Dust Bowl and Irish Potato Famine: Analytical Essay on Allusions in History

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As was once said by Robert Swan “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”, and this message prominently appears in the plot of the 2014 feature film Interstellar. This film is set approximately 60-70 years in the future from the year it was produced, and portrays the earth as going through environmental crisis with a global crop blight and frequently occurring dust storms, which can be apprehended as a warning or an insight to what our planet may become if the environment continues to deteriorate due to our actions. In an attempt to save the human race, a NASA physicist called Professor Brand develops a plan to transport the Earth’s population to another planet in a galaxy that can be reached through a wormhole. Professor Brand sends former NASA pilot, Joseph A. Cooper, into the wormhole and across a faraway galaxy to investigate which planets are the most suitable for human life. Cooper’s decision to leave results in Murph, his daughter, developing a sense of condemnation towards him, but their close relationship is what eventually results in mankind receiving redemption for the consequences of their actions. The director of the film Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, has incorporated allusions to historical events, a range of sound effects and the use of various colour palettes to present an environmentalist’s perspective that the world will experience catastrophic events in the future.

Allusions to the historic 1930s Dust Bowl and Irish Potato Famine promote the perspective that continuous fallacious decisions by humans will lead to further ecological destruction. One of the fundamental plots of this film is the global disease 'blight' plaguing the major crops on Earth, resulting in the extinction of common feedstocks and other organisms. This phenomenon acts as the antagonist of the film resulting in humanity being forced to find another planet to habitat. The concept of ‘blight’ acts as an allusion to the Irish Potato Famine, which was a prolonged period of mass starvation in Ireland occurring from 1845-1849 due to late blight, a disease that destroys crops. The Irish Potato Famine is directly referenced through dialogue when Coop and Murph discover the hidden NASA headquarters and are introduced to the underground greenhouse facilities. Professor Brand gestures to the plantations and remarks “Blight. Wheat several years ago, okra this year. Now there’s just corn”, Coop replies that they’re 'growing more corn than ever' but in Professor Brand’s words,

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“Like the potatoes in Ireland…the corn will die. Soon.” At the end of this particular scene, Brand tells Cooper that “the last people will be the first to suffocate” and refers to his daughter’s generation being the last to survive on Earth. This reiterates the seriousness of the disease because after corn, there will be no other food source remaining, and our own atmosphere’s air will be the cause of our suffocation and downfall. The second notable allusion mentioned several times is the 1930s Dust Bowl. The dust bowl was a period of severe dust storms and droughts that occurred in the US that resulted in serious damage of agriculture and ecology and was caused by the poor agricultural techniques of farmers in the early 20th century. In the start of the production, video clips and dialogue are played on old-fashioned televisions and were extracted from the documentary miniseries, The Dust Bowl produced by Ken Burns in 2012. The older citizens being interviewed are survivors of The Dust Bowl and are reminiscing about the conditions they lived through, and the descriptions of those conditions are referenced in multiple scenes through character action and the visuals of the movie, such as the reoccurring dust storms, which gradually worsens as the film proceeds. The Dust Bowl is also directly referenced in the dialogue during the scene where Professor Brand is touring Coop around the NASA facility when he said: “Like the potatoes in Ireland, like the wheat in the dust bowl”. As the potato plants died out in the famine, the wheat also died out for a long period during the dust bowl, signifying that the world of Interstellar is facing these historical events once again but at a global scale. These allusions present the environmentalist perspective on the disasters that result as bi-products of our actions and portrays that the world facing crop failures at a global level and reminiscent of past events that cast shadows over human history.

The addition of non-diegetic sound effects in the form of music has been combined to present a tone of haste throughout the Endurance mission and the scenes on Earth. When the team of astronauts reach the planets they were set out to investigate, there is a dramatic change in the tone of the music. As Dr Brand, Doyle and Cooper reach Dr Miller's world there is silence to describe their isolation, but as the moment of realization that Dr Miller's planet is completely water and a vicious tidal wave is about to envelop them, there is a pulsing sound introduced to signify that time is running out. The music continues to quicken in pace as the wave gets closer to Dr Brand, and percussion music is added. When Murph returns to her childhood home many years later while a fire is spreading towards her house, the same succession of musical sounds repeats to signify that Murph needs to hurry, with an organ melody increasing in pitch as she realizes how to solve the equation for gravity, ultimately ‘saving the world’. Particular non-diegetic sounds have been incorporated in moments of escalated tension and stressful situations to invoke a sense of urgency to save mankind before it's too late.

Through the use of contrasting colour palettes, the film Interstellar depicts humanity’s gradual regression. Symbolic codes in visual narratives, in particular, the colours used, can change the tone of particular scenes. A majority of the scenes on Earth involve a muted colour scheme, as in the opening shot of the film, the crops are a healthy green and the sky is a pale blue colour. In the baseball match, the colour of the pitch is subdued and the sky appears bright blue in the beginning, but as the dust storm emerges the scene becomes dark and the preceding scenes on Earth stay in that dull colour tone. As the years pass by in this feature film and Murph ages, the dust storms get worse, the crops gain a yellow hue and the sky is constantly grey. It seems as though a shadow had been cast upon our planet symbolizing that the Earth will forever be tainted by our actions. The dreary scheme of hues projects the environmental collapse being implemented upon our world.

In Christopher Nolan’s production Interstellar, the visual narrative convention of colour, various sequences of non-diegetic sounds and allusions to significant environmental phenomena have been integrated into the dialogue and plot events of the film. These forms of film language unite to present the possibility of our Earth regressing to the same conditions of the world inside the film if we continue to abuse the planet we habitat. The allusion to specific events that have occurred in the past provides a reference for the conditions humanity will face, and the non-diegetic sounds included amplify the urgency to save humankind which is similar to the perspective of an environmentalist’s need to contribute in protecting the environment. The colours used in the production also set the tone and develop a mood for particular scenes and sometimes foreshadow the events to come later on in the film, while also promoting the foremost perspective of a climate activist. Although science fiction texts provide several stories and theories, in the end, all we can do it wonder what will become humanity in the future.

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Dust Bowl and Irish Potato Famine: Analytical Essay on Allusions in History. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/dust-bowl-and-irish-potato-famine-analytical-essay-on-allusions-in-history/
“Dust Bowl and Irish Potato Famine: Analytical Essay on Allusions in History.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/dust-bowl-and-irish-potato-famine-analytical-essay-on-allusions-in-history/
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