Every decade has at least one sci-fi movie that takes place in space, which will be remembered for ages, like Kubrick’s 2001 Odyssey in Space from the 70s, Aliens in the 80s, Contact from the 90s, but in the time from the year 2000 – 2014, there is a gap. There is no remarkable sci-fi film present (GRAVITY happened recently, so we can’t know if it will be remembered for a long time). Screenwriters seemed to run out of ideas, because every sci-fi flick, which is being made, is placed either on earth or in some kind of alternative reality. The same thought came to CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S mind. That is why he wanted his new movie INTERSTELLAR, to be a feast for sci-fi fans. It’s filled with references from CHRISTOPHER’S best-sci-fi-movies-of-all-time-list. The story in INTERSTELLAR is simple. Humans have no food and a handful of explorers are going into space to find a new home, so humanity can survive. Millions of moviegoers raved through every single frame they saw in the IMAX theater, while other millions of film enthusiasts left that same movie completely cold. It’s baffling how Christopher Nolan fans turned skeptics, after they witnessed how he managed to upgrade blockbusters by making them ‘smart‘.
QUENTIN TARANTINO:’ It’s been a while since somebody has come out
with such a big vision to things. That’s almost something you expect
from Tarkovsky or Malick, not a science fiction adventure movie.’
There is a ton of controversy surrounding this picture, since it’s filled with so much exposition. Every sci-fi-thing needs to be meticulously explained for the audience, in order to understand what the hell is going on. Instead of complaining about exposition, one has to pay attention to the things that are not being explained. NOLAN is a sneaky director. When your attention is on the one side, something else is happening on the other side, just as Michael Caine explained it in THE PRESTIGE (Christopher Nolan, 2006.). So, what is Nolan trying to hide?
Every main character in NOLAN’S films is somehow a damaged personality. Leonard in MEMENTO (2000.) has a short term memory, after an incident where he lost his wife, Will Dormer in INSOMNIA (2002.) can’t sleep after he accidentally shot his partner, also Bruce Wayne in BATMAN BEGINS (2005.) is scared for life after he loses his parents and Cobb, from INCEPTION (2010.), is emotionally unreliable after he loses his wife. It is safe to say that every character lost a part of themselves after losing their loved one. COOPER (Matthew McConaughey) lost his wife, because doctors failed to have the right equipment, so they could find a cyst in her brain on time. Moviegoers can’t recognize any signs that he is somehow traumatized by that event, but he is.
He was a pilot for the Nasa, who had a wife and two children. Somewhere along the way, the dust kicked in. People abandoned cities, so they can move to a farm and breed corn to survive. The COOPER family did the same thing. They moved in with his father DONALD (John Lithgow). Then two bad things happened in a relative small time-frame. His wife suddenly died and he had a crash, which cost him his dream job. Now, he is at home with his father and children, growing corn and feeling miserable 24 hours a day.
SIGNS THAT COOPER IS STUCK WITH HIS PROBLEMS
1. THE NIGHTMARE
He had a nightmare about the most depressing thing in his life. Surprisingly, it wasn’t about the death of his wife, but it was about the crash he experienced, when gravity turned on him.
2. NEW WIFE
DONALD tells COOPER to be nice to MURPH’S teacher, because she’s still single. COOPER tells his father to mind his own business. Two things are apparent from this dialog: firstly, it has been a long time since COOPER’S wife died and he should move on, and secondly, COOPER still loves his wife, he isn’t thinking about dating or moving on. If you take a closer look at his fingers, you can see that he still wears the wedding ring.
3. EVERYDAY LIFE
COOPER lost his wife some time ago, so he is the parent who looks after the kids. It seems like he can’t get the hang of it, because DONALD has to tell him to go to school for a parent-teacher meeting. His reaction to it was as if he experienced a shock. That is not the problem, but when they arrive at the school, COOPER’S first question is:
‘So, how does this work? Do you come with me?’
He doesn’t know, because he is not that involved with his children. He loves his children with all his heart, but he doesn’t really know them. During the meeting, he was stubborn enough to get MURPH suspended and that is not a very smart move for a parent, which seems to be all about knowledge.
4. HIS DREAM JOB
COOPER’S talk to DONALD on the porch, gives insight to his dreams and hopes. Before that, the audience witnessed how COOPER, in order to get that Indian Air Force Drone, destroyed acres and acres of corn that somebody had a tough time planting in order to survive. He is reckless and when something connected to science appears, he gets all mushy and behaves like a child, which is about to open his Christmas presents.
