every blog and article about all of these sync objects, but let me share a few items with you.

Much, for instance, has been made about the role of 2001's monoliths in Interstellar's appearance of the robots. But looks from the outside often do not reveal, fully, what is happening in the minds of geniuses.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Interstellar writer-director Christopher Nolan says on this matter:

AP: For their shape, were you inspired by the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Nolan: I think, in its science fiction context, inevitably your mind goes to that — and that's fine by me. Definitely, the spirit of "2001" hangs over the film. It was one of our aspirations to pay homage to that film. It also relates strongly to the architecture of Mies van der Rohe. As we honed in on the idea, I asked my designer (Nathan Crowley), who's a very big fan of modern architecture: What if we designed a robot as if Mie van der Rohe designed a robot? I think he really nailed it.
The Seagram Building is located 375 Park Ave. and 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York and was completed in 1958. This building was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with the aid of Philip Johnson and stands 525 feet tall with 38 floors. The Seagram Building is setback 90 feet from the street and upon completion was the most expensive skyscraper built. (This pewter replica stands 5-1/2 inches tall and is finished in antique copper.) Source: ReplicaBuildings
Even the specific setting of the wormhole in Interstellar is grist for the sync mill.
Cooper..., Amelia Brand [Anne Hathaway], Prof. Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) head towards Saturn (not unlike the voyage the Discovery took in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, switched to Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick’s spectacular cinematic version from 1968). Source.
Saturn is a location for recent science fiction space dramas, perhaps as a nod to Arthur C. Clarke's 2001. In Star Trek (2009), the new re-imagined film, the crew of the USS Enterprise hides behind Titan, using Saturn's magnetic field as a shield, while beaming Captain Kirk and Commander Spock aboard the Narada, which is about to attack Earth.

There are other ways that synchros look at the data. Onomastics or onomatology is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names. The word is Greek: ὀνοματολογία [from ὄνομα (ónoma) "name"]. Toponymy or toponomastics, the study of place names, is one of the principal branches of onomastics. Anthroponomastics (or Anthroponymy), a branch of onomastics, is the study of anthroponyms (anthropos, 'man', + onuma, 'name'), the names of human beings.

So what about the name "Cooper" and "Coop" in Interstellar? Nothing coincidental there, right?

Matthew McConaughey’s former astronaut, now farmer, character (above with an Apollo Lunar Lander) is named Cooper, and he's called "Coop." There's been online discussion about whether Coop's son Tom (Casey Affleck) has named his son "Coop," or is that just a generational skip in the use of "Coop" as a nickname from their last name? Whatever.

Andrew West Griffin (see his review here) asks, now that Interstellar is here, what are to we to make from the name "Cooper" being "used a lot" in movies, television, and so forth? Specifically, AWG says later, "I was thinking [about] Agent Dale Cooper, on Twin Peaks. His willingness to go through the 'door.'"

In Nolan's movie, it may be the reflective factor, just a great name for an American astronaut, right? Or is it about baseball and being one of the last of the Mohicans? Stay with me here.

Time Magazine's senior writer Jeffrey Kluger notes:
One of the niftier details in the script involves the names of Hathaway's and McConaughey's ­characters—Brand and Cooper, the names of real astronauts. In McConaughey's case the name is actually twice resonant, a hat tip to both NASA's Gordon Cooper, whom everyone called Gordo, and to Hollywood's ­Gary, whom people called Coop. The characters in Interstellar address Mc­Conaughey's Cooper in the same abbreviated way, a little wormhole of its own that neatly links the lone commander stepping forward to save the planet in Interstellar and the lone sheriff doing the same for Hadleyville in High Noon.
Cooper, the astronaut without a first name but the nickname of "Coop," flashes back to Gordon Cooper, one of the first American astronauts, who went by the nickname of "Gordo." That's not a coincidence but a conscious choice of the Nolans.

Mercury 7 astronauts: (l-r front) Walter Schirra, Donald Slayton, John Glenn, and Scott Carpenter; (back) Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.

Who can overlook the success of The Big Bang Theory, lead by the humor produced from the dialogue of character Sheldon Cooper?

But looking across the landscape, consider this. Cooper Theaters built the first Super Cinerama in suburban Denver, Colorado in 1962 - where 2001: A Space Odyssey was shown in 1968 - a mere eight miles from the future site of the Century Aurora 16 Multiplex where Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises opening on July 20, 2012, caused a "red dawn" awakening of modern copycat violence. (Image credit.)

