Recommended, but with caveats.
Let’s get the science stuff out of the way first because this aspect of the film relates to all the underlying editorial. I’ve been watching sci-fi films for most of my life. I’m cool with suspension of disbelief. I do not expect any science fiction to present textbook scientific realism. I like movies with dimension hopping spacecraft, AI robots, transporter machines, alien beings and laser weapons just as much as anyone. I’m not interested in “fact checking” this film. However, Interstellar is presenting itself as a next level science fiction film which supposedly extrapolates from the cutting edge of relativistic physics. Similar to other highbrow sci-fi films like Contact, this is a movie that wants you to learn something and contemplate deep shit while you enjoy mind bending special effects and gazing upon Matthew McConaughey’s dreamy visage. It wants you to feel especially smart and virtuous when you retweet Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The simple truth is that there isn’t a single Hollywood science fiction film which features interstellar space travel that deals in pure scientific fact. In fact, some of the most realistic science fiction films like Looker or Altered States involve no space travel at all and suggest actual scientific phenomena that are much closer to reality such as hallucinogenic mind control and media induced mass hypnosis. This should be self-evident, but it needs to be said in this case especially because Interstellar wants to claim a mantle of scientific legitimacy. Underneath all the CGI whizbang, nearly every sci-fi film is smuggling in some combination of scientism, occult metaphysics or eschatology. That’s especially true of this film. Subsequently, I believe that it’s important to delineate the boundary between speculative leaps of imagination and observed scientific knowledge in order to parse out the underlying agenda. When Interstellar takes its speculative leaps, it’s patently obvious that it’s trying to fill the gap once occupied by traditional theology.
Interstellar is using speculative cosmological phenomena like wormholes, time dilation and black holes because it wants to supplant the traditional notion of a Creator with the gnostic idea that we are our own gods. Much like the hero of the film, it’s using the unresolved clash between macrocosmic gravity and quantum mechanics to transport the idea that gravity, and ultimately love, are physical properties that can traverse the fabric of spacetime. And that if we continue to believe in #SCIENCE, we will transcend the higher dimensions of spacetime and learn to hack the eternal wheel of time in order to send Morse Code messages back to our progeny and save humanity. Like its predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar wants to dispense with the idea of metaphysics and locate all seemingly transcendent phenomena within the physical world and under the purview of “science” and “space travel”.
Cooper: Love, TARS, love. It’s just like Brand said. My connection with Murph, it is quantifiable. It’s the key!
The irony is of course that this film is deeply spiritual, but like just about everything else in cinematic sci-fi, its metaphysics are Hermetic and gnostic. And these are revealed in the film’s symbolism. It’s not an accident that the wormhole through which our heroes travel is located near Saturn, the Lord of Time and Death. It’s not an accident that Cooper’s passage into the tesseract is a hypercube, a four-dimensional analogue of the cube and itself a symbolic reference to Saturn. It’s not an accident that the secret space program is called Lazarus as a gnostic signifier of the conquest of death and an inversion of the traditional reading. It’s not an accident that 12 ships with 12 astronauts were deployed mirroring the 12 Tribes of Israel. Nor is it an accident that the black hole through which McConaughey’s Cooper travels is called Gargantua named after Rabelais’ character of the same name. In Rabelais’ book, Gargantua builds the anti-church, the Abbey of Thélème and its parishioners adhere to one rule: DO WHAT YOU WANT. Needless to say, it’s a dictum which was refined to “DO WHAT THOU WILT” by the individual who actually built the Abbey of Thelema, Aleister Crowley.
Similar to its thematic predecessor and companion film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ideas presented in Interstellar are deeply intertwined in what is now simply being called transhumanism. It is the idea that through scientific gnosis, we will transcend our profane existence and achieve the immortality and godhood that is our one true divine purpose. This is what I believe is the central theme in Interstellar, and it is being disingenuously smuggled into the film under the banner of “science”. Where 2001 presented HAL hastening Dave Bowman’s transformation into the Star Child, Interstellar also features an AI called TARS, an anagram of STAR, which facilitates Cooper’s transition through the cosmic abyss. As Cooper’s wisecracking Alexa assistant, TARS is both physically analogous to the monolith of 2001 and another symbolic black cube of Saturn.
