Thursday, 27 November 2014

"Blaze Like Meteors": Interstellar and Dylan Thomas

Star Trails Over NASA by Zach Dischner. Used under Creative Commons license

A few days ago I went to see the new film Interstellar. I'm an enthusiast of Christopher Nolan's films (those that I've seen, which isn't all of them - but Inception is one of my favourite films and The Prestige is wonderful).  

Interstellar is a great big space epic with many nods to the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey but with a gentle approach to the human stories within it, which keeps it intimate. Matthew McConaughey was particularly good. I have to admit that the last half-hour lost me a bit. I'm all for metaphysical Hollywood with a philosophical side, but it just got a bit too weird for me in the final stages. I am still not sure if I ever saw 2001 in its entirety; I remember my family watching it on TV many, many years ago when the ending would have been past my bedtime. And although I was partly beguiled and partly horrified by HAL the computer ("I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going"...and then he sings 'Daisy') I don't think the rest of the film fascinated me that much. Anyway, I later asked my parents what actually happened at the end of the film and as I recall, the answer was "Oh, they just sort of go on out into the universe". I have my doubts as to how well anyone in my family handles space films, arty films, or generally films with weird endings.

Interstellar has made it onto this poetry blog because of Dylan Thomas's 'Do not go gentle into that good night', which features prominently in the film.


On several occasions in the course of the film, the enigmatic Professor Brand of NASA recites lines from this great poem, and it makes another appearance very near the end. I'm not going to give anything away, but depending on the context, the poem becomes either inspiring or rather ominous. To me, Interstellar was in large part about survival - the survival (or not) of the human race, of course, but also: what makes life worth living? What happens to people when they are forced to survive (as in 'outlive') someone they love? Just how far (morally and/or physically) will humans go to survive?

The onward rush of the poem has always seemed to me both joyful and catastrophic, and at the same time, the villanelle form gives it a circling/returning quality. Rather mysteriously, and along with some of the language of the poem, these qualities make it remarkably suited to the theme of space travel - a hurtling rush to the stars, and a sense of being caught in orbit.

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.

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