Solitude: Uncovering the Books Hidden in Nolan's 'Interstellar' Teaser
by Alex Billington
January 6, 2014
What do the books Time's Arrow and One Hundred Years of Solitude have to do with Christopher Nolan's Interstellar? Quite a bit, if their appearance in the first teaser means something. Those who've seen the first Interstellar teaser trailer, on the big screen or online, may have noticed the very obvious bookshelf shot, featuring a little toy rocket and a couple of books that very prominently come into focus. As my mind kept wandering back to the teaser, I wanted to see which books I could find and discover what they mean - if anything. Let's have fun and see what references Nolan seems to have hidden in the first Interstellar trailer.
The first Interstellar teaser is full of historic imagery discussing our desires to explore into space, and how that stopped, but we must continue. It begins with some footage of farmers during the Dust Bowl. Then it shows footage of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier on October 14, 1947 ("these moments when we dared to aim higher"); next they show footage from early Mercury and Gemini NASA programs ("to break barriers, to reach for the stars"); finally Apollo 11 landing on the moon ("to make the unknown known"); then showing Space Shuttle Atlantis (the final launch) and a great shot of a kid with his arms up cheering ("we count these moments as our proudest achievements"). It ends with footage of Atlantis landing in 2011, ending the Space Shuttle program, plus the quote "perhaps we've just forgotten" right before the bookshelf.
As we already know, the Interstellar script was originally inspired by/based in scientific theories by Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne that involve time travel, alternative dimensions, wormholes. It was rewritten by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan before filming. If we're reading them correctly with this teaser trailer, and not being teased by the studio with any tricks, they've highlighted a few key books to read in the footage. The scene comes up at about 1:15 seconds into the teaser, showing very dusty bookshelves with a small toy rocketship sitting in front of them, which is kind of awesome. Here's the shot of the books:
I slowed down the footage and took a closer look at some of these spines and labels, connecting them with existing titles. On the first pass I could identify a total of six books, with a few others that seem identifiable by their spines but I couldn't figure them out myself. I double-checked these titles with a few sites (thanks FSR) and most of them check out, except that they may or may not have anything to do with anything. Oddly I haven't read a single one of them, which is exactly why they're worth taking a look at. Even if it's just to read six interesting and fascinating new books as featured in a Christopher Nolan trailer. They are all highly praised books that might as well be read anyway. Here's the list of books as seen left to right in the frame:
Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale - Published 1983
"Set in New York at the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, Winter's Tale unfolds with such great narrative force and beauty that a reader can feel that its world is more real than his own. Standing alone on the page before the book begins are the words, I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me. In that world, both winter and the city of New York (old and new) have the strength and character of protagonists, and the protagonists themselves move as if in a vivid dream. Though immensely complicated, the story is centered upon Peter Lake, a turn-of-the-century Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young heiress whom he encounters in robbing her house, and who eventually will die young and in his arms. His love for her, and a gift of grace, will allow him after the most extraordinary and painful explorations and discoveries to stop time and bring back the dead. To follow him, his predecessors, his inheritors, and his companions is to experience one of the great stories of American literature." (via MarkHelprin.com)
Martin Amis' Time's Arrow - Published 1991
"In Time's Arrow the doctor Tod T. Friendly dies and then feels markedly better, breaks up with his lovers as a prelude to seducing them, and mangles his patients before he sends them home. And all the while Tod's life races backward toward the one appalling moment in modern history when such reversals make sense."
