“The Farthest” – Tribeca 2017 – (by guest blogger, Wendy Moscow)
Few of us have time, as we negotiate our busy lives, to consider our place in the cosmos, or speculate about the possibility of life on other worlds. When we humans, and the other beings with whom we share this living planet, flicker out of existence, who will be left to remember the cry of a child, the plaintive howl of a wolf, the intensity of an Indian raga, or the beautiful complexities of a Bach concerto?
The documentary “The Farthest” addresses this question by telling the remarkable story of the Voyager space missions, whose famous “Golden Records” are carrying our voices, our music, and the sounds of nature into the vastness of interstellar space as a means of preserving our legacy.
But the two Voyager crafts had an important scientific mission as well – the exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. NASA was able to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment to “slingshot” the crafts, launched in 1977, from planet to planet.
Through interviews with the mission scientists, we learn what a heady time it was for these planetary astronomers, who had previously seen those four outer planets as fuzzy blobs in their Earth-bound telescopes. Their enthusiasm and sense of awe and wonder is infectious, and we vicariously experience each revelation anew – Jupiter’s roiling red storm, the rings of Saturn, the crazy-quilt stratification of Uranus’ moon Miranda, and the geysers of Neptune’s moon Triton.
The spectacular animation and exquisite, unprecedented photographs taken by the Voyager cameras not only help us to comprehend the enormity of these discoveries, but also make this film gorgeous to watch.
Though the filmmaker, Emer Reynolds, provides us with the scientific details of the mission, it is our longing (at least among some of us) to know ourselves and our place in the universe that both imbues and floats above the narrative.
The late astronomer Carl Sagan, one of the team members and the person most responsible for the Golden Record, convinced NASA to turn Voyager 1 around as it left Neptune. Here was humanity’s only chance to take one last look at our receding solar system. In the resulting photograph, billions of miles from Earth, we see our planet as a tiny, dust-like speck of less than a pixel, riding a beam of sunlight.
Sagan famously said, during the press conference introducing this now-iconic image, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. (…) On it, everyone you love, everyone you know… every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. (…) To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
And that, ultimately, is this film’s message – as Voyager 1, now twelve billion miles away and beyond the confines of our solar system, carries the best of who we are to greet the unknown.
(The film will be shown on PBS this summer.)