Okay so this is a more in depth look at Interstellar. If you want the spoiler light version of the review then go to my review on Elementary Politics.
Okay you’ve been warned, spoilers ahead.
So first off you should know you’re watching The Odyssey. Nolan’s movies are all based on a work of literature* and this one is no different. Cooper is Odysseus and he faces many of the same problems. He faces a tidal wave that blows him years off course, one of the crew is tempted by the lotus eaters promise to dream his life away (which is also an Inception reference)**, a fight against a two faced monster and a giant hole in the ground (between Scylla and Charybdis), betrayal (the cattle of Helios), constantly hearing the siren call of home, a trip to the underworld, and a return home only to set off on another adventure. And while everyone forgets this, a good portion of The Odyssey is Odysseus’ son Telamachus searching for his father, but Nolan didn’t forget this part, and has the second main part of this story being Cooper’s daughter, Murphy, in her search for the same answer Cooper is looking for: how to save humanity. There is also a little Heart of Darkness thrown in (and they’re not subtle about this as they use the phrase Heart of Darkness…granted it was technically used to describe a black hole, but it’s really just foreshadowing, which is something Nolan always revels in). The Heart of Darkness aspect comes into play with as Heart of Darkness is all about hearing how great a man Kurtz is for the entirety of the trip into the jungle only to find that he is a raving psychotic…in Interstellar we are inundated with hearing how great, how brave, how intelligent Dr. Mann is, only to find him to be a cowardly moron who doesn’t even know how to park a vehicle properly.
But enough about the literary origins of the story…let’s get to the thematic cores of the film.
This movie, as with all of Nolan’s films has a very strong theme of conservative values that glorifies the individual and abhors the mentality of collectivism.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
The story starts out sometime in the future (an elderly John Lithgow seems to remember the present as his childhood, so this puts it somewhere in the latter portion of the 21st century). The world has been overcome with “blight” a disease that has ravished wheat and other mainstays of food production leaving only corn alive–for now (a lesser director would have used global warming as a reason the Earth was dying, but Christopher Nolan is not a liberal hack). Humanity and innovation have come to a complete standstill and as farm land goes barren it leaves only dust storms to ravish the land. The parallels to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression are unmistakable. And just as in previous depressions we see the progressive mentality to rewrite history to convince people that their lives are only there to serve the greater good (the invention of the 4 freedom in the Great Depression, the malaise speech telling us that collectivism is the only way to survive, the attitude of “you didn’t build that’…all lies designed to make people give up on the nobility of the human individual and their soul)…in Interstellar it is:
Cooper: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?
Ms. Kelly: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines…
Cooper: Useless machines?
Ms. Kelly: And if we don’t want to repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this Planet, not tales of leaving it.
Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called a MRI, and if we have one of those left the doctors would have been able to see the cyst in my wife’s brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she had been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me which’ld be a good thing because she was always the… a calmer one.
This little scene not only shows how the government is more than willing to lie to get what it wants out of people, but also that the best in humanity, our drive to push forward, to reach beyond the confines of what we know. Or to point to an earlier Nolan film, The Prestige, where Tesla points outs:
You’re familiar with the phrase “man’s reach exceeds his grasp”? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.
People, especially liberals, are afraid of the potential of humanity, and as both history and this film show, they will exploit any downturn to destroy the human need to be an individual and strive for greatness…after all “”You never let a serious crisis go to waste” is the liberal mantra.
But in this film it gets worse. In Interstellar it’s not just lying about the past, it’s lying about the future. It’s lying that there is hope for what they call Plan A, the idea they can get the human population off of Earth and into space. Of course this is a lie. There is no such plan…and in tune with the mentality of not looking for the potential of human nature they decided to give up and lie to keep people from panicking. They don’t look for another option, they try for another solution they just give up.
And this leads into the liberal ideology of what justifies this lying. As Caine’s Prof. Brand puts it “We must think not as individuals, but as a species” which are echoed later by Damon’s Dr.
KurtzMann. In fact Dr. Mann talks about sacrificing the people for a greater good and how empathy must be put aside…and all of this villainous talk sounds exactly like the environmentalist wacko’s who want to save the Earth by ending humanity…like Matt Damon. I wonder if Matt Damon realizes that he was effectively hired to play himself to show that his rhetoric is evil. Probably not. But back to theme. We see over and over again from the teachers, to Brand, Mann and even Cooper’s son the mixture of the idea that the individual is not enough, “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us.” being coupled with the defeatist attitude that would allow for humanity’s extinction. The movie is quite clear; collectivism will lead to destruction (just as it did in The Dark Knight Rises and The Man of Steel, just in case you think I’m somehow making this up—Nolan puts a clear hatred of collectivism in his films).
