While “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Interstellar” have entertained millions on the big screen, some Yalies have found a new form of entertainment by engaging in scholarly discussions about the two films.
More than 100 community members gathered at the Whitney Humanities Center on Saturday morning for “What a Lovely Day” — a conference centering on two recent films, “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Interstellar.” Although the crowd ebbed and flowed throughout the day-long event, history of art professor J.D. Connor said he thinks the event was successful both in terms of the audience turnout and the diversity in the scholarship on the films that participants discussed.
“I was surprised to see so many people come to a 9 a.m. movie showing,” Connor said. “This was also a chance for us to do real scholarship quickly and in response to recent films.”
The conference began with a screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” — a 2015 blockbuster centering on the conflict between the title character and a tyrant named Immortan Joe — and ended with a screening of “Interstellar,” in which space explorers travel to various planets to assess their potential to sustain human life. The first screening was followed by roughly a dozen short talks by Yale faculty and students on the two films, which discussed themes ranging from the use of computer animation in modern cinema to the human survival instinct in film.
Connor highlighted the decision to combine discussion of the two films into the same conference, noting that he found a number of overarching themes that were common to both films.
“These are movies in opposite genres, at the opposite side of the world,” Connor said. “But the more we looked at them, the more we saw connections that could be drawn.”
The conference featured 16 speakers, including doctoral students, alumni and faculty in Film and Media Studies. One speaker, Cristian Oncescu ’09 ARC ’14, compared the vehicles and interior designs in “Mad Max” with the opulence of Baroque architecture centuries ago in order to highlight the film’s critique of materialism and excess. Debra Fischer, an astronomy professor at Yale, discussed the various worlds explored in “Interstellar” and explained the scientific concepts behind the different climates of each featured planet.
Speakers and audience members interviewed said they found the conference to be educational and entertaining. Slavic Languages and Literature professor and Film and Media Studies chair John MacKay, the conference’s final speaker, said he was impressed by the academic diversity of the speakers and the high-level discourse of the two movies. He added that he learned a great deal about Hollywood culture and production from the talks.
Logan Zelk ’19 said he enjoyed having the opportunity to experience the featured movies as more than just entertainment products.
“Movies are also tools for messages, which morph depending on who looks at it,” Zelk said. “I have been at the conference for the whole day and I am not tired at all.”
Connor said the conference, which was held only four months after the release of “Mad Max,” took an surprisingly short amount of time to organize, adding that such conferences typically take at least a year of planning.
“Normally humanities conferences center around works that happened years ago, as opposed to science conferences,” Connor said. “This conference shows that we can figure stuff out and produce serious scholarship quickly.”