DONALD: ‘You’re the one who doesn’t belong.
Born 40 years too late or 40 years to early.’
He hates farming, but loves flying, he still thinks about his lost job and he is disappointed, that people don’t realize how important science is for humanity’s survival.
‘We’ll used to look up in the sky and wonder at our
place in the stars. Now we just look down and
worry about our place in the dirt.’
Later on, in the movie, we see that science indeed saves humanity. It seems like NOLAN is criticizing, how movies in the last decade concentrate more on portraying dystopian futures on earth, rather than exploring the possibilities in the galaxy. Therefore, when the opportunity came to leave earth and explore other possible planets as potentially new homes, COOPER was more than willing to except the mission.
5. REDEEMING HIMSELF
This movie is about a man, who feels disconnected from reality and when he realizes that he lost everything, he tries to redeem himself by trying to save humanity. When you follow his parenting, you will establish that COOPER is very bad at it. After visiting Miller’s planet, he plays the recordings of his son during his absence. He starts to cry, because he realized that this time is gone. He can never have it back. He was a bad father then, now he’s a even worse one. The only thing left for him is to finish the mission he started, so he can at least save his children. However, when he realized there is no way to get back home, the only thing left is to help DR. AMELIA BRAND (Anne Hathaway), so she can start the colony, by sacrificing himself. He drops himself into the Black Hole and there he doesn’t die, but redeems himself by sending the equations to MURPH through the bookshelf inside the tesseract.
THE TRUTH AND THE LIES
DR. BRAND (Michael Caine) is telling COOPER that there are two plans to save humanity. PLAN A is to solve an equation to manipulate gravity, so they can take the remaining humans off the earth on a space station and PLAN B, COOPER and the rest go on one Planet that seems the most earth like and raise new humans from test tubes they collected over the years. Later in the film, we find out that DR. BRAND was lying. He solved the equation long time ago, but he didn’t want to save the humans on earth. The audience should guessed it by now, that he didn’t want any plan to succeed, because he is using randomly picked scientists and not professional astronauts to execute the most important mission to save humanity.
DR. BRAND lied about everything he said. When he praised DR. MANN (Matt Damon) as the bravest and most remarkable astronaut, he was lying. The audience sees afterwards that DR. MANN is a nutcase, which leads to the fact, that they both wanted the same thing. DR. BRAND only praised DR. MANN, because he didn’t liked DR. EDMUND or his daughter to be in love with him and since DR. MANN was his evil protégé, he has only the best things to say about him. The same goes for COOPER.
DR. BRAND: ‘You’re the best pilot we ever had.’
He praised him, because he saw the opportunity, that a more capable person can raise a colony with his daughter on a strange planet. COOPER, knowing that he isn’t the best pilot, was onto him by saying that an hour ago he didn’t even know that COOPER existed and that he barely left the stratosphere as a pilot, but DR. BRAND convinced him by saying, he should go out there and save his kids.
COOPER: ‘When you become a parent one thing becomes really clear,
that you want to make sure your children feel safe.’
Exactly this quote drove COOPER to lie to MURPH (Mackenzie Foy) about the meaning of her name, that Murphy’s Law is ‘whatever can happen, it will happen’, instead of the truth. He also lies about returning back, because he can’t possibly know, if he’ll survive this journey. He just wants to comfort her. He also wanted to comfort DR. ROMILY (David Gyasi) by saying ‘the best Yachtsman can’t usually swim‘.
COOPER: ‘I need to fix this before I go.’
Comforting or fixing others is his last name for Christ sakes: COOPER means ‘a person who makes or repairs casks, barrels and tubes’. The Black hole is the metaphor for barrels and tubes and he fixed it by telling Murphy the equation she needed to get the space station off the ground.
While trapped inside the tesseract, COOPER somehow realizes that ‘THEY’ are in fact ‘US’. But that isn’t true either. He told MURPH:
‘You got to record the facts, analyze,
get to the how and why…and then present your conclusions.’
He concluded by talking to TARS, not based on anything substantial, so it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
THE OPENING AND CLOSING SHOT
The opening of the movie shows a bookshelf with two space toys. The books NOLAN chose to place on that shelf, have some kind of connection to INTERSTELLAR, because they reflect aspects of the movie. Some examples:
- ISABEL WOLFF – OUT OF THE BLUE: The title refers to the unexpected mission COOPER has to attend to. It’s a book about marriage, fidelity and relationships, the main theme of the movie.
- JEANETTE WALLS – GLASS CASTLE: The book tells the story about the struggle of childhood, clearly referencing to MURPH’S struggles, after her father left her.