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”
On the other hand we have the individual shown as the vehicle that will save humanity again and again. It is Cooper’s courage and ingenuity that is needed and repeatedly saves the mission. It is Amelia’s faith and hope that allows her to push through and start a new Earth somewhere out there in a far away galaxy without knowing that Cooper will soon be there to help her. And of course it is Murphy who is not only smart enough to figure out the riddle given to her by her father and what humanity will become…but it is very telling that even our future selves believe in the power of an individual, in the mind of a single woman to save humanity. Even while in the Tesseract TARS expresses doubt in the ability of one person to solve the problem, and Cooper very clearly points out that it is possible for a single person can solve the riddle…but Cooper echoing his belief in the potential, shows that an individual person as a bridge and an individual person as a scientist have the potential to save humanity. And this is especially poignant given that Murph was set by her school to be nothing but a farmer and by Prof. Brand to be nothing but a failure…or again in Nolan’s words from another work that apply quite well to Murph, “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?” They can save everyone, as we see over and over again in Nolan’s films.
But what allows all of these individuals to be, is a strong connection to family. I have to say that Nolan is a rarity in literature of any kind, a writer whose main characters all have healthy relationships between parent and child (honestly, show me an author who has a good relations between a parent and child as those between Thomas and Bruce Wayne, Alfred Borden and his daughter, Clark Kent and all of his parents, Cobb and his children, and now Cooper and Murph. Most works are filled with angst and tension between parent and child, but refreshingly not Nolan). Now I point this out as a conservative theme because it does show the correct attitude to family that is so often lacking. Social “conservatives” (or as I like to call them Progressives for Jesus as they are not conservative in the least and would love to have a big government to enforce their own Christian of Sharia) have this perverted view that life, society, existence itself begins and ends with the family. The point of marriage, sex, society is only to have children, raise them, and repeat the cycle. You should notice that this hopelessly dull view of existence is basically the one shared by people like Prof. Brand who only is concerned with saving humanity in the sense of it’s genetic material…but we see in Interstellar a much more conservative view of the family not as something just designed to repeat a cycle but as a vehicle to achieving human happiness. Cooper is first and foremost concerned with his children developing as people, not just surviving but living. And this contrasts with his son’s myopic idiocy and Brand’s lying to his own daughter Amelia and his more or less adopted daughter Murph. The villains of the story are only concerned with keeping their family intact as if the status quo is the only thing to worry about, they have no concern for the quality of life, only the quantity—a typical liberal perspective.
And the bond that connect family is of course love.*** Love is at the heart of this film. While the individual is paramount for this story, it is the love between individuals that ties people together. Nolan never quite crosses into the realm of the spiritual in his films, but be it the nature of the dream in Inception or price of a soul in The Prestige, the spiritual is always hanging around the edges of his movies, gently influencing the theme (like hanging out behind a bookcase). And here it becomes even more present than in any other Nolan film. Love is seen to be like gravity in this film a force that transcends the laws of relativity and quantum mechanics (which is actually how thought seems to relate to physics…and to equate thought to love can’t just be a complete coincidence in a movie written by Nolan, a writer director/writer so careful with little details like this). Love is vindicated as had they made the choice from love that Amelia proposed they would have succeeded without losing anyone else. And love is the force that the future of humanity uses to save it’s own past (which suggests that unlike every sci-fi vision of an evolved humanity, we have not left love behind but rather come to a far greater understanding it…if that’s not a spiritual message, I don’t know what is).
And if that isn’t enough, there is of course the central theme of the greatness of America (the nation that puts the individual and family at the forefront). As always in a Nolan film America is shown for all its greatness…in this film it is no different. We see that the people we are supposed to hate are tearing down the greatest moment of American history, namely that we walked on the moon. We see the quintessential American pastime, baseball, being something loved by Cooper and Murph but also the sport that we take to space with us. And of course take a look at the last scene, a scene about hope and adventure, where Amelia has set up a second Earth and we are left to imagine the future that she and Cooper will create on this new world…the last scene is of Amelia’s recently set up camp with the America flag center of screen blowing in the wind.
A final question what is it with cornfields? Field of Dreams, Signs, Interstellar, Children of the Corn…Nothing ever comes out of a wheat or barley field…why is it always corn?
*Batman Begins is The Aeneid, The Prestige is Faust, The Dark Knight is Othello, Inception is the story of Theseus and Ariadne in the Labyrinth, The Dark Knight Rises is A Tale of Two Cities. Even Man of Steel which was written and produced by Nolan is at its core an attack on Plato’s Republic.
**On two viewings I have noticed references to Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 2001, Stargate, and Star Wars. I’m fairly sure another viewing or two will reveal Star Trek and
***Just wait until I show that the central theme of each of the last seven Nolan movies has each movie tied directly to one of the four cardinal virtues or three theological virtues.