Cooper, also, makes one think of Cooperstown, New York, a village in Otsego County, New York. Judge William Cooper purchased the land in 1785, on which Cooperstown now exists. Judge Cooper was the father of noted American author James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Leatherstocking Tales, one novel of which was The Last of the Mohicans. (The phrase, "the last of the Mohicans," has come to represent the sole survivor of a noble race - a notion that might be extended to Intersteller's Cooper.)
Contrary to popular belief, the village was named after Judge Cooper, and not his son. Cooperstown is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball is an enigma in Interstellar wrapped in a riddle, so to speak. There is more to baseball than meets the eye in Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's movie.

The movie, in many ways, uses baseball as bookends. I think it is more significant than most people are realizing.

Blogger Jes (an extra in the red circle above) points out that Interstellar's baseball scene at the movie's beginning was filmed at the Okotoks, Alberta baseball diamond.

"The small town located just [11 miles/18 km] south of Calgary hosted much of the filming," Jes writes.

Okotoks' name is derived from "ohkotok," the Blackfoot First Nation word for "rock." The name may refer to Big Rock, the world's largest known glacial erratic. In 1879, the area saw the killing of the last buffalo, a piece of history that overlaps with Interstellar's dying planet theme. In 2007, the energy efficient planned Drake Landing Solar Community was established in Okotoks, designed to model a way of addressing global warming and the burning of fossil fuels; again with eerily links to the plot of Interstellar.

It seems rather improbable that the Nolans would have known about these kinds of "coincidences," regarding Okotoks, tied to the underlying themes of their script.

I have already written about the Masonic mystical sense of this sport (here); that's a distraction here. But this baseball business in Interstellar has something deeper about which to think.

Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr., a significant figure in Freemasonry, is acknowledged as the "Father of Modern Baseball," in Cooperstown, at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cartwright's team the Knickerbockers had to play someplace, and intriguingly, the "base ball" team found a "roomy spot called Elysian Fields" in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Elysian Fields, or the Elysian Plains, among the Greeks, was considered the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. In Greek mythology, Elysium (Greek: Ἠλύσια πεδία) was a section of the Underworld (the spelling Elysium is a Latinization of the Greek word Elysion).  Elysium is an obscure and mysterious name that evolved from a designation of a place or person struck by lightning, enelysion, enelysios. This could be a reference to Zeus, the god of lightning, so "lightning-struck" could be saying that the person was blessed (struck) by Zeus (lightning).

Scholars have also suggested that Greek Elysion may instead derive from the Egyptian termialu (older iaru), meaning "reeds," with specific reference to the "Reed fields" (Egyptian: sekhet iaru / ialu), a paradisaical land of plenty where the dead hoped to spend eternity.

The 2013 film, Elysium (starring Matt Damon, please note) deals with a luxurious space habitat using this name, above an overpopulated and devastated Earth. No reason Interstellar shouldn't go there again, with the more covert darker meaning of Elysium.

Some (even if lightly) have noticed the significance of baseball in Interstellar. Sean O'Connell, although none of the above is referenced, appears to be going in this direction in Cinema Blend's "Why Interstellar's Ending Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means."

O'Connell, who gets a few things wrong, like the factor of relativity in aging math, does make good baseball points here: 
Cooper’s "reunion" with Murph has several visual cues that call back to the life he led with his daughter – most notably the baseball field outside his window. This was, after all, the place where he took Murph as a reward for her suspension from school. A dying parent might drift back to happy memories of the baseball field, while also wondering what Murph would look like as an older woman.
Maybe. Maybe not. But the baseball fields in Interstellar are certainly more than baseball fields. Are they sort of fields of dreams?

Interstellar is a baseball film dressed in space opera clothing.

"Almost the entire film appears to be an expose' of the struggles of an aging hero searching for his lost youth."

And "there are the several references to the farm that seem to be obvious references to the natural hero tendency that tries to avoid…all the…evils of the civilized society….The farm symbolizes the simple life, the natural life that is free of [compromised] people….It is home."

"It is implicit as well as explicit in this film that youth over aging is a key value."

These are not quotes from reviews of Intersellar. The first two are insights about the film The Natural (1984) and, and the last one concerns Field of Dreams (1989). They are by Gary E. Dickerson from his book The Cinema of Baseball (Meckler: Westport, CT/London, 1991).

Dickerson clears sees these baseball movies as showing the special bonding relationship between fathers and their children; how "heroes were taught the game by their fathers."

In those two films, "Roy joins his son on a Nebraska farm at the conclusion of the film, and Ray joins his [dead] father on the baseball field in Iowa," write Dickerson.

