The Needs of the Many

This past Tuesday night some friends and I sat down to watch the science fiction epic, Interstellar. I’d missed it when it debuted last fall.

Have you ever had a movie hangover, where the events stayed with you days after you’ve seen a film? That’s the effect Interstellar had on me. (Inception, a movie by the same director—Christopher Nolan—was another “hangover” movie.) Interstellar was written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (at the right in the photo below) and featured Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.


The science wasn’t the issue. I have A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle to thank for some of my early enlightenment on that score. I also had a really good physics teacher and a science fiction-loving father who indoctrinated my brothers and me early. No, the emotional story caused me to face ugly truths about myself—hence the lengthy pondering.

star_trek_2I won’t give any spoilers though I’m still processing this movie. But I’m reminded of a quote embedded in the following dialogue from another movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), written by Nicholas Meyer and Jack B. Sowards. (Sorry. I can’t avoid a spoiler. You might click here if you haven’t seen this movie and want to know the plot.)

Kirk: Spock!
[Spock slowly walks over to the glass and pushes the intercom]
Spock: The ship . . . out of danger?
Kirk: Yes.
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh . . .
Kirk: The needs of the few.

star-trek-into-darkness-poster-sc-geekIf you’ve seen this movie, or at least the 2013 movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, where (SLIGHT SPOILER) roles were switched, you know the significance of this scene. (END SPOILER.) So I have a question for you, a question also appropriate in light of Easter: What, if anything, would you be willing to sacrifice in order to save lives? Does your answer depend on how many people would be saved? Would the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few for you? I’m thinking of the premise of Interstellar and an agonizing choice one of the characters made early in the movie. (Click here for Wikipedia’s plot review of Interstellar, if you want to know the movie plot.)

While you mull over the questions above, I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure I would choose to do what the character in the movie did, though the need was great. Every selfish intention within me rises up. I’m not proud of this, however.

I’m painfully reminded of the fire fighters who hurried into the twin towers of the World Trade Center to help people during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They did their jobs, knowing that death was a strong possibility as they entered the towers. Many fire fighters and other emergency workers died that day. Their heroic actions still bring tears to my eyes.

Firefighter Fire Fighter Fire

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

It seems hypocritical of me to say that I’m grateful they were willing to do what I would have been terrified to do. It also seems doubly hypocritical if I turn around and blithely make a character in a story take an extremely heroic step that I wouldn’t take if I were in his or her shoes.

Sigh. Sometimes art provides a mirror I want to avoid looking into. But perhaps a long look is necessary in order for me to change.

Click here for a great post at Screen Rant explaining the science and ending of Interstellar. If you’ve already seen Interstellar, perhaps you’ll appreciate this Honest Trailer.

Have a wonderful Easter or Passover!

Interstellar poster from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan poster from Star Trek Into Darkness poster from Christopher and Jonathan Nolan photo from Fire fighter from


41 thoughts on “The Needs of the Many

  1. Haven’t seen Interstellar, but I’m very interested in how it pushed you to confront truths about your nature.
    Wrath of Khan is my favourite Trek movie… so many iconic scenes (including the one you quoted) and timeless themes.

    • Isaac! Hope you’re doing well. I responded to Phillip’s comment with a spoiler, which explains why I would hesitate. If you don’t mind the spoiler, you might read that comment. True sacrifice always causes me to reflect back to my foibles–mainly my selfishness.

      I love Wrath of Khan, which was why viewing Interstellar reminded me of that scene with Kirk and Spock.

