11 December 2014


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.

Where is that in the Bible, you crazy Catholic girl?

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.

Watch the watch

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 the mother is dead the filmmakers portray love as nothing more than a human superpower.

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.

Oh, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Advocate . . .

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


Sheila said...

I would really like to see this movie! I love space movies ... with the caveat that I don't actually believe interstellar travel is possible. The distances are just too vast, and there's no reason to believe we will ever be able to find a way to go faster than light.

So I guess we'd better not mess up the planet we've got then!

Enbrethiliel said...


My own favourite SF movies involve time travel. =D Since the filmmakers share my fascination for the space-time continuum, there's a bit of that in Interstellar as well!

As for whether or not we could travel through time, I'm open-minded. Given the little I know of what we're researchers are doing now, I doubt we'll be able to send more than just apples or mice through time. (LOL!) But I wouldn't shut the door on more fantastic means of traveling through time. ;-)

Sheila said...

Really? For me, the timeline problems alone seem to nix that idea! (And of course there is the argument -- if time travel is possible, why haven't people come back from the future yet to tell us about it?)

DMS said...

I love movies and books that involve space. For some reason I only heard about Interstellar two days ago (maybe because I don't watch tv I have missed the commercials). I really enjoyed hearing your take on the movie and look forward to checking it out. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- How I see it is that the timeline has an integrity to it that we can't just mess with. For example, we can't keep someone from ever being born, simply because that person has always existed in the mind of God, which is outside time. I think that if we ever find ourselves in the past, we will learn that we've always been there--that there was never a timeline in which we weren't there.

There are two YA/MG novels that I can think of which have this understanding of the timeline: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper and So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane. In one of them, some characters who loop back into the past and try to keep their past selves from seeing their future selves realise that they remember the distractions that they are causing. If I recall correctly, the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure also has a similar twist: the characters realise in the future that it was they who did something in the past.

And who says that people from the future haven't come back to our time and told us about it? ;-) Seriously, I think that if they did manage it, they'd be very discreet about it and it would be rare. Not because they'd also be conscientious, but because of the integrity of the timeline. If you weren't there back then, then you won't ever be there--so it just won't be possible for everyone the way regular travel is. But if you were there back then, well, you'll find your way!

Jess -- It seems to be really popular: even my trainees in France and Italy have seen it and enjoyed it! I don't normally tell people to see things now for the sake of being current, but I do think that Interstellar is going to be one of those "2014 things" that we're going to be glad that we experienced in 2014. =)

Star Crunch said...

"This may be part of an older tradition than I know" Perhaps you've already received enlightenment outside the comments, but if not you can go back to at least the 1550's or so with the golem, found among the same folklore as Lilith. More recently, Asimov had a lot of robot stories, some of which I seem to recall being buddy-ish, and I'd be surprised if he was first out of the gate with that sort of thing.

On timeline integrity, I can get behind "always existed in the mind of God" (seems to agree with, or at least not contradict, what Jeremiah is told), though if one did end up altering the future, it seems this would upend the whole chain of contingent events to come, and we would all wind up in different bodies, families, locations, et al. Presumably these come about at least largely owing to secondary causes, after all.

From a Catholic and salvation history perspective, it seems like, with the benefit of hindsight, the devil and his angels would be all over time travel. Either trying to undo the Crucifixion (or the Incarnation itself), or just lingering around on the safe side of history, far away from the final judgment. I figure aeviternal creatures would go about the whole business in a different manner than ourselves, too.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's great that you chimed in, because no one has actually enlightened me! I have heard of golem, but didn't connect them to their robot and android cousins. And well, I haven't read Isaac Asimov beyond a few short stories, although I liked those.

Given that the self is a unity of body and soul, I don't think I could get behind the idea that souls are inevitable but bodies aren't. And the body includes all earthly circumstances: our family identity, ethnicity, nationality, etc. are like larger "skins" that we wear on earth.

Yet I have also been thinking a lot about the Angels and saints being outside time and what that means to us who are inside time. I've been praying for a certain intention for about seven years now and have faith that my prayers will be answered positively--that is, that my patrons have already obtained, through their intercession, a Yes from God. But as for when I will reap the fruits of that Yes . . . I just hope it won't take another seven years! =P

But while I can see a bit of how the Communion of Saints would work outside time, the activities of Angels and demons are a mystery to me. I agree with you that they'd be all over what we call, from our stuck perspectives, "time travel," but I'm not sure what their tactics would involve. Any ideas? =)

cyurkanin said...

I finally saw Interstellar last week so I had to come back a reread your thoughts here. I concur for the most part, especially about love being turned into just another superpower. The first time Matthew McNakedBongoPlayer did this movie, I thought it was much better: Contact.

Star Crunch makes an interesting point about time and Satan that never occurred to me before. Very interesting to think about.

Enbrethiliel said...


Star Crunch is really great at popping out of nowhere, leaving a fascinating point, and then popping away again, as quickly as she came! Perhaps she is a time traveler, too . . .

Something else her comment reminded me of was a story that Father Andrew M. Greeley never managed to write. (I attribute his writer's block on that point to divine intervention.) Something he had always seemed to disagree with (and I say this having read only ten of his novels and what writings by him I could find online) was that certain things in the Church are fixed because they are the best possible things; he thought that a lot of things were simply incidental or cultural, including the Cross. So he drafted a story in which Jesuit-educated Chicago Irish boys travel back in time right before Jesus is to be crucified and prevent it. Later, Jesus manages to die anyway, saving the boys from a sand storm or something--and because it is a laying down of His life all the same, it suffices as the once-and-for-all sacrifice. To Father Greeley, the how of salvation really wasn't important. I would bet, however, that demons--and angels!--would disagree.

And of course I remember Contact, too!