Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Brief Review of Interstellar

I grabbed the first Redbox movie in a long while and watched it earlier this week.

Interstellar is a film that thrives on making the special effects scientifically accurate -- there's no sound in space, waves are caused by the gravity of a nearby spacial body, mechanical equipment can tolerate lots of stress and collision damage but depressurization catastrophically tears it apart, the sensation of gravity in space must be generated by angular rotation, areas of high gravity play havoc with our straight-line perception of the surrounding space, bigger black holes are better black holes because they won't spaghettify you, the relativity of time is significant when spending time near high gravity ("every hour on the surface is 7 years back on earth" / "this little maneuver will cost us 51 years!"), etc.

The film also leans heavily on the human drama, with success. By that I mean that unlike many sci-fi epics, it doesn't feel forced, or added-on as an afterthought to please the crowd, but that it holds a central role without being uncomfortable or distracting from the plot. Indeed, the human drama is what drives the plot: resource scarcity on earth is what drives Matt McConaughey's father character to take a risk in order to make a better life for his children.


  • no sexuality. Not even kissing between the main characters, except one shot in the end between Jessica Chastain and Topher Grace, intended as humor and not depicted sensually
  • no grotesque violence. The violence in the film is realistic and restrained, hardly characterizing the film but punctuating it at key moments to emphasize the heightened tension, if you somehow missed Hans Zimmer's mood-setting organ music.
  • very little hint of any political punditry underwriting the plot -- considering that the director is Christoper Nolan, whose Batman movies have had such great success, I suspect, because of their distinct tendency to avoid promoting Hollywood Liberalism, it makes sense; I think, whatever his personal views are, that he's got a keen sense for the sort of messages that turn off or turn on a broad American audience.
    • the closest thing to it is a government-issued textbook a public school teacher describes to McConaughey's character, as being 'corrected,' to show that the moon-landing was faked in order to bankrupt the Russians by making them waste resources on an imaginary space race. This is a very limited dialogue, and it leaves no one a glaringly obvious hint as to whether the censorship is supposed to be more consistent with a Republican or Democrat ideology.
    • As for the setting, there is a hint that there was a global conflict some years or decades earlier, and that as a side-effect, it damaged global crops to the point that society reverted to become primarily automated, mechanized subsistence farming-based. It's implied that it's several decades if not a century or two in the future, but not too far, because historical events like the Dust Bowl and moon landing are referenced. The film avoids making statements that could be interpreted as overtly 'peacenik' or environmentalist, and thus succeeds at being a cautionary tale that's vague enough for anyone to import their own ideas into, as to what could be done to stop it. However, the line about "repeating the excess/wastefulness of the 20th century" is something that viewers might variably agree with or find just cause to label the teacher character as representative of their political opponents.
  • The science is accurate. Assumptions are made about things that we don't know enough about, such as the nature of wormholes and black holes, and a few other things (mentioned below), but nothing that we know from physics is controverted. This makes it a better film than most, for an authenticity-hound like myself.
  • Robots work the way they're supposed to.
  • It promotes selfless sacrifice of oneself for others, and condemns the premeditated dismissive 'sacrifice' of some others for the sake of other others.
  • It highlights the bonds of family and by cutting and scoring, present loving relationships as being one of if not the strongest driver to persevere in the face of difficulty.
  • True to its departure from other space movies, and in part because it's more like Apollo 13 than Aliens, it doesn't start with 20 cast members and slowly kill them off until there's two left. The deaths are fewer and therefore more significant in terms of moving the plot, or providing closure on a subplot.
  • Unnecessary cursing, but it's fairly limited compared to other movies these days.
  • Promotes an evolutionary worldview, but see below.
  • The closest thing to an antiBiblical message are the few words:
    • "the earth is not ours" (to which it is responded, "no, but it is our home")
    • "we were born on the earth, but we weren't meant to die here. We were meant to leave it." (paraphrase of two different quotes)
    • "We must think not as individuals but as a species."
    • "No. When you become a parent, one thing becomes really clear. And that's that you want to make sure your children feel safe. And that rules out telling a 10-year old that the world's ending."
      • This is contrastable to the lie Dr. Brand Sr. told Dr. Brand, that they were looking for a new home for the human race, but that he (Sr.) had no hope of succeeding, intending instead that the pioneers were intended to repopulate humanity and leave the rest on earth to die. The shock of this lie becomes a turning point in the plot of the film, leading to the exposition of a 20-minutes-long series of scenes depicting father and daughter grappling with desperation.
Up in the air:
  • There are two odd dialogues about love. One focuses on Dr. Brand, who seems to err on the side of idolizing the emotion of love as an abstract force. One focuses on Dr. Mann, who seems to err on the side of, while nevertheless making much of human emotions, idolizing them as an incredibly powerful but purely biological phenomenon.
    • Cooper: You're a scientist, Brand.
      Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn't something that we invented. It's observable. Powerful. It has to mean something.
      Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing...
      Brand: We love people who have died. Where's the social utility in that?
      Cooper: None.
      Brand: Maybe it means something more - something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. I'm drawn across the universe to someone I haven't seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it. All right Cooper. Yes, the tiniest possibility of seeing Wolf again excites me. That doesn't mean I'm wrong.
      Cooper: Honestly, Amelia, it might.
    • Dr. Mann's soliloquy
      Dr. Mann: You have attachments. But even without a family, I can promise you that...that yearning to be with other people is powerful. That emotion is at the foundation of what makes us human. It's not to be taken lightly.
