Interstellar: Team Go Team; Let’s Find a New Planet to Wreck!

WTF is Interstellar?

Interstellar is a sci-fi movie directed by Christopher Nolan, in which Matthew McConaughey and some other randoms fly a spaceship through a wormhole to find a new planet to colonize because Earth is about to give out. In taking on this world-saving mission, he’s forced to leave his kids behind, and they don’t really understand why he’s doing it. One of them grows up to be Jessica Chastain.

That’s all I can tell you without spoiling the plot twists.

Here are some thoughts I had while watching the movie (in order of how important they seemed):

  • I get triple Scene points for watching this!
  • Matthew McConaughey 2.0 seems kind of hot to me, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.
  • I don’t like what Anne Hathaway’s bangs are doing.
  • If I were an actor, and I got to choose, I guess I’d rather have Anne Hathaway’s part than Jessica Chastain’s, but this isn’t really a character-driven story, so I don’t care that much.
  • I wonder if the floor is vibrating because of the sound system, or because I’m sitting too close to the D-BOX seats.
  • I wonder why they call it D-BOX.
  • I wonder if anyone has ever accidentally masturbated to the D-BOX vibrations, like in that Garfunkel and Oates song about go-karts. Depending on what you were watching, that could really fuck you up.
  • Whoa, okay. I didn’t see [plot point redacted] coming.
  • This is a lot like Contact.
  • This is a lot like Sunshine.
  • This doesn’t look as good as Gravity.
  • Yes, sir. Every time you thump your chair backward it hits something. That is my knee. I see you trying to figure this out, but it isn’t a difficult puzzle to solve.
  • Why didn’t I ever watch 2001: A Space Odyssey? I bet if I had, I’d be able to make a comparison to that. Now I’m going to seem ignorant no matter what I say.
  • That little girl they cast to play young!Jessica Chastain really looks like a young Jessica Chastain. That’s cool.
  • I wonder if you can get 2001: A Space Odyssey from the library.
  • Wait, what?
  • I think they managed to conceal the fact that [redacted] appears in this movie. I’m not sure if that was on purpose or not.
  • I can’t really tell who’s who.
  • Oh, that kid from That ‘70s Show is there. It’s nice he still has a career.
  • I think I’ll have soup when I get home… but then I’d have to wash the dishes first, so I don’t know.

I didn’t actively dislike Interstellar, but I felt very removed from what was happening, and less invested in the stakes than I would have liked to have been. I’m also a little bit WTF at the end, but not to such a degree that I want to put in a spoiler cut and discuss it.

What I would like to discuss is this awkward theme that emerges from the movie, where it’s totally cool for us to destroy the Earth, because destroying the Earth is what makes us amazing.

See, it starts at the beginning, where we’re introduced to dystopian future!Earth, and told, among other confusing things, that the history books have changed to say that the moon landing never happened, and that it was a fake designed to make Russia bankrupt itself by pursuing the space program. The reason that this is the new version of truth is that values have changed since a great famine came and civilization started to collapse. People now believe that the twentieth century (in America) was a time of wastefulness and selfishness that ultimately doomed the planet. The dominant ideology has become that people need to work collectively to try to grow food and maintain the Earth, giving up a lot of the technology that was invented earlier on.

There is some confusing, mostly unexplored stuff about how the government determines who will go to university and who will be a farmer, and most people need to be farmers because of the famine. Matthew McConaughey was one of the last people trained to fly NASA spacecraft before NASA was shut down, and now he’s been relegated to farming, because the world doesn’t need more engineers. The early scenes impress upon us that he believes the opposite of everyone else on his planet – that the very things people point to as wastefulness and selfishness, including the ultra-symbolic moon landing and the technology boom that fuelled consumerism, represent the best of what we are as a species.

All of the movie’s heroes believe that it’s stupid and backwards to worry about saving the planet, and that the future lies in investing our resources in finding a new world to wreck.

Hence the plot of the story. NASA is now a secret, underground operation, and they end up recruiting Matthew McConaughey to fly one of their ships into a wormhole to complete a reconnaissance mission. Ten years ago, some other NASA people flew through the wormhole to explore possible worlds that Earth could colonize, and three of them have returned promising results. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, some talking computers, and some other dudes who will probably die are supposed to go to the three promising worlds and check them out, so that NASA will know where to send the rest of humanity. The mission will probably take several years, and Matthew McConaughey’s kids will probably be grown up by the time he gets back.

The rest of the movie is sort of about love, but also about selfishness.

There’s this moment near the start where Matthew McConaughey’s father-in-law tells him he doesn’t like doing the right thing for the wrong reason – in this case, he means that Matthew McConaughey is being a little bit disingenuous by saying that he’s going to fly the space shuttle to save the world – really, he might save the world, but he’s doing it because he feels like he was cheated out of the chance to do the thing he’d trained for, and because he’s always wanted to go to space. Matthew McConaughey’s basically like, “Oh, well. Who cares why I’m doing it?” and that’s the end of that.

Later on, this is presented as the survival instinct, or the will to live. One of the characters tells us that, realistically, we care about our own survival, and we care about our immediate loved ones, but we don’t give a fuck about everyone else. That character isn’t presented in a very positive light, but what he’s saying seems to be more or less true. Matthew McConaughey puts the survival of his children above almost everything else, and Anne Hathaway wants to put her loved ones’ survival above everything else, too. The only character who’s committed to the survival of the human race above the survival of particular humans is presented as being wrong.

On the one hand, this is a very realistic look at a topical issue. The reason we don’t really care that we’re wrecking the planet is because the consequences of doing that are so abstract, and so likely to fall on people who aren’t us. Interstellar captures that sense that, because we don’t have an immediate, personal stake in the outcome, we aren’t as driven to fix the problem as we would be if we or our loved ones were directly threatened by it.

On the other hand, I’m not really sure what this movie is trying to say. Matthew McConaughey is one of several characters who’s really indignant about the fact that people are putting needs like food above technological advancement and space exploration, but… that seems kind of reasonable. It also seems kind of reasonable that people look back on the twentieth century as a less-than-optimal moment in human history, where people (in America) were wasteful and selfish – but Matthew McConaughey is also indignant about that.

The take-home message seems to be that being selfish dickbags got us into this mess, and, by god, being selfish dickbags will get us out of it, too.

There’s no sense that anyone has done anything wrong by destroying the Earth in the first place. It’s treated as though this is a natural evolution – we’ve outgrown the Earth because we’re too awesome, and now it’s time to let our awesomeness take us somewhere else.

(In fact, I was busy thinking about DBOX during this part, but there’s also some suggestion that the Earth was just going to kill itself anyway, because there’s so much nitrogen in the atmosphere or something, so it doesn’t matter what we do and we may as well burn through all the resources we can. This is reminiscent of very specific right-wing anti-environmentalist arguments that basically say, “We’re fucked anyway, so let’s keep going and have faith that we’ll magically save ourselves when the time comes!”)

You can stack this on top of the Batman trilogy as something that gives me the sneaking suspicion that Christopher Nolan and I don’t agree about politics and morality.

Other than that, Interstellar is two parts boring, two parts exciting, and three parts emotionally manipulative – and I don’t find that entirely disagreeable. As I hinted above, it’s like mashing together a bunch of other space movies and making them both more accessible and different enough to be surprising.

I just wish someone had felt sorry for destroying the planet I live on.

Image: Interstellar; Warner Bros. | November 14, 2014