Let’s start this review by warning you all that major spoilers follow. Then let’s talk about abortion.
If I squint really hard, I can sort of see how someone possessed of a belief in an immortal soul— and further, that it slides down the chute the moment some lucky sperm achieves penetration— might hold an antiabortion stance on the grounds that they’re protecting Sacred Human Life. What I can’t see is how that stance would be in any way compatible with actively denying the means to prevent such life from being jeopardized in the first place. And yet— assuming the stats haven’t changed since I last looked in on them— the majority of those who unironically refer to themselves as “pro-Life” not only oppose abortion, but birth control and sex education as well.
You can’t reasonably describe such a suite of beliefs as “pro Life”. You can’t even reasonably describe them as “anti-abortion”. What they are is anti-sex. These people just don’t want us fucking except under their rules, and if we insist on making our own we should damn well pay the price. We deserve that STD. We should be forced to carry that pregnancy to term, to give up the following two decades of our lives— not because new life is a sacred and joyous thing, but because it is onerous and painful, a penalty for breaking the rules. We should suffer. We should live to regret our wanton animalistic shortsightedness. It is galling to think that we might just skip gaily off into the sunset, postcoitally content, unburdened by the merest shred of guilt. There should be consequences.
Movies like Interstellar serve as an uncomfortable reminder that maybe I have more in common with those assholes than I’d like to admit.
In a market owned by genre, where every second movie is crammed to the gills with spaceships and aliens (or, at the very least, plucky young protagonists dishing out Truth to Power), Interstellar aspires to inspire. It explicitly sets out to follow in the footsteps of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wants to make you think, and wonder.
It succeeds, too. It makes me wonder how it could fall so far short of a movie made half a century ago.
This is not to say that Interstellar is a bad movie. It actually has significantly more on the ball than your average 21rst-century genre flick (although granted, that’s a much lower bar to clear than the one Kubrick presented). The dust-bowl vistas of a dying Earth evoke the sort of grim desolation we used to get from John Brunner’s environmental dytopias, and— most of the time, anyway— Interstellar shows a respect for science comparable to that evident in Gravity and 2001.
Admittedly, my delight at seeing space presented as silent has more to do with the way decades of Hollywood crap have hammered down my own expectations than it does with any groundbreaking peaks of verisimilitude; it’s not as though every school kid doesn’t know there’s no sound in a vacuum. On the other hand, the equations Interstellar‘s FX team used to render the lensing effects around Gargantua, the movie’s black hole— equations derived by theoretical physicist-and-science-consultant Kip Thorne— have provided the basis for at least one astrophysics paper here in the real world, an accomplishment that would make Arthur C. Clarke jealous. The hole was carefully parameterized to let our protags do what the plot required without being spaghettified or cooked by radiation. The physics of space travel and Gargantua’s relativistic extremes are, I’m willing to believe, plausibly worked out. So much of the science seems so much better than we have any right to expect from a big-budget blockbuster aimed at the popcorn set.
Why, then, does the same movie that gets the physics of event horizons right also ask us to believe that icebergs float unsupported in the clouds of alien worlds? How can the same movie that shows such a nuanced grasp of the gravity around black holes serve up such a face-palming portrayal of gravity around planets? And even if we accept the premise of ocean swells the size of the Himalayas (Thorne himself serves up some numbers that I’m sure as shit not going to dispute), wouldn’t such colossal formations be blindingly obvious from orbit? Wouldn’t our heroes have seen them by just looking out the window on the way down? How dumb do you have to be to let yourself get snuck up on by a mountain range?
Almost as dumb, perhaps, as you’d be to believe that “love” is some kind of mysterious cosmic force transcending time and space, even though you hold a doctorate in biology.
You’re probably already aware of the wails and sighs that arose from that particular gaffe. Personally, I didn’t find it as egregious as I expected—at least Amelia Brand’s inane proclamation was immediately rebutted by Cooper’s itemization of the mundane social-bonding functions for which “love” is a convenient shorthand. It was far from a perfect exchange, but at least the woo did not go unchallenged. What most bothered me about that line— beyond the fact that anyone with any scientific background could deliver it with a straight face— was the fact that it had to be delivered by Anne Hathaway. If we’re going to get all mystic about the Transcendent Power of Lurve, could we a least invert the cliché a bit by using a male as the delivery platform?
