08 Feb

Film: Interstellar(2014)

Some thoughts and ideas regarding the film and beyond. Contains opinions and spoilers.

Seeing “Interstellar” on the day the European Space Agency managed to put the lander “Philae” on the surface of Comet 67P, a first in human history, offered a nice contrast between fiction and the realities of human space exploration.

There were a lot of scenes that were intense and touching in a very human way. Central to the story is the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph: When he says goodbye to young Murph to go on the search for a new Earth, with the old being in a process of becoming uninhabitable, I couldn’t help but feel the gravity of the decision. How strong his urge to explore the great unknown must be to leave her like this. Later in the film he and colleague Brand get stuck an hour or so longer than planned on the first ‘future earth’ candidate they have decided to explore, which in turn means that 23 earth years have passed. All the while one lonely guy and a robot have waited for them to return to the orbiting station. Hard to grasp how one would deal with a situation like this. Back on the station Cooper watches 23 years (!) of cached video messages from his daughter, seeing her getting older and reaching his own age. Just for these moments the film was worth seeing.

I have mixed feelings about the last third of the film and was mildly irritated by most of the storyline with Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) as well as Brand’s (Anne Hathaway, solid) monologue about the pervasive qualities of love. The ending after what felt like short 3 hours came rather quick and left everything way to tidy for my liking.

More than once during the film, the thought crossed my mind that Nolan might have aspired to create something akin to Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer also seems to have this inclination. “Interstellar” is visually spectacular, exciting and emotional. It contains strong and moving performances by its cast and offers a lot to reflect about. But its story does not leave a lot of open questions or room for imagination, qualities that I appreciate a lot about “2001”.

The “Oculus Rift Experience” they have created for the film, a virtual tour aboard the films space ship, left me contemplating about the near future of visual entertainment. It also reminded me of the Fermi Paradox:
The physicist Enrico Fermi was puzzled by the fact that we have yet to be contacted by advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. The universe has existed for a reasonably long time and contains a vast number of stars. So where is everybody? Among the numerous hypothetical explanations found in the Wikipedia entry:

“They are too busy online: Once any sufficiently advanced civilization becomes able to master its environment, and most of its physical needs are met through technology, various “social and entertainment technologies”, including virtual reality, are postulated to become the primary drivers and motivations of that civilization.”

I doubt that we have mastered our environment but we do keep changing it in a rather destructive manner. “Interstellar” imagines a possible disastrous outcome: a spaceship Earth that no longer sustains us. The films conclusion: We were meant to leave our origins and look for another place to live. This enraged George Monbiot in his critical article for the guardian:

“Interstellar is a magnificent film, true to the richest traditions of science fiction, visually and auditorily astounding. See past the necessary silliness and you will find a moving exploration of parenthood, separation and ageing. It is also a classic exposition of two of the great themes of our age: technological optimism and political defeatism.”

We have given up in believing in our capacity to make the necessary (political) changes to continue thriving on planet Earth, our most suitable space habitat, our home. Instead we find comfort in the optimistic believe that technology will save us in the end, by innovating us away to a new future on a new planet, in a galaxy far, far away. An endeavour of sizeable proportions. I highly recommend reading Charles Stross’ piece on the perils and overwhelming challenges of reaching out for the stars.

Further reading:
WaitButWhy: Fermi Paradox
The Guardian, George Monbiot: Interstellar: magnificent film, insane fantasy
Charles Stross: The High Frontier, Redux