Mike was so excited about this movie (a “movie,” I’ve heard, is like a very long TV show minus a catchy theme song, so infinitely worse), that he wanted me to share his thoughts on the grand stage of my two-reader blog (him and me). I haven’t seen Interstellar, and I likely won’t until I start watching movies again, which probably won’t be until the film’s galactic travel is a reality. But Mike also demanded that I post it on faith without reading it for fear of spoiling the movie for myself. So, like, hell yeah, fuck proofreading. My thoughts on Interstellar follow his, which begin…. Right… Now.
no wait now
[The following thoughts risk destroying themselves, just as the film is nearly torn apart by its own ideas. Through Christopher Nolan’s own exploration, Interstellar rewrites the hero myth for the 21st Century, expanding the landscape of humanity and imagination for an age where exploration has effectively been killed and buried.]
The first planet, a watery horizon in every direction, forces our explorers to begin lost at sea. Neither the human eye nor mind can take in the entirety of the world. The planet is the unconscious, the waves the fear of being swallowed back up into a pre-natal state. Yet, even more terrifying, the death of Doyle in the film is the first moment the movie asks: what happens if I die here? What will happen to my body? You will not join the cycle of stuff that has been going on since the creation of the planet Earth. You will not become amoebas at the bottom of the ocean to reenter the carbon cycle like billions of life forms and beings have before you. You will not enter the culture of death as it exists on Earth. You will not be buried in a graveyard where humans have been buried before.
At least 1% of me entertains the notion of a God, and so I cannot help but ask the questions: Can God find me through the wormhole? Does he know how to get here?
The second planet is the image of the barren mother (think the witch in Snow White, the woman in room 237). Can a body decompose on its cracked snow surface? And where will my soul travel if I die here? Leading Cooper (Mcconaughey) to the terrifying and terrific moment of entering the black hole, and leaving space-time as we can conceive it (or conceive of conceiving it). Nolan has been toying with human perception of time since Memento, where time runs backwards, and next in Inception, where there are realms that can alter the ways in which a human body translates time to conscious reality.
Cooper narrates his experience as he is plunged into the black hole. At any minute we expect the camera lens to freeze over, to crack (a thought echoing my 8 year old self who wondered how the cameraman got so close to Godzilla without being eaten). Space dust rips past his ship, and we are reminded of the dust of mankind, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, of the dust that covers every surface of the life Cooper has left behind. But this dust could not be more alien. The dust one Earth is a sign of the planet’s slow death, as forests become plains, plains become deserts, all part of a natural cycle. This space dust does not carry the carbon molecules of Earth’s history—in the black hole the dust represents oblivion. Cooper will sacrifice everything for this possibility of knowing. The result could be an eternity outside of reality as we know it, if eternity can be conceived in a realm where time does not exist.
And Cooper does not even realize the totality of this oblivion. Prior to the black hole, Cooper’s body can die. But he cannot die here—he will not starve, or get hungry, or age, because his body is not existing in a linear, temporal plane (what earlier this year Mcconaughey’s character in True Detective presented to us as “time as a flat circle”). Cooper risks being stuck in a scientifically conceivable Hell (or maybe more accurately: Purgatory, one he will never have the chance of leaving). He sees behind the veil, at the [ ] behind the curtain, at the price of his existence outside of human thought. But mankind’s hubris, what prior to this film was thought of as an apocalyptic notion (from Moby-Dick to The Matrix), is Cooper’s salvation. His human desire conquers a space beyond human imagination.
Cooper becomes the convergence of the two age-old stories of the Quest: the Faustian pact for knowledge, and the search for an Eden after the Fall. Cooper accomplishes both, because in a modern world of technology there is nothing beyond the reach of mankind’s desire for total understanding. A far cry from most space exploration movies, it is the union between sentient artificial life and human life that brings Cooper out of the black hole—brings Faust back out of Hell. Technology conquers what was before unconquerable. Cooper strikes “through the mask” (as Ahab wished to do), creates a new Eden, and survives to tell the tale. This is what the hero myth looks like in the 21st century. These are what heroes in a modern age are capable of. Nothing, scientific or imaginary, is beyond our reach. That is what Nolan shows us. The desire for all-knowing is not a flaw, he tells us—it is the very thing that makes us the most human.
