Friday, January 9, 2015

The Encounter


Happy 2015! I would like to start off the new year with some Interstellar goodness! I've been dying to talk about this film and I knew I wanted to do an art piece inspired from it that would encapsulate what I got from the film. Interstellar is easily my favorite of 2014; saw it three times in the theater and all in the same week, one of those times was in the IMAX! (Yes. Yes. Yes.) It is a spectacular and beautiful film that hits you hard on many levels (Especially in decibels! Love that organ!). I love Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker and to me there is no filmmaker today who quite understands the art of ideas in film like he does. His Batman Trilogy and Inception are excellent examples of this, and Interstellar follows the same vein. He is able to take ideas and turn them into viable, engaging pieces of poignant imagery in threads of powerful storytelling that make an amazing cinematic tapestry! Must not forget his brother Jonathan Nolan (who's an amazing writer. Person of Interest anyone?) in this either, because it is really them together that make the movies sing like no other. Interstellar is probably my favorite of all their work (so far) simply because it is a science fiction story, and it actually understands what science fiction is as a genre. It is also based on real science. In fact I read on Wikipedia that Jonathan Nolan took a class on relativity while writing the script! That is so cool. So, seeing as I've fallen in love with the science fiction genre, it is only natural Interstellar would be the one. Besides, Michael Caine reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. In space. Um. Yes please!

Why, Matt Damon? Why? 
I won't go into the whole film, since that would be a crazy long movie review, but I want to draw your attention to one scene in the film because it is what inspired my next art piece. One of my absolute favorite scenes in the film is Dr. Mann's entrance into the story and his inevitable betrayal. As we discover, Professor Brand and Dr. Mann knew all along that people back on Earth wouldn't be able to make it off, so they deceived everyone in favor of preserving the human race instead. In this sense they are both the "antagonists" of the story, especially Dr. Mann. However, in the superb slyness of the Nolan brothers, things aren't that clear cut. Dr. Mann is an antagonist, yes, but not entirely. Yes, he turns out to be a coward having gone completely crazy from having no human contact even losing all hope to the point where he puts himself to sleep permanently until Cooper and Co. come for him, yet the essential driving force in Dr. Mann's story is basically what Interstellar is all about. In the scene, as he walks away from Cooper's death throes with unsettling detachment, Dr. Mann asks Cooper if he remembers the poem Professor Brand used to recite, and as the music rises, he begins to recite Dylan Thomas' poem. This poem is crucial in understanding this film, but most especially this scene. In the poem, Dylan Thomas himself is speaking to his father who was dying at the time. He is essentially telling him to not die, to "rage against" dying, to "not go gentle" into death. This is Interstellar which states: "Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here." Rage, rage against the dying of Mankind! And what is even more interesting and telling about this scene is that Dr. Mann's betrayal coincides with Murphy trying to get her brother to leave the farm. I was instantly struck by this compare and contrast. Why were these two events happening simultaneously on screen? In Cooper's storyline, Dr. Mann makes the move towards survival (for himself), betraying the team. In Murphy's
storyline, Murphy is the one who makes the move in survival for her brother and his family, by setting fire to the crops. Murphy is the protagonist, so why is she mimicking the "antagonist" in this way? Because Murphy and Dr. Mann are both motivated by the same thing, survival, yes, but even more than that, a sort of metaphysical "rage" that pushes them to struggle, fight, and strive to not only overcome, but achieve something that is beyond their own limitations. True, Dr. Mann is doing it for cowardly, insane reasons, but that is besides the point, because in the end we know that Mankind not only survives, those from Earth and those who now have a new home on Edmund's planet, but they eventually become extra-dimensional beings that reside outside of space and time! Mankind has raged against the constraints of their inevitable doom and has not only won, but mastered the Universe itself! So, Dr. Mann is only doing, albeit tragically, what the movie exemplifies over and over, which is to rage against your circumstances, against the odds, against nature, against death, against even your own mortal finality, and transcend them. There is a lot more that I could go into on that note, but Dr. Mann's betrayal has shown there is more there than meets the eye. In my art piece, though, I wanted to explore this concept, this idea of the struggle of Man against his environment and his own finite nature.

The Encounter
To begin, I wanted to keep the subject matter rather mysterious, i.e. Who are these figures? Who is the being whom the man is wrestling? Why are they wrestling? Etc, and have certain key items stand out instead. For one, I wanted the violence of the situation to show through, with the jaggedness of the cliff edge and the cosmic event happening in the heavens where some unknown moon or planet is ripping apart. There is an aggressive and fervent unrest in the environment surrounding the figures. Despite this, though, the alien being looks calm, firm, and in control of the situation. His serenity contrasts against all the violence that is around him. The man, on the other hand, is fighting with all his might. His helmet is gone, which shows extreme vulnerability, and he is in a spacesuit which reminds us that he is incapable of interacting with the environment around him directly. In this way, it would seem as if the man is in the weaker position of the fight, and yet he holds the being in his tight grip, the both of them poised upon the edge of the precipice, the world in great unrest around them. Perhaps, then, the man is not struggling in vain. So with these concepts at play in the composition and environmental elements, I wanted to show that all pervasive struggle of man to survive and conqueror that which conspires to keep him in bondage. Then, in taking the concept a bit further, I specifically named this piece The Encounter and I chose an intimate scene of a man pitted against a mysterious being, the both of them alone in a raging universe. I do this to raise the question that perhaps this wrestling is more than just the "survival of the fittest," but a persistent cosmic "encounter" with something greater, bigger, and more glorious than what we could have conceived; a a Something or Someone of whom we interact with in this unwavering and unquenchable violence of our souls, and just maybe this struggle could lead us to a mysterious and an unsearchable Beyond that we are longing for.

Before I end this blog, I wanted to quickly mention that for this piece I was also inspired by retro science fiction illustrations. I've only recently been delving into this realm of art, back when science fiction was on the rise in popular fiction and cinema. True, much of the early conceptualization in science fiction was rather cheesy and limited by technology that had not yet birthed computers and the knowledge of the digital age, but these early works had something that is largely lost in science fiction now a days. They had mystery, adventure, and awe of the unknown, and it shows in their work. Worlds are bizarre, otherwordly, abstract, and just all out strange. The minds of that time were trying to push the limits of their imagination to envision the worlds and universes of the future and that brought out some pretty psychedelic, but wonderful material. I could go into a long rant about the generic and unimaginative conceptual art of science fiction (and all genres) of today, but that is for another day. Needless to say, I wanted to incorporate some of that vintage wonder in my own piece, to capture some of that mystery of an age when space exploration and technological knowledge was just beginning. Here are some examples of of the type of work I am talking about. This is a vein of thought and inspiration that I am going to continue to explore in my own artwork, especially for future projects that I have in mind, so watch this space! As always, thank you for reading.

Don't know the artists of these. So pretty!
Love these images by Frank Frazetta
Dan McPharlin. A modern day artist whose work looks very retro!
What is even going on here? Who knows.

He makes everything beautiful in its time . . . Ecclesiastes 3:11