Twelve Things about Interstellar
12. The whole point of this movie is space exploration, but I find the backstory of the earth equally fascinating. We're not really supposed to question the arrival of the dust storms and blight that are devastating the world's ability to grow food--both because they're stand-ins for "global warming" (which is untouchable) and because they're meant to be a Macguffin, anyway--but there's more to this future/alternate universe than nature going haywire. This is also a world in which a student gets in trouble for bringing in an old textbook that contradicts a new "corrected" version's assertion that the Apollo moon landing had been a massive hoax to trick the Soviets. I would have liked to spend more time wandering around there, Sliders-style. (Oh, have you seen my Sliders "episode guides"?)
11. The little that we do see of this world is wrapped up in the experiences of a single family--but not in the two-dimensional sense that has been the death of many a modern cinematic epic. (I was positive about this trope in my review of 2012, but its Curtis family is a cartoon caricature next to this film's Cooper family.) That is, this isn't "Save the family, save the world," but more like "Save the world, save the family." Which happens to be more theologically correct.
In any case, that's how one character spins it to the father, who must be convinced to accept a mission that requires him to leave his children and possibly never see them grow up. But if he doesn't do it, they will die of either starvation or suffocation, when the earth finally gives out--for it won't be long before that happens.
10. If you're wondering how the mother feels about this, well, here's the part that first made me want to write this post: she's dead.
As dead as Mother Earth will be!
9. As for the stepmother figure (Yeah, here I go again . . .) she is unbelievably unappealing--characterisation so bad that it's got to be intentional. Her severe hairstyle is not merely a nod to the "androgynous woman in space" trope: she looks like a boy because she might as well be a boy, for all the romantic chemistry that she has with the father.
Which is . . . interesting . . . considering that their mission is to find a planet that can be a new home for the human race. Can you imagine an Adam and Eve with no sexual attraction to each other? (Maybe she's actually Lilith--LOL!)
8. I guess that's all right, though, because there's a backup plan. As Victor Frankenstein could tell you, there's more than one way to make babies! =P But as a trainee of mine pointed out, it's incredibly short-sighted to store up thousands of frozen embryos and then send them off with one woman to be a potential mother. (LOL, right?!) Perhaps the script mentions a way of gestating all of them artificially, but that would have been during the exposition, which was as boring as it was bright-eyed, so it's no surprise that neither he nor I remembered it.
So now you see that Interstellar is also less "Save the world, save the family," than "Save the world, screw the family." The good news is that the family fights back. But do they win?
7. While the Adam and Eve of cutting-edge science aren't also cutting it in the ways that truly matter, the Cain and Abel of the slowly dying earth do a better job with what they have to work with--though I also think that Interstellar sells the tiller-of-the-soil older brother awfully short for the sake of the earth-space dichotomy. Of course, the twist here is the shepherd-of-flocks Abel gets to be a girl!
6. It would be so easy to go overboard with all the allegorical connections. I've already deleted whole paragraphs about Noah and Moses. But it's also easy to over-think stuff and to see meaning that's not really there. Perhaps Interstellar is less Salvation History than extra-intelligent Space Tropes. I mean, it does have a robot/android sidekick.
The sarcastic TARS is such a cliche, and yet I'll bet everyone loves him. We've been suckers for artificial intelligence since at least the first Star Wars movie. This may be part of an older tradition than I know, in which case I await enlightenment by dear Noel.
5. There are also other solid literary connections to make. For instance, Interstellar is clearly a send-up of Peter Pan: this time, it's Mr. Darling who gets to fly off and stay young while Wendy grows old.
He gets to do it only because Mrs. Darling is dead. (That's so important.) But he's also a "type" of Peter Pan himself, and the scene in which he looks through a different sort of window and sees "another little boy sleeping in [his] bed" is as heartbreaking for him as it was for the original Peter.
In happier news, it's fantastic to know that there is a scientific explanation for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys never aging! =D
4. Code breaking is fun, but not all codes are created equal. Inasmuch as the main themes of Interstellar are salvation and love, it really does point to Salvation History, in which the "Great Men" were all types of Christ and the "Great Women" all prefigured Mary. Any good story inevitably reflects the truths of reality, though not all storytellers are equally aware of what they they have on their hands. And so the most frustrating thing about Interstellar is that
3. But who can blame them? We've already turned flight into a human power by building airplanes and rockets--and we're all optimistic about refining space travel and someday being able, like the characters, to go "faster than a speeding bullet." Who needs faerie dust when you have science?
More impressive than the superpowers on the screen are the superpowers that brought them to the screen: indeed, no one can properly review Interstellar without gushing over the technical details. The acting is wonderful, the visuals are breathtaking, and the music and sound are something else.
I finally understand why another trainee of mine got really twitchy when I admitted that I'd watched certain other films at home on a tablet, with earphones, in afternoon sunlight. LOL! And for the first time in a long time, I'll have some horses to bet on in the next Oscar race! The view from this pinnacle of achievement is awesome . . . and soulless.
2. The legions of philosophical materialists who are currently highly entertained on earth will disagree with me when I say that a Godless universe isn't worth exploring--though that's not even my main point, so never mind. The view of space doesn't interest me half as much as the point from which we view it. And believe me when I say that it changes everything that we are gazing out into the stars from the spot marked by the mother's grave.
By "mother," I mean both the character whom we never see and the earth itself. Basically, Interstellar is selling the premise that earth is some random rock that just happened to meet the conditions necessary to support intelligent life . . . which is like saying that a mother is a random organism who just happened to meet the conditions necessary to gestate an embryo. (And now it occurs to me that there are a lot of people saying that.) Well, now that earth is becoming uninhabitable, a new random rock and random gestating organisms must be found or artificially produced. As if the only reason to care for this planet is that we don't yet have the means to live somewhere else. (I'll let you figure out the implication about mothers on your own.) Personally, I prefer the obligation to be a steward of creation . . . but that's just meaningful, non-materialist me.
1. Having said all that, it would be a huge challenge to infuse faith in a Personal God into a story like this without being either preachy or trite about it. Interstellar already takes a big risk by explicitly stating that love is the one thing that transcends both time and space--and this makes for the most awkward bits in the movie. I do believe that something more can be done . . . but I must await the advent of a filmmaker with greater superpowers than mine before I can see it.
Image Sources: a) Interstellar poster, b) Dust, c) Father and Stepmother, d) TARS, e) Father and Daughter