- GREG MORTENSON, DAVID OLIVER RELIN – THREE CUPS OF TEA: This is a non-fiction book about Mortenson’s transition from a nurse to a humanitarian, just like COOPER switched from being a farmer to someone who has to save humanity.
The last shot in the movie shows DR. AMELIA BRAND on EDMUND’S planet going to the camp she established. In the beginning with all that books and toys, space travel seems only to be the imagination of book writers or a fantasy in the mind of children, but by the end of the movie, this fantasy became reality. The movie tries to get the message across that ‘There are no limits to what the humans are capable to accomplish, it’s important to have a dream.‘.
MURPHY’S LAW AND THE SACRIFICE
The dialog about the origin of MURPH’S name is a scene that everyone remembers, but it bears no relation to anything else in the movie. Or..? It’s put on purpose inside the movie, because MURPHY’S LAW is present on the whole journey throughout the film.
MURPHY’S LAW: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
This law applies to the whole journey. No one expected anything bad to happen, but it happened. It was a dangerous mission to get through the wormhole, but they couldn’t expect their own crew member to play against them or that the whole trip is without a return ticket.
MURPHY’S LAW: You will always find something in the last place you look.
This law applies to the searching of potentially habitable planets. Of course, it’s the last one, EDMUND’S planet, that is the best possible option.
MURPHY’S LAW: If you’re looking for more than one thing,
you’ll find the most important one last.
COOPER wanted to help the crew find a new home, than return back to earth to be with his family. Of course, something different happens along the way, and after COOPER ran out of options, he wakes up on the space station to see his daughter.
MURPHY’S LAW: Anything you try to fix will take longer and costs
you more than you thought.
This applies to the journey to MILLER’S planet. BRAND wanted the data from the black box so badly, and COOPER trying to fix it by rescuing BRAND and getting the black box costs them both 23 years of the time on earth. COOPER lost the box and the childhood of his kids.
MURPHY’S LAW: If you think you are doing the right thing, chances
are it will back-fire in your face.
This one applies to COOPER’S decision to leave earth and to save humanity. On the journey he lost good astronauts, he barely survived and he lost everyone he loved by the end of the movie. His mission was successful, but no good deed goes unpunished.
Throughout INTERSTELLAR are many religious signs visible and many religious metaphors are present, but they don’t necessary hint on religion itself. Like the Lazarus missions. Lazarus came back from the dead. Every crew member died from that mission and they didn’t come back. COOPER’S journey, on the other hand, has a meaning attached to it. On earth, he was blind to acknowledge what his problem was. By getting on the interplanetary space craft ENDURANCE, time became the essence. He has to endure pain (losing time), guilt (losing crew member), crossovers (DR. BRAND) and wrong decisions (DR. MANN), only to bring him to the point of sacrificing himself for the greater good. He pulls the lever and off he goes down the rabbit hole, but although he endured that much pain, he didn’t learn a thing on that journey, that’s when the tesseract comes into play.
COOPER sacrificed himself just like Jesus Christ did, to save humanity. Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross, but if you see it for what it represents, it symbolizes a fully-fledged tesseract or a hypercube if you will, like in the painting of SALVADOR DALI (Corpus Hypercubus, 1954.). The tesseract in INTERSTELLAR is a kind of interrogation room for COOPER’S feelings. Just like in SOLARIS (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972.), where the crew’s subconscious desires manifest itself, in INTERSTELLAR it’s COOPER’S subconscious that is manifested in the form of MURPH’S bedroom throughout time. Every single moment is laid out in front of him, so he can be a witness to all his mistakes at once. The same concept, where past, present and future are happening inside the same room, was explored before, in the movie HYPERCUBE (Andrzej Sekula, 2002.). What a coincidence.
COOPER accepts that his decisions were wrong and that he shouldn’t have left in the first place. He even begs MURPH, from behind the bookshelves, to stop him from leaving, but it already happened, so he can’t change that. What he can change is to communicate the equation to the now 37-year old MURPH (Jessica Chastain), so she can use it to get the space station going and by transmitting this message, he ultimately saves the humanity and redeems himself.
EQUATION OF LOVE
The biggest problem the audience had with the movie was when DR. AMELIA BRAND said that LOVE is the answer.
DR AMELIA BRAND: ‘Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable,
powerful, it has to mean something… Love is the one thing
we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.’