Yet, as Nolan reminds us, in the face of this magnificence of imagination and courage, our flaws as humans are still the most dangerous variable to our survival. When the technology malfunctions in Interstellar, it is because of the human desires behind that technology. The major malfunctions of the film are due to Dr. Mann. His attempt at defining his own humanity in the face of extinction is a distancing from that humanity. The answer is his selfish drive to exist. Even through a wormhole, humans can be relied upon to act selfishly. But the movie tells us this is not enough.
I know there are flaws in the rules of the film, and on as second viewing I may more readily be able to identify those flaws. But if all else in this movies fails, it is worth it for having asked the simple question: How can meaning-making exist in a place that is outside the domain of time? Cooper’s very identity as an identity risks becoming void. What are his discoveries worth if he cannot bring what he has learned and make meaning of it within the realm of space-time? No hero in the history of cinema has faced such complete conscious negation of self.
I will never forget listening to two guys re-hashing the final moments of the movie to each other as we left the theater. Time as I could conceive had become an unknown and I hadn’t even realized it. I could not access how much time in the film or in reality had passed. Had I been on the water planet, where one hour translate to a year? After the film, I went to the men’s room to pee, and during the 30-45 seconds I frantically tried to re-organize the experience in my mind. The pee seemed to last an eternity, and probably somewhere in the final 15 seconds, a deranged thought came into my mind that I couldn’t readily dismiss. Had I imagined the entire story, my entire experience of watching the movie, in the span of urinating? The movie had made this thought entertainable. Nothing was too absurd.
In the black hole, Cooper leaves the world of the movie, and the world of the theater. He exists outside of our experience watching him, and becomes fully realized—what says he isn’t in the black hole right now? Every truth I had before held to be indelible was now in question, because someone had dared so far as Christopher Nolan. Nolan, Cooper, and the viewer all become explorers at the fringes of knowledge. Cooper makes absurd, theoretical decisions in a world he is trying to build and organize one moment at a time, just as Nolan is. The movie itself is a testament to the human spirit, beyond its story, but in its very conception.
Near the end the movie no longer asks us to enjoy it. As viewers we’ve made a choice we hadn’t even been conscious of. We transcended into the very necessities of the film world (our own world) so we might come out the other side. So we might see our families again, against all odds. Interstellar theorizes and terrorizes the viewer in a way I have never felt before. Cooper becomes a divine savior of the 21st Century, a century that can’t even remember the last time it had a savior, let alone a humble martyr who survives his own sacrifice. Cooper dies and is reborn through sheer will and the scientific method, to become an exploration and information age messiah for a world that didn’t know one was possible. Cooper has extended the realm of choices a hero in the modern world of storytelling has to assert his agency.
Philosophy teaches us that the closer we come to the essence of a thing, to the unexplainable, such as God or the center of a system, the more language will fail us. Nolan takes us one step closer to the essence of our humanity by moving us beyond language. His movie is a testament to human persistence and joy. Through Cooper, Nolan transcends God into a realm of nonmeaning, and makes meaning out of it.
Well done Mike! I hope you readers enjoyed that! Because I don’t know whether I would or wouldn’t! Still haven’t read it!
But here are my thoughts on Interstellar: when I went to go read some reviews for it, I was sidelined by praise for a new Japanese movie called “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” It’s about two warring yakuza clans, and one of them decides to make a movie about their climactic battle? And the film crew that the yakuza hire call themselves “The Fuck Bombers?” And there’s a yakuza daughter who loses an important toothpaste commercial job? Sounds tight.