All of my other beefs with the film are byproducts of these basic premises.
Besides all the space travel and highbrow relativity stuff, Interstellar is also a work of dystopian science fiction. The film is set in the 2060’s and humanity is beset by famine, technological retreat, technocratic micromanagement and state enforced agrarianism. Just as we’ve seen in numerous dystopian films, Interstellar is conceding climate change as a forgone conclusion and using that premise as the reason that half the population has been decimated. Whether it’s the Terminator series or the Avengers, mass depopulation is a prominent theme in sci-fi films of every stripe. If we take the case that movies are a form of social engineering, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this is what the global elites intend.
Also worth noting is that the film is set in eastern Colorado. Besides the numerous conspiracies surrounding the Denver Airport, Colorado was where the survivors of the biological agent made their defense in The Stand. Colorado is also featured prominently in the similarly themed dystopian science fiction novel, The Passage. With this additional reference, there can be little doubt that Colorado is very significant to the cryptocracy.
There is no visible animal life and people are forced to farm wheat and corn. This suggests that the vegan agenda has been taken to its fullest conclusion. The government has imposed proficiency test mandates through the public schools which require that the majority of the population enter into agriculture in order to meet the global demand for food. When the very idea of “achievement” or “potential” is the province of bureaucrats, the standards can be manipulated to serve those in power.
History books have been rewritten to exclude space flight because humanity simply cannot afford such extravagance. This is another eyebrow raising moment because the reason spaceflight was purged from the historical record is because it was declared to be hoax. How about them apples? Along with Diamonds Are Forever and Capricorn One, this marks another cinematic reference to the idea of a fake moon landing. This is very clever because Nolan is presenting a dystopian future, so we’re automatically to assume that the world has been overrun by right wing conspiratards who hate science, read the Bible and watch Fox News. But it’s not all bad. When the school administrators deliver the news of Cooper’s children’s test results, we learn that his luddite son is best suited for farming and….wait for it….his DAUGHTER IS A FUCKING SCIENTIFIC GENIUS WHO’S TEST SCORES ARE THROUGH THE ROOF!
Wow. Amazing. Another scientifically adept female heroine who is going to save the world with math and science. How novel. Hollywood just doesn’t write enough strong womyn characters, amirite? It’s not like THIS IS HOW EVERY CONTEMPORARY FEMALE CHARACTER IS WRITTEN NOWADAYS OR ANYTHING. I guess mass depopulation hastened the demolition of the patriarchy. Or something.
Adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain and she’s passable in the role. With the notable exception of the loathsome Miss Sloane, I’ve found her performances in the various films in which she’s appeared enjoyable, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing her play the Strong, Empowered, Intelligent, Heroic Womyn in every goddamn film.
Played very sympathetically by Matthew McConaughey, Cooper is a former NASA pilot and engineer. Except for his Roy Neary-esque decision to fly into the depths of space, he is a positive father figure who teaches his kids to be independent thinkers, function well in the physical world, appreciate the scientific method and be self-sufficient individuals. He’s the kind of father who insists that they know how to change a car tire, but has a healthy enough irreverence for government property that he would remotely down a drone and dismantle it for parts. Of course, he’s just not meant for the farming life. His destiny is among the stars, man! Mirroring the journey of farm boy to star hero that we witnessed in Luke Skywalker and Clark Kent, Cooper is the gnostic Jesus who sacrifices himself so that his Sophia-like daughter can deliver the final salvation.
Roughly analogous to the encoded ciphers presented in Contact and Close Encounters, Cooper finds structure in the perfectly arranged piles of dust that accumulate in their library after a duststorm. As it turns out, they’re coordinates which lead them to a secret NASA installation filled with scientists and engineers hard at work planning humanity’s
extinction interstellar salvation.
