There’s an old, cult classic sci-fi film called Dark Star, written by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (who later wrote Alien). For a $60,000 student film in 1974, it’s very impressive. This is probably where John Carpenter became accustomed to composing his own music for the movies he directed. And O’Bannon acted as one of the main characters, due to the lack of actors.
This is the only sci-fi film I’ve seen that suggests space travel could be miserable and boring. Just like working a horrible day job, they are sick of each other and being stuck on the ship. They get their satisfaction by blowing up unstable planets when they can. One of the crew members has gone a bit looney and sits by himself in a glass chamber, viewing space.
The film has its moments, that’s for sure. They have brought an alien on board, which must be fed and taken care of. The alien is actually a painted beach ball, with some rubber feet.
The squeaks and remarks of the alien are great as O’Bannon’s character tries to capture it after its escape. Their sense of humor is unique. There are a few good laughs to be had from Dark Star.
Near the end of the film, there is a memorable philosophical conversation between one of the ship pilots and a bomb. The bomb is controlled by an AI, which is stubborn about disarming itself, even though it’s stuck in the bomb bay. The bomb is intended to destroy an unstable planet, however there is a malfunction and it must be persuaded not to detonate.
So the lieutenant goes out on a space walk to have a little chat with the bomb. He starts provoking the bomb to consider if its perception of reality is reliable. There are several phenomenology related discussions with the bomb, and it is persuaded to think more about its existence. Later the bomb reaches an epiphany and makes a decision. Below is the scene with the bomb discussion. However, I’d recommend watching the entire movie first; it can be found on YouTube.
It’s interesting how some of the terms used, such as “computing center,” are interchangeable with human related terms, such as “brain.” I appreciate how this film puts a satirical twist on the existential crisis-inducing aspect of questioning reality.
The bomb conversation brings up the issue of objective reality. The world as you see it could only exist inside your mind. Linking together experiences, people, and places does not provide any evidence for an objective reality. Think of how difficult it is to differentiate between dreams and “reality” sometimes. I’ve had dreams in which I’ve lived an entirely different life, full of history, and I’m unable to realize it’s a dream while I’m in it. Personally, I believe there is an objective reality that we have here, but it’s just one form of being.
So how can you be sure that you exist? There is no way to tell that everything happening is real and objective. The argument is irrefutable. It’s a fun thought experiment, and I advise participating in small doses.
Although phenomenology is not the main subject of the film, it’s what the film is well-known for. Anyway, I’d recommend Dark Star to any sci-fi fan with an open-minded sense of humor.