Foreword: Before posting this, I decided to search for related articles, just to make sure I wasn’t unintentionally ripping somebody off. I figured that, since this movie’s been out for 4 years already, someone else must’ve done something similar already. I found a few related posts (1, 2, 3) I figured I should call out. If this is a topic that greatly interests you (for some reason) I’d recommend checking those links out.
So I just rewatched Interstellar. That was… long.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that I don’t think this movie is “underrated” in any sense of the word, nor do I consider it a masterpiece. It’s bloated, kinda boring, switches aspect ratios every two minutes, and is probably one of my least favorite Nolan movies (still better than Dunkirk). The reason I’m writing this is to sort of clear up a lot of the controversy surrounding this movie, and to point out why I think it gets some undue hate.
“Quick” Plot Synopsis: In a world where corn is the premier crop, everyone gets lung cancer at age 45, and high school textbooks have been retconned to appease conspiracy theorists, former astronaut Cooper is enlisted by shitty NASA to do a thing. He, along with his crew, are sent on a space survey to try and find a habitable planet before everyone on Earth gets tired of eating corn and kills themselves. The team travel through a wormhole, where they’re transported to a different galaxy. They receive a signal from a previous mission and trace it back to a planet, before realizing that it’s monsoon season and getting tsunami’d. They make it out (with one casualty), before charting course to the planet of another astronaut, Edmund Mann (Mannet?). They go and rescue him, but when they begin to set up base, he attempts to take the ship and go to the next planet, leaving Cooper and Brand behind because… reasons? In the ensuing clusterfuck, Mann gets space’d, and the ship sustains v. damage. Cooper, realizing that both he and Brand won’t be able to make it, ejects from the ship, and flies into a black hole. Surprisingly not dead, he finds a bookcase (space-case?), which he uses to send a message to his daughter (now an employee of shitty NASA) in the past. She decodes the message, figures out where the habitable planet is, and the people of Earth begin to relocate. Cooper exits the black hole and eventually arrives on the new colony, but realizes that while he’s the same age, everyone else is super old and gross now. He says goodbye to his daughter, now on her deathbed, and goes to hook up with Brand.
Why people hate? (Because Nolan is bastard man!)
The main criticism I see this movie getting revolves around the concept of “love,” specifically in reference to two scenes in the movie. The first, being the most notable, is Brand’s (Anne Hathaway) speech to the crew where she basically says that love is super crazy because it doesn’t make sense but people do it anyway, meaning that it has some special properties. (The fact that Anne Hathaway is the center of any controversy should be a surprise to no one; kinda interesting that it was over a monologue and not “her smug face,” but what can I say… she Hathaway with words.) This idea is presented again in a later scene when Cooper interacts with the spacecase, and basically suggests that Brand was right all along. From what I’ve seen, peoples’ views on this part of the film can be divided into two camps. The literalists are those that take everything said at face value. To them (in the context of the movie), love is an actual magical force, which saves Cooper and allows him to send his message through time. This interpretation lead to many dissatisfied reviews, in which it was noted that the film used love as a blatant cop-out, allowing for an unrealistically happy ending to an otherwise strictly technical science fiction story. On the other hand, we got the dismissers, who disregard Brand’s monologue entirely. To them, the statements are relatively meaningless, and only serve to showcase her naivety, and demonstrate her most glaring character flaw: an overreliance on emotion when making decisions.
Now, to understand why I think neither group is correct, we kind of have to get into what Interstellar is really about. (Drumroll please…) Interstellar is actually just “Noah’s Ark,” but in space.
A fairly major idea in Interstellar is the existence of higher dimensional beings that set the film’s plot in motion. Not only is this referenced by various characters, but it’s also pretty much the only reasonable explanation for the movie’s set-up. If you’re unfamiliar with wormholes, they’re basically science-science-fiction, which is to say that they’re theoretical constructs that scientists have speculated about for a while. Could they exist? Ehhhh. But they’ve never actually been observed before. Interstellar’s explanation for why there just happens to be one in the middle of our solar system all of a sudden, is that fifth dimensional beings placed it there to help us out.