Why is that so hard to grasp? COOPER went into other galaxies and other planets, equipped with the love he has for his daughter, and when he ends up inside the tesseract, which is another dimension of existence, his love grew even stronger. His love transcended from the past, through the present into the future. In addition, DR. AMELIA BRAND went into space, only for the chance to reunite with her lover, DR. EDMUND.
THOMAS À KEMPIS: ‘Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good;
Love alone lightens every burden, and makes the rough places smooth.
It bears every hardship as though it were nothing, and renders all
bitterness sweet and acceptable. Nothing is sweeter than love,
nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more
pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth .
Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds.’
Most moviegoers were inside the science-mode, and since love isn’t science, it seems like an impossible proposition to have it inside the movie. When they talk about love, it comes off as corny and embarrassing. But if you think about it, other sci-fi movies already used that concept, but they didn’t say it out loud, it was between the lines.
- FREQUENCY (Gregory Holbit, 2000.) – Father and son establish communication through the radio, both in different time zones. In INTERSTELLAR the communication happens through the watch COOPER gave MURPH.
- THE FIFTH ELEMENT (Luc Besson, 1997) – The world is saved by the ‘fifth element’ only because she fell for Bruce Willis and the concept of love gave her the strength to eliminate the evil. Love was the answer.
- CONTACT (Robert Zemeckis, 1997.) – Daughter reunites with her father through different dimensions, just like in INTERSTELLAR.
- SOLARIS (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972.) – The love of Kris Kelvin that he has for his wife, who committed suicide, endangers their whole mission in space. In INTERSTELLAR, nobody wants to risk their mission because of love. It turns out DR. AMELIA BRAND was right all along and her love should have been acknowledged.
- INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan, 2010.) – The love that Cobb has for his kids drive him to unexpected feats and with his guilt about his wife’s suicide, he is doing whatever he can to return to his children. The same goes for INTERSTELLAR. COOPER is fearless regarding his life, but he desperately wants to return to his kids.
Too many moviegoers are unhappy by the successful conclusion of INTERSTELLAR. They feel it is forced and completely different in tone and mood from the rest of the movie. Also, the meeting with the now really old MURPH (Ellen Burstyn) was really awkward. Well, bear in mind, that this movie is supposed to be a movie for kids as well, because there is no blood or sexual scenes, even the profanity is cut out. Nothing positive happens during the whole movie and the audience goes through many believes that are exposed as lies, so when they arrive to the end, fifteen minutes before the credits, no one can believe that the positive things are really happening.
When COOPER meets MURPH, after her whole life has passed, they spend less than three minutes together and COOPER is left alone, which is not entirely true, because MURPH is still talking, when COOPER is leaving and that means they spend more time together than the audience is willing to believe. The ending resembles the ending of CAST AWAY (Robert Zemeckis, 2000.). In that movie CHUCK NOLAND (Tom Hanks) undergoes a painful meeting with his former fiancé, after he barely survived four years alone on a deserted island with only his thoughts of returning back into the arms of his loved one. When he finally arrived, he learns the fact that she married someone else and has children with the man. She was happy to see that Chuck is alive and well for a short time, but it is clear that she moved on. How to move on, after the only person that kept you alive through this hell, doesn’t want to be with you anymore? COOPER is searching for the same answer.
MURPH: ‘You go.’
Why Brand? The answer is not, because he is in love with her. Neither BRAND nor COOPER had any kind of intimate moment to suggest that they are forming a love relationship. The scene at the end, where BRAND is standing beside the grave of EDMUND near the base, is a flashback, just as it is in every other NOLAN movie. The answer to the question ‘why Brand’, is quite simple. She was on the mission with him, they undergone heaven and hell together, so it’s safe to assume that this is their connection. COOPER should go to her, because she is the only one that he can relate to. She is his only ‘family’ left.
QUOTE FROM THREE CUPS OF TEA BOOK: ‘The first time you share
a tea with Balti you are a stranger, the second time you take tea,
you are an honored guest, the third time you share
a cup of tea, you become family.’
The whole movie is about COOPER, who is unsatisfied with the life he’s living. He accepts a journey full of danger and near death experiences, just to figure out that his life on earth was the only thing he really needed. The story is simple, but opposed to AVATAR (James Cameron, 2009.), this movie is based on real science and has deeper layers attached to the story. There are still many things to figure out, but it’s sure, that every single element inside INTERSTELLAR is there on purpose, so the audience has a unique experience that will be remembered for ages.
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: ‘It’s a very simple story. It’s about a father and his relationship with his children and he has to leave his children and go off into space to save humanity, but then I want him also to have a lot complexity and to have ramifications and these interesting things..’