"The idea behind Martin Amis's latest novel, Time's Arrow, is this: the life story of a former Nazi doctor named Tod T. Friendly is told in a reverse chronology, beginning with his incognito existence in an American suburb in the present and moving back to the days when he was a doctor in the medical section of Auschwitz. The story is narrated by Tod's 'soul,' a curiously naive consciousness that seems powerless to affect Tod's behavior or understand the implications of his actions." (via NYTimes.com)
Ted Morgan's Maugham: A Biography - Published 1980
"Maugham remains the quintessential biography of this enigmatic figure - [W. Somerset Maugham]. The most complete and thorough examination of the life and traumas and adventures that made up the life of the man and the writer. As Morgan states, Maugham is the most popular writer of serious fiction that England has produced since Charles Dickens. Whether that fiction is literature or not remains to be seen by his fans, and by his critics the discussion has been put aside forever. Somerset Maugham is barley mentioned in academia. But Maugham had a genius for story telling and he told more than two hundred of them in his plays, novels, essays and most admirably in his short stories." (via Amazon.com)
Isabel Wolff's Out of The Blue - Published 2003
"Faith, the face of AM-UK's morning weather, is used to delivering the forecast. But this surprisingly unglam celeb is not used to being told the forecast--especially when it concerns her own marriage. After years of wedded bliss, there isn't much about her husband, Peter, that this thirty-five-year old doesn't know. In fact, her quiet family life seems almost too comfy… until a casual remark from Faith's ultra-glam best friend plants a seed of doubt that takes root and strangles all sense of Faith's contentedness. Faith begins to assess everything about her mild-life--snippets of conversation, Peter's surprising new look, the attentions of a handsome new acquaintance and the small fire burning inside her, licking at the possibility that, out of the blue, her life is about to change." (via goodreads.com)
Curtis Oberhansly & Dianne Oberhansly's Downwinders: An Atomic Tale - Published 2000
"Downwinders: An Atomic Tale, a very well written legal and historical thriller, intertwines a contemporary '90's story of the southwest with a bizarre chronicle of Nevada's open air atomic testing from the '50's. When a Utah rancher, his niece and their attorney come to illegally posses highly classified documents from a retired Nevada Test Site manager, the race begins. Can they deliver the 'tell-all' documents, extremely incriminating to the U.S. government, into the hands of downwinder victims without being caught--or killed? And in the midst of trying to reveal America’s secrets, the three begin to reveal their own to each other." (via Amazon.com)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude - Published 1967
"One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction." (via Amazon.com)
So - what does all this mean? What do these six books have to do with the sci-fi plot of Nolan's Interstellar?
One tease could involve a hint that the next trailer might be on the Winter's Tale adaptation, being released by Warner Bros this February 14th. Though that doesn't make much sense, as we'll probably see the next trailer either in March or maybe April/May in front of Transcendence or Godzilla. Plus it's just too obvious. Other straightforward interpretations: these may just be references back to other unique historical events or works/characters/moments that mean something to the story that we have yet to see. The teaser itself is full of various historical imagery already, and this could just be tossing in a few more of those links to explore.
Another theory is that these could just be major or minor hints at various themes and story inspirations in the movie. From the secret atomic program, to a biography about a British science fiction author, to Time's Arrow on a story being told in reverse, and aging, to a few other unique worlds between Winter's Tale and One Hundred Years of Solitude. There's also a great story behind the Downwinders: Atomic book about a Utah rancher who gets his hands on classified documents - possible subplot inspiration? Who knows. The Out of The Blue book stumps most because it's a rather modern marriage drama, which may have nothing to do with the story aside from a random connection like the one mentioned below. Beyond that we're not sure.
The last big consideration is that some of these might be bigger hints, albeit subtle ones, at some of what we'll be seeing Interstellar. One Hundred Years of Solitude may refer to the notion that interstellar space travel can only be achieved with the crew being sent hundreds of years away in a spaceship. But the book itself is a magical realism tale of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town, which sort of otherwise doesn't make much of a connection. There might be some espionage related to Maugham, but it's hard to decipher where stories like Out of the Blue, about a woman named Faith, fit in aside from flimsy conspiracy theories like this one in the found in comments on Variety: "that book was published the same day as the Columbia shuttle disaster, Feb. 1st 2003." Okay, so could it really be that simple of a connection?
Then again, it could just be some fun marketing gimmick the studio tossed in or just set dressing to mess with the fans or eventually connect into a viral game, but as an avid Nolan fanboy, I choose to believe there might be something more to these books. Only time will tell. And with more teasers and more marketing reveals leading up to the release in November, I'm sure we'll begin to figure out more of the plot. Though I have a feeling Nolan is keeping this one close to the chest and not revealing much at all with trailers. Plus I have many friends who have already decided not to watch any more footage until this is released in theaters.
A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. Interstellar is directed by British filmmaker Christopher Nolan, of the films Doodlebug, Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. The cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, Mackenzie Foy and Michael Caine. Paramount opens Interstellar in theaters everywhere on November 7th, 2014 this fall.
Discuss: What do you think these books might mean? Can you figure out any other books in the teaser, especially the one with a mountain next to Solitude? Could all this mean nothing?
Reader Feedback - 23 Comments
Well at least we'll be able to say they were thorough.
DAVIDPD on Jan 6, 2014
It's like Lost again.
Carpola on Jan 6, 2014
God I hope I never watch something like Lost again, all that build up....
Steven on Jan 7, 2014
It was an interesting show, I really liked it, but heap, the ending was was balls.
