Interstellar February 11, 2015

I had been eager to see Interstellar for some time, and finally managed to see it in the IMAX theater at the Indiana State Museum on the last day that it was showing there. Spoilers ahead!

INTERSTELLARThe film is quite a masterpiece in terms of its realization, its depiction of space and of other worlds (comparable with Gravity, for those who’ve seen it, but it also has a very 2001 feel). But it is also quite marvellous in its exploration of humanity’s future, managing to be both dystopian and utopian in certain respects. It envisages a situation in which crop after crop is failing and most humans are required to be farmers because of the situation. Corn is the one crop that is still thriving, but it cannot do so indefinitely.

There are several moments in the film that particularly struck me. One is when we learn that the approved textbooks teach that America faked the moon landings. The rationale behind it – that Americans need to believe that their government did not waste money on “useless machines” – makes the point well that what seems acceptable history depends not just on facts and data but ideology and context and usefulness.

Another is the discussion of whether nature is evil. One character suggests that it can be frightening and formidable, but it is never evil – even when it brings about the deaths of living things.

The idea is explored that love might transcend dimensions and give us a glimpse of some higher, future, transcendent mode of existence.

There is plenty of religious imagery, sometimes very explicitly, as with the Lazarus project, and one astronaut who, when brought out of cryogenic suspension, says that they literally raised him from the dead.

And ethical issues are explored, once as a character lies about his work to save humanity, another time as a character lies about his data to save himself.

interstellar_voyage-wideThe movie connects with a chapter I am writing for a volume about Star Trek and philosophy. It is about the humanist theology of Gene Roddenberry, and explores (among other things) the extent to which his idea that humanity in the future becomes God and, in some sort of temporal loop creates itself, is reflected in the show.

In Interstellar, the biggest reveal late in the movie is that “they” (the beings that provided a wormhole for humanity in order to be able to find a new planet where we can live) are us. How that can make sense in terms of time travel paradoxes is no less puzzling than in any other case. Unless humanity survived to transcend time and space, then how could we send back a means to our own salvation in a time of desparation? But that issue is less of a complete plot disappointment than it might first seem. It might well be that humanity did survive anyway, through terrible struggles and suffering, and sent back a path that would spare more lives and help us reach that same goal, but with a smaller cost in human suffering and death.

The movie is one of the first in a long time to really get the viewer excited about the prospect of human exploration of strange new worlds. In that sense, as well as perhaps in its humanistic theology, I think that Interstellar comes closer to the utopian vision of Star Trek than any recent film or TV story in the science fiction genre for quite some time.

I thought the ending felt abrupt and hurried, even though it was almost three hours in the arrival. The movie didn’t seem long at all. But having Cooper leave so quickly to try to reach Brand, ignoring the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that he had only just discovered that he had, seemed implausible. Some indication that he had stayed to get to meet them, and then set off, would have seemed more plausible. But that’s a mere quibble about a film that I found deeply satisfying and at times inspirational.

What did you think of Interstellar?



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  • Michael Wilson

    In Cooper’s defense, all that family must seem pretty abstract since he thinks only a few days have gone by when he finds out about them. The woman lost for decades is a recent memory for him.

  • Michael Wilson

    What di you think of the critique that the movie attacks those that revile technology in favor of the natural?

    • I don’t think that’s a critique. The notion that we live better by sticking with what is “natural” ignores that plague, pestilence, and disease are “natural.”

      • Neil Carter

        I think there’s something germane in the way mans related to machines in the movie, highlighting the differences between the way a human would make decisions and the way a machine would. It surfaces three or four times. I want to do a post of my own soon about that and tie it to how we make decisions as a civilization.

  • friendly reader

    I thoroughly enjoyed “Interestellar,” as did my dad when I dragged him to it with me the next weekend, both as a suspenseful adventure and as a thought-provoking science fiction piece.

    I took the “love transcends time” far more metaphorically than most people seem to have. The film sets up a lot of dichotomies between explorers vs caretakers, optimism vs pessimism, love vs mere survival extinct. I think the film isn’t arguing so much that love is a physical force that *literally* transcends time as a HUMAN force that connects people regardless of where/when they are – one that is necessary for us to take the risks and follow the hunches that will help us advance as a species. The Bulk Beings need two people who love each other in order for a message to be sent and understood within the limitations of their apparatus. Likewise, Brand’s love for Edmunds didn’t make her any less right that planets around a black hole are most likely sterile (and I understand why she got so upset with Cooper in that scene – she’d previously backed him up when Doyle accused him of letting his love for his family interfere with the mission, only to have Cooper do the same to her).

    As to how the technology works, to me, the film does Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law *right* for once: technology from thousands of years in the future will look like magic (not that it will be the same as magic, ala “Thor,” or that current magical ideas are just advanced technology, ala a lot of new age writers). Or as Neil DeGrasse Tyson put in his video explaining the movie, “Nobody knows what goes on inside a black hole, so take it and run with it.”

    So yeah: a Romantic (big “r”) vision of space travel and humanity’s future. Not perfect (Mann’s dialogue with Cooper was too on-the-nose, unlike you I felt the ending actually dragged, and the first time you see it, the visual of the Bulk Being’s construct is so…*weird* that I understand why it lost a lot of people), but “Interstellar” is yet another Nolan film that made me feel, made me think, and is really sticking with me. I liked it, and I’m glad you did too. 🙂

  • TrevorN

    I thought it was a great two hour movie. I felt let down by the final half hour.

    • friendly reader

      Okay, since I have you here right now, can I ask you a serious question? How would *you* have had it end, given everything already set up in the movie to that point? I’m just curious, because I didn’t see the clear disconnect/disappointment that obviously a lot of people have.

      • TrevorN

        The “just in time” meeting up of the returned Cooper and the aged Murphy, and Cooper heading out again and catching up with Amelia was all pure sentimentalism, a way to tie up every single loose end with a smile. I think the movie would have been better without it. I didn’t mind seeing Amelia making a go of it on the last planet; showing that Cooper’s great leap of faith had not been in vain. We needed to see that, but Cooper didn’t.
        The difference isn’t insignificant: it’s the difference between Cooper performing a great act of self-sacrifice which has a possible payoff for humanity, versus Cooper taking a big risk which saves him too.

        • friendly reader

          Ah, okay, I can understand feeling that way, but maybe I’m a bigger sucker for sentimentalism, because I didn’t mind it so much. 😀

          (What I don’t get are the people who really hate the entire final act, I’m still hoping to get an answer on that at some point).

  • Timothy Weston

    I saw the movie over Thanksgiving weekend. I saw it as an homage to “2001” and “The Black Hole”. Most of the science is right as well. The ending seemed overextended.