This semester I assigned Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th to my Law and Literature class. While the play’s setting is a courtroom, and the plot centers on the trial of Karen Andre for the murder of Bjorn Faulkner, the central issue was not one of law, but rather of what Ayn Rand called “sense of life.” Wrote Rand, in the introduction to the play:
A sense of life is a preconceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man’s relationship to existence. I emphasize this last because it is a man’s attitude toward life that constitutes the core and motor of his subconscious philosophy. Every work of fiction (and wider: every work of art) is the product and expression of its author’s sense of life. But it may express that sense of life translated into conceptual, i.e., philosophical, terms, or it may express only an abstract emotional sum. Night of January 16th is a pure, untranslated abstraction. (p. 1)
If you’ve read Night of January 16th, you will recall the idea that sparked it: “a courtroom drama, a murder trial, in which the jury would be drawn from the audience and would vote on the verdict.” But, in order to make the verdict significant, Rand made it depend on more than just “disagreement about inconclusive facts.” Instead, it depended on the jury’s judgement about the witnesses’ credibility, which in turn depended on the jurors’ sense of life:
The two sides in the play are represented, on the one hand, by Bjorn Faulkner and Karen Andre, his secretary-mistress who is on trial for his murder–and, on the other, by John Graham Whitfield and his daughter. The factual evidence for and against the accused is (approximately) balanced. The issue rests on the credibility of the witnesses. The jury has to choose which side to believe, and this depends on every juror’s own sense of life. (p. 5)
I recently saw Interstellar, a movie written and directed by Christopher Nolan. I noticed that the ending was similar to The Dark Knight Rises (directed by and screenplay written by Nolan) in the sense that it is possible to dispute what actually happened—i.e., whether what we saw on the screen during the last few minutes was part of the real universe of the movie, or rather something in a character’s imagination.
SPOILERS FOLLOW below the embedded trailer:
So, for example, some have thought that the entire last sequence of Interstellar was merely a “death dream” experienced by the protagonist, Cooper. This article presents evidence for that interpretation. If you have seen the movie, I think you could join me in marshalling an equivalent body of evidence that Cooper does in fact live to see his daughter, Murph, and eventually goes on to live happily ever after with Ann Hathaway’s character, Brand, in another galaxy beyond the wormhole. I’ll leave it as an exercise; feel free to discuss in the comments :)
Similarly, in The Dark Knight Rises, we go from believing Bruce has died saving Gotham, to believing that he’s finally found a way to shrug off the responsibility of being Batman and live happily ever after in France with Selina Kyle (Catwoman—again, played by the fortunate Ann Hathaway :) ). But some believed that the last sequence, in which we see Bruce and Selina enjoying themselves at a table in a French cafe, is merely the dream of Alfred, who always wished such a happy ending for Bruce. And, as with Interstellar, it seems possible to marshall a significant amount of evidence for either interpretation.
I think Nolan, at least in these two movies, has been intentionally planting enough evidence for either interpretation so that the viewer’s judgement as to what happened in the end of each depends on the viewer’s own sense of life. (And this is why I am glad to hear that Christian Bale also believes that Bruce lives at the end of The Dark Knight Rises.) What do you think? Let me know in the comments, below.