  2. Interesting post. In the past I have been spontaneously willing to put my own life in danger for a complete stranger, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about here. Jesus, apparently, died willingly for our sins. Is that the heart of it?
    I think it’s commendable to be willing to lay down your life to ‘save’ other people. But in this story, I like to imagine what would have happened if Jesus HADN’T died on the cross, but was rescued by a guilty Roman or by Pilate and lived a long fulfilling life, winning over many more converts to his non-violent crusade. But as storytelling monkeys, we really do love a grand finale and a thrilling final act. Jesus walking into the sunset just wouldn’t have done and would have led to the fizzling out of a fledgeling belief system and (anti-Roman) peace movement.
    It leads me to one conclusion – that the almighty must be a writer. A pretty good one too. (C’mon, you know that stories are at the heart of everything, especially religions).
    I hope that’s not too ‘blasphemous’ for Easter, as I’m not trying to be deliberately offensive.
    I do know of some eastern ‘religious’ tales where evil is converted rather than destroyed.Where wrong-doers are convinced of the error of their ways and become champions of the people. So, you see, I like a story that contains a message of transformation and redemption in the here and now, via some sort of act inspired by an understanding of personal responsibility. One where people die for their own sins; or for the lack of addressing them.
    I think the world right now needs a new(er) narrative. Or at least a good editing.
    I hope you have a great holiday.
    Peace, love and personal responsibility.

    • Hi, John. I was talking about a plot point in Interstellar, but yes the oblique reference is to Jesus–a story I believe. Yes, I believe God is an author. 😀
      Did you finally go on that class trip? I’ve been waiting for you to email!

      • I know, I’m such an Aspernaut! God (if he or she or it exists) is not only an author but a sic-fi author! I think in all civilisations throughout the universe, and beyond, sentient beings evolve and create stories like Star Trek and Star Wars as part of their evolution and their reach for the stars. It’s like a kind of awakening. From ancient stories about ‘the gods’ controlling us, we progress to stories about discovery of our world and beyond, into space. Whether this takes us closer to the great author or not, I’m not sure. My own feeling is that by comprehending the vastness of time and space we realise that all of our own little stories, which seem so small by comparison, all have a common source and at some point describe, collectively, what some call god. In that universe, rather than be confined by one story, god would be many, many many!
        Anyway,I’m rambling.
        Yes, I went to the school and read to 100 kids. It was fantastic. It really helped me see what I needed to edit from my story! I wanted to give them all a prize, so I donated my fee to the school and was going to throw in your amazon token, so kindly gifted my way… but I forgot. So, if you know someone who would really benefit, please pass it on to them.
        Have a creative weekend.
        And to final answer the question posed by your article – I would die for everyone and no-one. But only if it helped.

      • Wow! What a fantastic turnout. Would you mind coming on the blog to be interviewed about your book? I can give away a copy of it.

  3. I don’t know. I can give a glib answer, or make large, courageous claims, but unless in that defining moment, I cannot say.
    Enjoy your Easter too Linda.

  4. Saw that Honest Trailer, but not the movie. As far as the question, I would say it depends on the situation. I’d love to say that I would sacrifice myself to save many, but I don’t think it would be that easy to do in the heat of the moment. I think the biggest reason is that I wouldn’t want to leave my son fatherless unless it was a really big, save tons of people moment. At least that’s the sense I get from myself. After all, a sacrificial move can only be done once. No repeat performances on that move.

    • You’ve zeroed in on the issue I would have: leaving a child without a parent, especially a child who has already lost one. But my sister-in-law reminded me of police officers and soldiers who have to leave their children to go into dangerous situations. That’s why I found the movie very thought provoking.

  5. I haven’t seen Instellar. Don’t hate me, but I’m not big on science fiction films. Ack…I never even watched Star Trek. I know, I know, I’ve heard it before…I’m Un-American. Wishing you and your family a blessed Easter, L. Marie!

    • Jill, I know many people who aren’t into science fiction or fantasy! So no worries there. 🙂 I hope you have a blessed Easter too! I will have to restock my Skinny Pop supply. 😀

      • I’m watching a Hallmark movie as I type this. Unfortunately, I don’t have any Skinny Pop. The Easter Bunny has failed me so far. 😦 Hope your weekend is better.

      • I watched it, yes! At first I was irritated by it, but then I wound up enjoying it. The thing that irritated me was the fact that the owner of a whimsical bookstore was against having a website and blogging. That made no sense to me. She obviously hasn’t seen the independent bookstores in my area, all of which have websites. So that was a little contrived.

