"We are such stuff as dreams are made on." Shakespeare, The Tempest

Monday, February 2, 2015

Interstellar: Being in Love as a Black Hole

As difficult as it is to grasp the nature of a black hole and its all-consuming gravity, Interstellar (2014) also traces the powerful yet mysterious gravitational pull of human love, including that utterly unfathomable condition we know as “being in love.” We fall in love, which is an expression that presupposes gravity. Yet such all-consuming attachment may not even in principle have as its object our species itself. Even falling in love may be dangerous—just look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

“You have attachments, even without a family. I can promise you, the yearning to be with other people is powerful,” Cooper explains to Dr. Mann in the film to justify getting back to Earth as soon as possible. “That emotion is the foundation of what makes us human—not to be taken lightly,” the father of two adds. We are indeed social animals. Yet we don’t seem to be hard-wired to feel an attachment for our species itself, as demonstrated by humanity’s failure to keep global warming from potentially rendering our wise species, homo sapiens, extinct. In fact, the film pits the yearning to be with another person against the species’ very survival, suggesting that being in love is very powerful indeed as well as possibly ruinous to the species.

Brand’s yearning for a man she is in love with places her in a conflict of interest in giving her recommendation on which of two planets to visit. “Love is powerful, observable,” she says. Here on Earth, we know that being in love can lead people to make drastic life-choices that are irrational by any other calculus. A person in love may decide to suddenly walk away from years of work in a field without even a threat of regret in order to be with the other person in another city. A person whose love is unrequited may abruptly change a daily routine or even move to get some distance from the other person. In addition to hopefully being “cured” of being in love with him or her as soon as possible (though time usually takes it time as a thickener of sorts), ending the fierce, unrelenting pain of the rejection is also of high priority. The continued yearning without its object and the hurt from the rejection can be agonizing if the person loves deeply.

Brand describes being in love as being profound. “Maybe it’s some evidence, artifact of a higher dimension we can’t consciously perceive,” she explains to justify her planetary recommendation being consistent with seeing the man with whom she fell in love many years earlier. Love is the one thing we can perceive that transcends the dimensions of time and space. “I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead,” she confesses. It is as if a worm-hole exists between the two souls, rendering their connection as immediate in spite of the oceans of space between them.

Drawing on Kant, I wonder whether being in love distorts both space and time in how they appear to us. The time spent with a beloved passes must quicker, at least initially, than does the time spent apart when the heart yearns to be at one with the other. The area where the beloved lives and works takes on a drastically different meaning and value, both in itself and relative to other places. This special “bump” may even be immune from the waning effects of time due to its own warp.

Finality, such as in the beloved cutting the person still in love off from any further contact and meaning it, is inherently at odds with the love’s innate ability to massage time and space. Particularly a person who falls deeply in love with another person has difficulty in finality at such depth. It is as if the constructed wall violates fate itself, if not the very nature of the love. Yet a person in love can be wrong in sensing fate being at work; the existential feeling in “falling head over heels” in love—that such loving comes out of one’s very core being—is not the sort of thing that a person can turn off (or on). 

To someone who has never been in love, all of this must seem like something in another galaxy. Even to a person who has fallen in love but is not presently in love with the person in love with him or her, it is easy to dismiss the other person’s condition as insignificant or even crazy. It can thus be easy to walk away without any guilt for what the other person is to go through emotionally.

“Maybe we should trust it even though we can’t understand it,” Bland says as she advocates going to the planet where her beloved may still be alive. But should we? If being in love distorts time and space by means of its relentless gravity, then is it wise for other people and the person in love to trust the emotion? He or she may be wrong about fate; the beloved may not be “the one” after all. Indeed, “the one” may actually be cruel, all too comfortable with finality.

Astonishingly, the person in love may still yearn for the underlying good in the other person even as the beloved is bent on inflicting so much hurt that he or she will never have to see the person again. A person in love willing to risk such rejection to work things out demonstrates just how much he or she values love above all else. It is also likely that a person willing to inflict a maximum pain to be rid of such a person forever demonstrates just how little he or she values love itself. Lest it be concluded that a black hole of sorts resides at his or her core being, falling in love may also be quite selfish. Faced with a powerful, relentless yearning for one person, a person in love is hardly unmoved by what he or she wants. Such love, as well as such hate, may not be trustworthy, and may even be dangerous. Perhaps our species would have evolved better had we the ability to fall in love with our species rather than individuals.