For those of you that read A Wrinkle in Time and still don’t get how the fuck space works (this is normal), I’ll sort of try and give a rundown. Basically, humans are lame 3-D beings, which means that we can only perceive and interact with three physical dimensions. If that wasn’t boring enough, time is also linear for us, so we can only see one specific moment at any given point. A 5-D being would essentially transcend (our concept of) time, as well as have one additional physical dimension. (Here’s a way better explanation by my mans Carl Sagan). So pretty dope right? Except that also means that we couldn’t actually interact with fifth dimensional creatures. Unless, of course, they could create a 3-dimensional interface…
The existence of such beings basically explains away all of the dumb shit that happens in Interstellar. The wormhole was placed there, and the spacecase is a projection of 5-d time shenanigans into 3 dimensions. The aliens give Cooper a physical shelf that he can interact with and use to send gravitational waves through time, and present it in a way that he (and more importantly, the audience) can comprehend.
This is also the reason I call the movie “Noah’s Ark in Space.” It’s not some humanistic triumph showing people conquering the natural world using only their genius and intuition; rather, its a story where a higher being(s) assist a few individuals in saving humankind. That’s not to say the Interstellar crew didn’t put in work— no one accuses Noah of being lazy. It’s more that, just like Noah wouldn’t’ve built a big-ass boat had God not hit him with the heads-up, Earth probably would’ve gotten roasted (dusted?) were it not for the whole “place a physical portal to another galaxy and allow information to be transmitted through a black hole into the past” thing.
I also like this explanation, because it doesn’t really cheapen the science aspect. Cooper was able to go past the event horizon of a black hole and not get Mr. Fantastic’d to death not because he was protected by something stupid and unreasonable like love; rather, fifth dimensional aliens transcending the limitations of human consciousness decided to help out. In all fairness, Cooper does remark at the end of the movie that the “aliens” are evolved humans who live far into the future. However, given that they’ve literally transcended into a higher dimension, I think it’s reasonable to treat them as a different species.
All that being said, I don’t think that we can really disregard the whole “love” thing entirely. In my mind, the concept still has two fairly important roles in the film:
1. It gives us insight into the actions of every character
Basically everything that anyone does in this movie can be in some way shape or form be attributed to love (or related concepts). Cooper goes into space because he loves his kids (one of them, anyway). Brand tries to go to Edmunds’ planet because she has the hots for him. Casey Affleck’s character tries to save the farm because of his debilitating corn addiction. Mann acts like a dumb idiot because he loves uh… people? Cooper decides to go into the black hole, and later leave Murph back at the station because he loves Brand. Characters constantly do irrational shit in this movie, but just like Brand says, love isn’t necessarily rational to begin with.
If we wanted to get really fan-theory-y about it, we could even speculate that love was the missing piece in allowing the aliens’ plan to succeed. Maybe they had like 7,000 failed test runs where their plan didn’t work until they accounted for the influence of love on human actions. Or maybe love didn’t actually matter after all. Who cares?
2. It’s a pretty good analogy tbh
Even if [love: the concept] was pointless, [love: the metaphor] is actually pretty helpful in understanding the general plot of the movie. Again, people can’t really perceive fifth dimensional beings, so to Cooper, Brand, Doyle, and Romily, everything they were working with was super abstract. They couldn’t see what was helping them, they sort of just had to believe that it was there and take a leap of blind faith. If we examine the infamous monologue, we see that Brand says:
“Maybe it means more – something we can’t understand, yet… Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t yet understand it.”
Again, love isn’t literally bending time and space, but is serving as a representation for how the aliens in the movie operate. This also gives the writers an out with not having to explain everything that happens. They’re basically telling the audience that, while the movie won’t be able to show everything that goes down, you sort of have to trust that things make sense. If you think that’s a cop-out, well… it is. But when the crux of your movie is “space gods use time magic to help people,” you’ve definitely written yourself into a fifth dimensional corner.
Bottom line: In my view, love in Interstellar is fairly important thematically, but not very important narratively. Given that themes are dumb and most people don’t pay attention to them anyway, I think its inclusion is pretty reasonable, and certainly doesn’t render the entire film unserviceable. If you still hate this movie, you’re fully within your right to do so, but I feel like there are better reasons to dislike it than “love sucks LOL.”
*Proceeds to go gentle into that good night*