Tuesday, March 10, 2015

You Had Me at "Wormhole"

How it really went: book first, then the movie.
In spite of this mass market paperback movie-tie in.

After I saw Interstellar, which I loved, it made me want to reread Contact. (Clearly, Matthew McConaughey was brought in to Interstellar to reprise a similar type of "ruggedly thoughtful" type of character that he played in Contact.) A lot of the things I loved about Interstellar were in Contact: wormholes, black holes, communication, wormholes, time weirdness, connection, wormholes...Clearly, Contact was a major influence on Interstellar. Obviously the filmmakers loved Contact as much as I did, and I was glad I went to see Interstellar in the theater as opposed to waiting until it was available for viewing on a smaller screen. I was heartened when I recently heard an episode of the Cracked.com podcast mentioning Interstellar and Contact together in one sentence, and it was nice to hear someone else musing on this aloud.

What I have NOT done is gone to see what the internet has to say about the relationship between Contact and Interstellar. Without even having to open another window on my Chrome browser to prove this, I'm sure I don't need to. I'm sure I would enjoy reading about this Nolan vehicle being inspired by Contact, but there are only so many hours in the day. Just because I'm inspired to research something in the moment doesn't mean I'm actually going to follow through on it. The laundry needs to get folded.

Before I go any further, I feel it necessary to give a short summary of Contact: extraterrestrials contact earth via radio waves and gives them blueprints for building a spaceship. I don't want to say much more than that for fear of spoilers.

I saw the movie Contact first when it came out, and I read the book afterwards.  I did it in the reverse order of how it came out, although I think Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan imagined it as a screenplay first, before the book was published and before there was a movie made.

I remember when the movie came out, not long after Carl Sagan passed. I was watching Jeopardy and during the final "win a ton of money"  round, the entry was "FOR CARL: name the movie where this appeared at the end." I remember thinking: If only I was on Jeopardy right now, I would TOTALLY win this round because I remember that from that on the screen at the end of Contact. And interestingly, none of the contestants got it. That is the one and only time in my life I can actually say "I know more than the contestants on Jeopardy." It was only that one answer, but still.

I remember reading Contact in the waiting area while my mom had surgery on her lungs while she was dying of cancer. I was up late into the night trying to keep my mind on the book but having a hard time following it. Partially it was because of what was going on with my mom, partially it was because it was the middle of the night, but mostly, I think it was because I don't think I was smart enough at the time to really understand what was going on in the book. The science and math stuff weren't so difficult in the book; it was written to be understood by people with even a rudimentary understanding of astronomy.

My difficulty in understanding it was that I was just out of college, and I didn't have enough maturity to understand the finer themes of the novel, and to really be thoughtful about the social/political/interpersonal material of the book. That being said, I do remember enjoying it very much. But it was probably helpful for my understanding of the book, that I had seen the movie before reading it. My mom passed less than 36 hours after I started reading the book, so the poetic parallel of parental loss that is common with the book was not lost on me, which made the journey of reading this magical book a comfort. You would think that someone would not want to revisit the book they were reading at the time of a parental loss, but this is not the case for me, mostly because of the ways it plays into the both the book and the movie.

The lyrical descriptions of different types of contact in the book are amazing, not just potentially with another race of beings in another galaxy, but also the different types of contact we have with each other, the way we communicate with different types of people in our lives. Get it, like the name of the book is Contact? Why did it take me like 20 years to figure out that the book/movie are not just about contact with other races? Duh. And like contact with each other is important too? Like before we understand aliens from other planets we have to understand each other? Double duh. That's what I'm saying, that I think I had a lesser understanding of things when I read the book the first time.

I love this quote, about being with someone who accepts all parts of another person:

If you're lucky enough to have someone in your life that allows all the parts of yourself out, including the parts of you that are you at different ages and at different stages of development, it can be an amazing experience. I love this part: "Perhaps the depth of love can be calibrated by the number of different selves that are actively involved in a given relationship." YES YES YES YES. I feel like I have different friends I do different activities with (this friend we always do beauty stuff, this friend we always do food stuff, this friend we talk about media and so on), and there are definitely different people that bring out different sides of me. But the people I like the most are the people I can be all things, all times, all my ages, all my emotions, all my selves. I mean, it's not like I'm not my self with the different people in my life; it's just that there are few people who I am all of my selves, the beautiful and the not so beautiful selves of myself. My husband is probably the only one who willingly tolerates all of those parts of me. Sometimes I think we should aim to be better behaved with our significant others, the way we are with friends. It's almost like we expect our significant others to give us a free pass to let even our most entitled/selfish/not so likable parts of ourselves. When we talk about getting in touch with our inner child I know we usually talk about that in reference to an innocent wonder etc etc etc, but I think we sometimes forget that children can also be not so well behaved too. I know that's not quite what this quote is getting at; the idea is hinting at how we can be ourselves at different ages with someone who truly loves us etc etc. But still. I can't help but think of this. I love the part in this quote where being with someone who truly loves you allows you to let the baby talk come out --the only time, with only a particular person with a special kind of intimacy, where that's socially acceptable. Well, I suppose it also comes out when I talk to the cat. The fatter an animal is the more baby talk comes out of my mouth. What the hell is wrong with me?

I love this business about the pamphlets, and The Protocols of the Elders of Ozone. That's a zine waiting to happen.

How can explanations using science not be as awe inspiring? So many people think they can only get numinous experiences through religion. I think it would help people to have numinous experiences through science if science teachers were trained to in art and poetry so they can convey that awe. Wouldn't that make people be more interested in learning about science? For some reason it reminds me of the beginning of Breaking Bad when Walter gets jazzed about explaining chemistry, when they're setting it up so that viewers know he has this sort of awe for the process, so that when he gets into the drug-making stuff later it's sort of a "finding himself" experience.

And yet somehow,  I've taken classes from so many science teachers that are so boring, because they weren't communicating any sense of wonder about the way things work. A good science teacher needs to have the same ability to use language in a way that good literature and writing teachers do. As a student I've encountered so few science and math teachers that actually exist in the mid-brain. It's as if the math-science teachers I've had lack the inherent talkiness that the writing and literature teachers have. So much of teaching is communication, and so many of math-science teachers I've had are not communicators. I know, I know, I sound like an asshole.

I guess that's why Cosmos, both the Sagan-Druyan and the deGrasse Tyson/Druyan versions were so good -- I feel like they both really captured a sense of bewildering awesomeness and numinosity about the universe that make religion almost irrelevant.

OK, OK, I couldn't resist, I just Googled "Contact Interstallar" and there's all sorts of articles. In fact, I didn't even have to finish typing it because the hive mind Google search function filled it in for me: Contact is the proto-Instellar, film face off on IMDB, all that shit. I could easily fall into a WORMHOLE on this one.

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