Both of those baseball movies are about farms, fathers, and, yes, basically, time travel. So is Interstellar. It even has the corn. The pinstripes. The baseball.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again but baseball has marked the time. This field, this game is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. ~ Field of Dreams
By the time we reach the end of the movie, we have baseball being played in Cooper Station. That space station near Saturn is named, not after astronaut "Coop," but in tribute to his astroscientist daughter Murphy Cooper, known as "Murph." This sort of reminds me of the naming of Cooperstown, in reverse.

Did you catch that unnamed character serving as a tour guide, showing Coop around Cooper Station and to the house from which Coop watches the ball game? This small but important player was portrayed by Elyes Gabel, who went on to also be the lead character Walter O'Brien on the successful new CBS television series Scorpion. (See my discussion of Scorpion, Room 237, and Apollo 11, here.)

This brings us full circle to the Apollo missions, space and rockets. (It has been a period, during the November release of Interstellar, of intense incidents of green fireballs, space craft mishaps, and other "coincidences.")



Interstellar takes to heart, for the plot, the theories, rumors and all the Room 237 material on Stanley Kurbrick's alleged faking of the Apollo missions to the moon. This Kurbrick "confession" was covertly telegraphed in The Shining, allegedly, and then the Nolans put it right at the start of Interstellar.

Here is one writer's overview of that moment in the Nolan's epic film:
His daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) tags along with her dad. She's fascinated by his stories of the now obsolete space travel and is a budding scientist herself. She's recently been suspended from school for bringing in an old book, which talks about the Apollo space mission. New textbooks have been replaced that debunk the Apollo "nonsense," the teacher tells Coop, because it's common knowledge that the "Apollo mission was faked by the United States to bankrupt the Soviet Union." Source.
Elyes Gabel, after a fashion, is a synchromystic link to the Apollo story that the Nolans could not have forecast.

And what's the production company name at the beginning of Nolan's films? Syncopy.

Interstellar is a cousin of Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy. Literally.

Christopher Nolan's Syncopy was behind Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013). Syncopy was there again for Christopher Nolan's newest film Interstellar (2014), which was released on November 7, 2014.

How much fun is the name Syncopy itself, in the context of Nolan's films? It almost sounds like a combination of synchronicity and the copycat effect. But the mainstream story is the name came about another way.

Syncopy Films Inc. is a British film production company based in London, England. The company was founded by award-winning film director, screenwriter and producer Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas as co-founder. The name Syncopy Films derives from "syncope," the medical term for fainting or loss of consciousness. Okay, that's what the explanation in Wikipedia says.

I'm not too surprised synchromystic folks are interested in yet another Syncopy production.


Red Pill Junkie said...

I found interesting how Anne Hathaway's character was named Amelia. Surely a reference of Amelia Earhart, and very adequate since she's been portrayed in the end of the film (spoiler) as having survived the trip to the Mars-like world where her (dead) fiancee had traveled to. Yet I doubt the Nolans could have foreseen how nee evidence has surfaced which seems ti show Amelia Earhart, like the character in Interstellar, also managed to survive her plane crash, and lived for a period of time stranded on an island.

Johnny said...

Hi Loren--great post. I was thinking along the lines of baseball being a game involving nothing but Newtonian physics which sure as hell in this flick take a back seat to relativity, multidimensional and quantum physics--like the once-mighty NY Yankees now playing some small non-big league town. Also--and I hope someone better at "sync" than I am can further address this--the theme of "broken wheels" appear a few times in the movie--the flat tire, the damaged space station hurtling around, the broken watch (wheel/circle of time). Any relation to alchemy, dream symbols etc?

Andrew said...

Incredible, Loren. For weeks now, I have been trying to decipher a phrase I heard in a dream on the morning of my 42nd birthday - "dopey little tykes, the stalks." After seeing "Interstellar," I feel I'm beginning to put it together, that, and with sync-assistance from this post. Thank you.

Rick Godley said...

I saw the movie yesterday. Have to admit I thought I wasted my time. I also have to admit, I get and love your e mails. That being said, I just spent over 30 minutes, 'linking' (for what it's worth, remember that song by Buffalo Springfield?), linking, a line from Field of Dreams, Terrance Mann, “There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place — and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.” Remembering that there was s Dr. Mann, Matt Damon in the movie....

Finally, to quote another line from a family favorite movie, 'Mickey Blue Eyes', 'There's something going on here Vinny!'

Thanks for all you do.

Blue Gate said...

My favorite picture of the Mercury 7 crew.....why do the shadows cause them to look like angel wings????