The government has imposed dystopian mandates around employment, the food supply and education, yet they are still funneling billions of dollars into NASA programs which are somehow completely secret. This is yet another eyebrow raising moment because it suggests the possibility that there is presently a secret space program. Also, this band of enlightened government scientists aren’t militarized, experience no budget overruns or shortfalls, are rational and pleasant people, and are quietly working on spacecraft which can traverse interstellar distances completely beyond the view of the press and the public. The NASA crew are astonished that Cooper found them and William Devane presses him on how he sussed out their location. Apparently, everyone has been banned from the internet, and since smartphones have been confiscated, no one knows how to read maps anymore.
Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand informs Cooper that there are two plans for saving humanity. Plan A involves cracking the mysteries of gravity which allows the underground centrifuge to get into orbit. Plan B involves sending a crew of astronauts through the wormhole to be an interstellar Noah’s Ark and repopulate the species on a new planet. Because Cooper’s daughter is a scientific genius, she warns Cooper not to go because she can decode the mysterious “ghost” sending Morse Code signals through the bookshelf. Since she’s kicking the asses of her teachers, Brand takes Murphy under his wing so that she may fulfill her intellectual potential and solve the mysteries of gravity.
Depending on how you want to read it, the dystopian future of Interstellar can also be considered super #WOKE. It’s evidence that depopulation finally hastened the intersectional utopia progressives have long sought. The intrepid crew includes token white male Cooper, a smart black dude, another white guy who gets killed really quickly, and Dr. Brand’s smart, capable daughter, Amelia Brand played by an annoying and generally unlikable Anne Hathaway. Cuz the future is female and shit.
The film also broaches the age old question of reconciling individual interest with collective interests. This is one of the great dilemmas ushered in by the Age of Darwinian Scientific Materialism. If all that exists is a material universe full of deracinated, atomized individuals seeking only economic gain, how do you extend a larger concern for group welfare beyond immediate blood relations? I’ll give you a hint. It may involve the threat of impending global catastrophe.
Brand: Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.
Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brand.
Brand: So listen to me, when I say that love is not something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing…
Brand: We love people who’ve died. Where’s the “social utility” in that?
The film ultimately reconciles this and its wilder scientific speculations by positing that love is the unifying force which transcends the barriers of knowledge and science. Sounds a little like faith, people!
Brand: Maybe it means something more, something we can’t… yet, understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some… artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade… who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving… that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet. All right, Cooper… yes… the tiniest possibility of seeing Wolf again excites me. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Apparently, Crowley felt the same way.
“Love is the law, love under will.” The Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley
Not to get too pedantic, but the film’s economics are about on par with Star Trek. Wildly speculative to put it mildly. The film presents not just one, but multiple manned flights through a wormhole which is located near Saturn. This is not a cheap endeavor nor is it one with an economic payoff on the other side. Hard to imagine when half your tax base has been wiped out and people are being conscripted into compulsory agriculture.
Don’t get me wrong. None of these gripes destroy the film. Christopher Nolan is among the most gifted directors working today and his films are so convincing because he works so hard at grounding his films in physical reality.
The visual, musical and thematic allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey are myriad and the comparison is fully warranted. The two films are companions and Interstellar updates the ideas 2001 introduced.
Interstellar is unquestionably a Big Ideas sci-fi film that poses big questions. Some of which it wants you to notice, others less so. It claims to be a movie about Big Scientific Theories, but I suggest that the first question should be “What is the scope of the scientific method?” Sure, it’s has a beautiful rendering of a black hole and the idea of a wormhole is super cool, but have these phenomena ever been observed? Has time dilation ever been observed? Is the scientific method about building mathematical models that fit the theory irrespective of observation? Or is it the other way around? We’ve been getting black holes and wormholes in film for decades now. Part of me thinks Interstellar is just a more grown up version of Disney’s The Black Hole from 1979.
Beyond the “scientific” speculations, Interstellar is also asking big questions about Humanity’s Future. But I don’t think it really wants you to think too hard about what it’s saying. I suspect Nolan simply wants to confirm the fears and concerns that are being amplified in the mediasphere 24/7. According to Interstellar, you should freak the fuck out over climate change and accord unquestioned deference to the space program. Like, DUH. Do you even follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, bro? It’s #SCIENCE, man!
Dr. Brand: Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel.