I saw the movie “Interstellar” again recently, this time via On Demand. Let me just say that I really like this movie. Also, before you read much further, be aware that if you haven’t seen this movie already, there are spoilers below.
I’ll start with what makes this a highly watchable and interesting movie. The first half of the movie does a great job of creating an air of mystery. There are creepy events that lend a sense of a ghost story–an unseen entity is manipulating gravity inside the bedroom of the girl Murph, making books move and creating patterns in the dust. Furthermore, this is set against a bleak and melancholic backdrop, as humans are struggling to survive on a dying earth. The acting of Matthew McConaughey and little Mackenzie Foy, in setting up the theme of father-daughter love, was superb. Their relationship is an emotional glue that holds together the entire movie. I thought the scene in which Cooper is launched into space, juxtaposed with images of Murph shrieking in agonized grief at the loss of her father, is one of the most heart-wrenching portrayals in all of cinema.
The rest of the movie kicks into the realm of suspenseful science fiction featuring an epic quest through space and time. The movie has been compared to 2001, and the attempts at “space realism” and Cooper’s psychedelic voyage into the black hole certainly evoked this prior classic. In “Interstellar” there is an inverse of the Hal incident: the superintelligent robot remains loyal and heroic, while a murderous human madman nearly kills them all. Over all, I felt that this movie has more heart than Stanley Kubrick’s nearly wordless and vaguely misanthropic film.
The movie explores the existential dread that humans naturally feel when approaching death. This is what drives Dr. Mann mad. This is the theme echoed in Professor Brand’s mantra, the poem by Dylan Thomas that says, “Do not go gentle into that good night…”
Now I have to mention some downsides. First, while this movie is in many ways a warm and relationship-affirming movie, it is a godless movie. There is no depiction of religion, church-going, or anything smacking of faith in a higher being. Even the small town and farm life that is featured in the opening and closing scenes, while thoughtfully portrayed, seems incomplete: The movie shows some authentic charm–baseball games, school conferences, a main street, and a kindly small town grandpa swilling beer on his Victorian porch–but nary a steeple is to be seen. It’s not anti-God, per se, but merely agnostic. Of course, that’s about the best one can hope for from mainstream movies these days.
Then there is the silly and the illogical. First I give the silly: Love is a force of nature, affirms the teary eyed younger Dr. Brand, played by Anne Hathaway. I felt that this weakened things a bit. Now I don’t want to slander love, which is a great and wondrous thing–within the domain of relationships. God is Love, after all. So I won’t say that it was bad. “Silly” may be too harsh; “cheesy” might be more accurate. Sometimes cheesy is good, but here it made my eyes roll a bit.
Now for the illogical: One major subplot of the movie is that an evolved humanity of the future reaches back through time to help present day humanity avoid extinction. While handily sidestepping the supernatural, this is inherently illogical.
This reminds me of something. C.S. Lewis once opined with characteristic wit, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God” (C.S Lewis, The Problem of Pain). A corollary to this might be, “nonsense is nonsense, even when dressed in science and inserted into a gripping movie.”