Carpola on Jan 7, 2014
Time arrow sounds most like Nolan, with the time traveling to save lives thing going on. I think all of these will be significant contributions to the plot. I guess we just wait now :p
Patrick Bullock on Jan 6, 2014
Well done, Alex. It's good to see one interested in books and reading and why a filmmaker would choose to have these specific books in this shot. That's hard to say. While working with Robert Altman on his 3 Women I asked him about the reptilian paintings in the film and what they meant. He refused to answer and said he didn't know and didn't want to know. Interesting reply as I believe he was working from his unconscious imagery and wasn't interested in their meaning. The rest of us could try to interpret what he intended and those paintings were obviously symbolic of the 3 main women characters, but they remain just guesses. I have read several of the books you included from this book shelf shot. Martin Amis is a current favorite of mine and one of the more intelligent and gifted writers still writing today. Maugham of course wrote the wonderful The Razor's Edge about a man's spiritual transformation after experiencing the brutality of war; who turns his back on his rich family and money and their notions of success and failure, travels to India and becomes enlightened of sorts. At the end he disappears into 'the fabric' of humanity driving a taxi in NYC never to be seen or heard from again. Ummm...the spirituality aspect might interest Nolan within his new film. Anyway, Alex, I hope you follow thru and read these books as they all are worth the effort and the rewards are many. Especially 100 Years of Solitude. No one writes like that anymore. Alas...lol...thanks again, Alex.
Bo on Jan 6, 2014
General observation (not criticism): we analyse movies to death before they come out - stills, pre production art, posters, teasers... Then after the film is out, we're all like "Look over there! Another movie is coming!" and move onto the next movie. Apart from the "Now you've seen it, what did you think?" articles, I'm starting to feel like I'm just a battery constantly being charged up, by a hype machine.
crystaltowers on Jan 6, 2014
What did you expect from The Moderns?
Ian on Jan 10, 2014
Enough with the masturbation over Nolan.
Charlie Hard on Jan 6, 2014
Enough with you
Micheal Kinane on Jan 6, 2014
He's just a troll looking at starting a flame war. I would suggest from this point on everyone simply ignores him until he grows up. Everyone has an opinion on Nolan and Alex's article is clearly written as a fan. Some people just like to troll and can't form well constructed observations like crystaltowers.
Steven on Jan 7, 2014
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is there at the end out of focus
Robert Harmon on Jan 6, 2014
Great post. Will have to check some of these out. When I was reading the synopsis of Winter's Tale I realized I saw the trailer for the movie releasing this year starring Collin Farrel and Russel Crowe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3g69QlW2Ts
hawk99 on Jan 7, 2014
That's not dust on the toy, it is ashes. Interesting he used the footage from the doomed shuttle. Maybe the kids watching were the pupils of the Teacher that was on board Columbia.
omegaman on Jan 10, 2014
We always project more onto an auteur's work than even they attended.
Ian on Jan 10, 2014
Two possible clues.. Edgar Sawtelle is on the shelf with its theories on improving the genetics of dogs while the people in Edgar Sawtelle see their own genetic heritage deteriorating... and GHOSTS. OK, and Sawtelle is based on Hamlet. Er, this is getting complicated. Another: I read Nolan specially chose McConaughey for the lead. Why didn't he go with one of the actors he had previously worked with (Bale, Di Caprio)? There must be a clue in the casting of McConaughey. Despite the fact McConaughey's career is blazing hot right now, Bale and Di Caprio have plenty of heat on them as well.
Catscradle on Jan 14, 2014
I def think time travel and/or experiencing other timelines (also thinking of palying with space-time in a weird way like Memento, The Prestige, or Inception) is going to be part of the film, especially with that Winter's Tale reference and of course Kip Throne's work. The 100 Yrs of Solitude reference could just be the work of us all,towards flying and outer space, but would be cooler if the film actually looked at different generations of the character's families (but also could suggest a tragedy and need or will to want to be alone/let alone something this film expressing magical realism) !Thanks for this FANTASTIC look at these books to get our brains jogging!
DarthLocke4 on Jan 21, 2014
McConaghey also starred in Contact, which is a similar take on the issue of alternate universes and timelines. Maybe that´s behind his casting him.
alejandro on Jan 26, 2014
It's about global warming. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
profnickd on Mar 12, 2014
Not from the trailer, but I also saw Stephen King's "The Stand" on the shelf in the movie as well as "Three Cups of Tea." Both relatable to the story and made me consider their meaning before I happened upon this story! Symbolic!
Susan Rice on Nov 9, 2014
I guess it would have been too obvious if they just put all the books the movie stole from, lets start with "Contact, The Forever War, The stars my destination, Gateway, Factoring Humanity" All better stories too.
Simian Droog on Apr 20, 2015
What about the ones from the Tesseract scene? Come on!
King_Anonymous on Sep 4, 2015
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