The world that contains Interstellar is far more competent than the story it holds. It was built by astrophysicists and engineers, and it is a thing of wonder. The good ship Endurance, for example, oozes verisimilitude right down to the spin rate. Oddly, though, the same movie also shows us a civilization over a century into the future— a whole species luxuriating in the spacious comfort of a myriad O’Neil cylinders orbiting Saturn— in which the medical technology stuck up Murphy Cooper’s nose hasn’t changed its appearance since 2012. (Compare that to 2001, which anticipated flatscreen tech so effectively that it got cited in Apple’s lawsuit against Samsung half a century later.) (Compare it also to Peter Hyam’s inferior sequel 2010, in which Discovery‘s flatscreens somehow devolved back into cathode-ray-tubes during its decade parked over Io.)
Why such simultaneous success and failure of technical extrapolation in the same movie? I can only assume that the Nolans sought out expert help to design their spaceships, but figured their own vision would suffice for the medtech. Unfortunately, their vision isn’t all it could be.
This is the heart of the problem. Interstellar soars when outsourced; only when the Nolans do something on their own does it suck. The result is a movie in which the natural science of the cosmos is rendered with glorious mind-boggling precision, while the people blundering about within it are morons. NASA happens to be set up just down the road from the only qualified test pilot on the continent— a guy who’s friends with the Mission Director, for Chrissakes— yet nobody thinks to just knock on his door and ask for a hand. No, they just sit there through years of R&D until cryptic Talfamadorians herd Cooper into their clutches by scribbling messages in the dirt. Once the mission finally achieves liftoff, Endurance‘s crew can’t seem to take a dump without explaining to each other what they’re doing and why. (Seriously, dude? You’re a bleeding-edge astronaut on a last-ditch Humanity-saving mission through a wormhole, and you didn’t even know what a wormhole looked like until someone explained it to you while you were both staring at the damn thing through your windshield?)
You could argue that the Nolans don’t regard their characters as morons so much as they regard us that way; some of this might be no more than clunky infodumping delivered for our benefit. If so, they apparently think we’re just as dumb about emotional resonance and literary allusion as we are about the technical specs on black holes. Michael Caine has to hammer home the same damn rage against the dying of the light stanza on three separate occasions, just in case it might slip under our radar.
And yet, Interstellar came so close in some ways. The sheer milk-out-the-nose absurdity of a project to lift billions of people off-planet turns out to be, after all, just a grand lie to motivate short-sighted human brain stems— until Murphy Cooper figures out how to do it for real after all. Amelia Brand’s heartbroken, irrational description of love as some kind of transcendent Cosmic Force, invoked in a desperate bid to reunite with her lost lover and instantly shot down by Cooper’s cooler intellect— until Cooper encounters the truth of those idiot beliefs in the heart of a black hole. Time and again, Interstellar edges toward the Cold Equations, only to chicken out when the chips are down.
But the thing that most bugs me about this movie— the thing that comes closest to offending me, although I can’t summon anywhere near that much intensity— was something I knew going in, because it’s right there in the tag line on every advance promo, every Coming-Soon poster:
The end of the Earth will not be the end of us.
Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.
We were not meant to save the Earth. We were meant to leave it.
Which all comes down to
Let’s trash the place, then skip out and stick everyone else with the bill.
This is where I finally connect with my inner antiabortionist. Because I, too, think you should pay for your sins. I think that if you break it, you damn well own it; and if your own short-sighted stupidity has killed off your life-support system, it’s only right and proper that that you suffer, that you sink into the quagmire along with the other nine million species your appetites have condemned to extinction. There should be consequences.
And yet, even in the face of Interstellar‘s objectionable political stance— baldly stated, unquestioned, and unapologetic— I can only bristle, not find fault. Because this is perhaps the one time the Nolan sibs got their characters right. Shitting all over the living room rug and leaving our roommates to deal with the mess? That’s exactly what we’d do, if we could get away with it.
Besides. When all is said and done, this was still a hell of a lot better than Prometheus.