Doctor Mann is one of the great villains in recent cinema. It’s not because he’s evil; it’s because he reminds us of the worst parts of ourselves. Even as I despise him, I can sympathize with his cowardice. I’m a pretty self-aware person. I try to be kind—to do the right thing. Yet I know I’ve done wrong; I’ve been selfish at times. Each of us, in degrees, has created some ugliness. I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have pressed the button.
We all have the potential to go mad as Mann did. However, we’re equally likely to endure like Romilly. There are many factors driving their responses to isolation. Today, I present one: companionship.
In last week’s podcast, I discussed the sentience and humanity of the robot characters. TARS, I noted, expresses concern for KIPP, offering to repair him. “No,” Mann says. “He needs a human touch.” He goes on to quip: “I thought I was alone even before I shut him off.” Mann doesn’t consider KIPP a sentient being. Rather, he’s a bundle of metal to be cannibalized for parts. This dismissal of KIPP as a life form precludes any comfort Mann might find in his company. Thus, he truly is alone.
Waiting 23 years has clearly changed Romilly. He’s quiet and withdrawn upon Cooper’s and Brand’s return. But he’s not insane. He hasn’t abandoned the crew. He’s accepted his circumstance with the utmost dignity. I believe TARS’ presence is a significant factor in that. On earth, they were colleagues. And throughout the film, they share a comfortable rapport. The best evidence for their friendship is Bill Irwin’s tortured delivery of: “Romilly did not survive. I could not save him.” If Romilly regards TARS as a living being, then he’s never truly alone.
What do you think? Does TARS’ companionship keep Romilly from going crazy? What other factors drive Romilly’s and Mann’s responses to isolation?