Interstellar, Queen, and the Difference Between Ripping Off and Stealing.

*Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Interstellar and hate spoilers, it may be too late but leave while you can!*

Back when I was still doing freelance work for the Escapist, coming up with new article ideas was a fun yet challenging process. I had a few mediocre ideas that editors said “thanks, but no thanks” when I pitched them, but that’s all part of the game. You have ideas, you try them out, you see what works, you learn from what doesn’t.

I had a pretty major epiphany about the connection between Queen and the film Interstellar last year, but when I searched the internet to see if others had made the connection I found this site and a number of forum posts and other hits. There’s even a mashup on Youtube that was very well done which I suppose I should just share rather than describe, so here:

That video right there pretty much nails it. From the time dilation effect, to the expedition to outer space to find a planet with resources “in the days when the lands were few”, to the chorus “Don’t you hear my call, though you’re many years away? Don’t you hear me calling you? Write your letters in the sand ’til the day I take your hand in the land that our Grandchildren knew.” It’s right on the nose.

Now, it could be argued that Christopher Nolan “ripped off” the song ’39. He has been accused of such shenanigans before (most notably it’s pretty hard to dismiss the similarities between Inception and the Scrooge McDuck comic “Dream of a Lifetime“). I’m not really looking to rally a mob with pitchforks to storm castle Nolan here, though. I think his approach of taking one particular source of creative expression or another and making it entirely his own is a big part of his genius as a filmmaker.

Pablo Picasso is famously quoted as saying “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Ironically enough, he didn’t actually coin that term, but stole it himself. If Chris Nolan had made a comic book with colorful animal characters about dreams within dreams, or composed an acoustic sci-fi song about time dilation, there would be a problem. But he didn’t take that approach.

“Ripping off”, to me, would be that level of theft. If you plagiarize another’s artistic work and call it your own, you are committing the greatest artistic sin. You are presenting yourself as a creative person without actually doing anything creative. I don’t think that’s the sort of “stealing” that Picasso was referring to, or that Nolan is practicing. The ingredients to a good story are thousands of years old. The tropes work, the formula is effective, but the magic is in how those ingredients are arranged, combined, and presented. That’s where things seem fresh, new and original, even if they aren’t.

Right now, I’m reading “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins, and really enjoying the journey. It touches on the above concept quite well. The sweet spot between stealing with greatness and ripping off with shame is a fascinating subject to me. If you’re looking for an interesting nonfiction book to encourage your own creative ambitions, I’d recommend giving his book a read.

Until next time.