      Dr. Mann: You know why we couldn't just send machines on these missions, don't you, Cooper? A machine doesn't improvise well, because you can't program the fear of death. Our survival instinct is our single greatest source of inspiration. Take you for example; father, with a survival instinct that extends to your kids. What does research tell us is the last thing you're gonna see before you die? Your children. Their faces. At the moment of death, your mind is gonna push a little bit harder to survive. For them.
      Dr. Mann: It's funny. When I left Earth, I thought I was prepared to die. The truth is, I never really considered the possibility that my planet wasn't the one. Nothing worked out the way it was supposed to.
      Dr. Mann: I'm sorry, I can't let you leave with that ship. We're gonna need it to complete the mission. Once the others realize what this place isn't, we cannot survive here! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!
      .... [All of this is happening as Dr. Mann tries to kill Cooper, by cracking his helmet visor and walking away, leaving him to die]
      Cooper: You faked it, all the data.
      Dr. Mann: Yes.
      Cooper: There's no surface.
      Dr. Mann: No. I tried to do my duty, Cooper. But I knew, the day that I arrived here, this place had nothing and I resisted the temptation for years. But I knew that if I just pressed that button, then somebody would come and save me.
      Cooper: You ******* coward.
      Dr. Mann: You're feeling it, aren't you? The survival instinct. That's what drove me. It's what drives all of us, and it's what's gonna save us. Because I want to save all of us. For you Cooper.
      Dr. Mann: Do you see your children? It's okay. They are right there with you.
  • The first discourse on evolution:
    • Cooper: TARS kept the Endurance right where we needed her but the trip took years longer than what we anticipated. We no longer have the fuel to visit both prospects, so, we've got to choose.
      Romilly: But how? They're both promising. And Edmunds data is better, but Dr. Mann is the one still transmitting.
      Brand: We've got no reason to suspect Edmunds data would've soured. His world has key elements to sustain human life.
      Cooper: As does Dr. Mann's.
      Brand: Cooper, this is my field. And I really believe Edmund's is the better prospect.
      Cooper: Why?
      Brand: Gargantua, that's why. Look at Miller's planet. Hydrocarbons, organics, yes; But no life. Sterile. We'll find the same thing on Mann's.
      Romilly: Because of the black hole?
      Brand: Murphy's Law. Whatever can happen, will happen. Accidents are the first building block of evolution, but when you're orbiting a black hole, not enough can happen, it sucks in asteroids and comets, other events which would otherwise reach you. We need to go further afield.
  • The second discourse on evolution:
    • Dr. Mann: Your father had to find another way to save the human race from extinction. Plan B. A colony.
      Brand: Why not tell people? Why keep building those ---- stations?
      Dr. Mann: Because he knew how hard it would be to get people to work together to save the species instead of themselves. Or their children.
      Dr. Mann: You never would have come here unless you believed you were going to save them. Evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier. We can care deeply - selflessly - about those we know, but that empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight.
      Brand: But the lie... that monstrous lie...
      Dr. Mann: Unforgivable. And he knew that. He was prepared to destroy his own humanity in order to save the species. He made an incredible sacrifice.
      Cooper: No. No, the incredible sacrifice is being made by the people on Earth who are gonna die, because in his ******* arrogance he declared their case hopeless.
      Dr. Mann: I'm sorry Cooper. Their case is hopeless.
      Cooper: No... no...
      Dr. Mann: We are the future.
  • The fact that they bring in discussion of evolution means it's just as well that they didn't try to present one of the characters as Christian. The world generally doesn't do too well with that, especially when forcing it into a sci-fi movie, as seen in Prometheus. The fact that the movie puts most of the promotion of 'survival instinct as an evolutionary adaptation' into the mouth of the betrayer is a positive aspect of the plot, in my view. You can argue that it glorifies the idea of evolution by assuming it to be true, but one thing that's clear from simple observation is that the characters who most emphatically adhere to its tenets are also those who are deceitful, willing to sacrifice other people's lives for their own purposes, and fundamentally selfish and unloving. One may take from that what they will.
Conditional Assumptions:
  • Space is either empty, or it has a 'fabric' that can be manipulated. If space is just three-dimensional void, then there's no way to pass through a 'hole' in it, to another part. So wormholes would be impossible. Hence, the assumption that space is a fabric that force can be exerted against is used to allow the plot to move forward with the wormhole.
  • That also affects the part of the movie that has to do with the black hole. If space is not a fabric, then it cannot be torn. Then a black hole is not a hole, it is a huge ball of fire, you just can't see the flames because its gravitational pull is so strong that the light from the energetic reactions inside it aren't escaping. This sort of black hole would have incinerated MacConaughey's character upon impact.
    • In contrast, they chose the assumption that a black hole tears a hole in space, so that what is going in is actually in fact falling into a neverending abyss; a void. That's why the character Cooper is able to grab hold of something inside without splattering, since when there's no space and no mass anywhere around you, it's meaningless to say that you're traveling at a certain speed. He had exited spacial reality and was in a place where the supposed 'beings of higher dimensions' could interact with him directly. Having exited spacetime, he was in 'space' but could interact with an infinite number of instances of time, since those rules did not apply any longer.
  • Crucial assumption: the beings who invented the wormhole and the "tesseract" that Cooper ended up in after entering the black hole are "highly evolved humans." This is a better resolution than that a dispassionate alien technocracy decided to intervene benevolently for no apparent reason, but still poses a problem: it assumes that 'our best time is still in front of us' and that humanity will continue to develop, technologically and otherwise, until we're able to 'transcend dimensions' and 'use gravity to alter time.' And that is the major physics assumption remaining:
  • Namely, that gravity, since it clearly influences time, is speculated to be able to 'travel backward' in time, or at least influence past events. The idea is that far future humans are able to manipulate gravity and use it to send a message to the past.
These sort of assumptions are more valid than other movies, because they concern stuff that we don't know enough to say otherwise on: whether gravity can be manipulated, whether space is a void or a fabric, etc. This is far better than other movies that defy what we already know to be true, whether it's about empirical science or history.