  6. That movie’s on my list, but I haven’t seen it yet. I of course, remember well, Star Trek 2. I love movies that are hard to shake. It’s the tell-tale sign the whole team behind a film has done their job well.

    Happy Easter, Linda!

  7. I wasn’t too fond of Interstellar and thought it OK at best. I’m debating whether it or The Dark Knight Rises is my least favorite Christopher Nolan movie.

    But yeah, I don’t know what I would have done if I were in Matt Damon’s place.

    • SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE ELSE READING THIS COMMENT. I was actually thinking of Cooper as he left his children to head off to space, though his daughter begged him not to go and even he begged himself not to go. I realize this was all a paradox and his going was necessary. I would have trouble looking my child in the eye and saying, “I’m making the choice to go and you may never see me again.” END SPOILERS.

  8. This is a question I’ve thought about a lot for many years, especially when I worked in a Holocaust Studies program, where speakers included the Righteous Among the Nations, those who had risked their own lives to save others. Because of other experiences in my life, I am very much aware of my own mortality, which has only confirmed my belief that there are some things worth dying for. Without having seen Interstellar, I can’t say this is would be one of those cases, but there are times when, yes, I would make that decision and make my death worth something.

    • What a beautiful response. I agree that some things are worth dying for. I’m reminded again of 9/11 where Todd Beamer and others jumped on the terrorists who had taken over their plane. They died heroes. I can only hope that I would make that choice if faced with such a heartbreaking decision.

  9. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to have characters do noble things that we wouldn’t do in real life. We also have characters do terrible things that we wouldn’t do in real life. I don’t know what I’d do in the heat of the moment, but I’ve been thinking about this question because of the explosion and fire that happened in my neighborhood last week. Several people risked their lives to warn the people living upstairs and help some of them to safety.

    • I know what you mean, Lyn. But I know for myself, even if I lack the power to fly into the sun, I need to know that if I could, I would. The same with terrible things my characters do. I need to understand the why behind their actions–to know that I’m just as capable of atrocities as they are. Not that I want to do them–just that I’m capable of great harm.

  10. I love your phrase, ‘movie hangover.’ 🙂
    We, too, missed this when it first came out and is on our list of ‘movie catch-ups.’ Based upon the Honest Trailer, I’m not convinced it would have affected me in such a manner as it did yourself. Clearly there is some deep message in “Interstellar” for you to ponder, and I think it’s good for us to go with the flow of these types of proddings.
    After reading most of the comments, I’d like to chime in with a reminder. If/when such a sacrifice is presented to us personally, I fully believe we are given the grace/strength to follow through to do what we know to do at the time when we need it most.
    Thanks for your own ‘honest trailer’ insight into what you’re grappling with at the moment.

    • Hi, Laura! Hope you’re feeling better.
      Yes, we all face defining moments in our lives. We never know how we’ll respond until those moments come our way. The Honest Trailer truncated the plot to fit with a quick trailer. They didn’t touch on the horrible choices the characters made, where one bad thing after another happened.

  11. I imagine it’s difficult to really predict how we would act in a life-or-death situation (even if we’ve been in one in the past), and from what I hear (from, e.g., books like “Flow”), the actions that people take in those clutch moments feel pretty automatic. One time I was on a rafting trip and a woman in the boat fell in the water. I found myself grabbing her arm and pulling her back in without really thinking about it — I didn’t have time to contemplate whether I wanted to take the risk of also falling in, etc., or at least that was how it seemed to me.

  12. Ooo. Ouch. Tough topic. I really like the idea that I could sacrifice myself for someone, but I’ve never been put in a situation where the possibility even existed, so I can’t say for sure. I DO know that there are situations that scare me enough to make me freeze. It wouldn’t even be a matter of making a choice. I just wouldn’t be able to make ANY choice. Maaaaaybe I’d unfreeze if someone were at risk, but I don’t know for sure. :-/

    Very thought-provoking. 🙂

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