But the part about future humans saving the human race in the past needs to be understood to be complete fantasy. For one, the movie trope about saving humanity is so common because it's relatable: everybody comprehends, to one or another degree, that humanity is in need of being rescued. But every movie places a human, superhuman, or alien in the position of rescuer. Interstellar ironically comes closest of all sci-fi movies I've seen, by saying that the saviors of the human race exist outside of time and space, not being bound by its limitations.

Humanity is fallen, and needs to be saved, and the salvation can not come from within, by human power. A being unbound by our limitations needs to reach in and exert an influence in our world to make salvation possible. This is the essence of general-and specific- revelation. Without God making Himself known to us, we couldn't know anything about Him.

The human race will never "evolve" to higher dimensions through technological prowess and interstellar colonization. We'll never get that far, because we're collectively doomed to be more preoccupied with resisting God's plan, so that at the end of history, we'll be more concerned tearing things down, and with killing people who disagree with us about humanity's place in the stars (to borrow a line from the movie), than with using our God-given creativity to build things up, and improve others' lives.

For every individual, however, there is an opportunity to escape the destruction we're collectively headed to. And that is by recognizing that, contrary to well-intentioned movies made to promote humanity's virtues, we cannot save ourselves, and need to rest entirely on the sufficient loving sacrifice of our Creator.

Keep this in mind when you enjoy movies like Interstellar. Imaginative fantasies won't hurt you, as long as you don't confuse them for gospel truth.

~ Rak Chazak

No comments:

Post a Comment