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Interstellar – Almost Stellar

11 Nov
Interstellar is really very good.  It quotes, visually and in plot elements, from Signs, Elysium, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity (and NBC’s recently cancelled show Revolution), and no doubt many other films, much as last year’s Tom Cruise offering, Oblivion, reproduced action sequences and panoramas from Independence Day (the flight chase in the canyon, itself a redo of Luke Skywalker’s flight through the death star canyons in Star Wars), the original Planet of the Apes (a nearly totally eroded Statue of Liberty), Star Wars, etc.

I love syfy so it wouldn’t have taken much to get me to see this film, but then last week Anne Hathaway appeared to promote it on Ellen.  Ms. Degeneres, a nice enough gal and a great entertainer, but a robotic Democrat (her Veteran’s Day guest today is Bill Clinton) immediately said the premise of the film was that the earth had been destroyed by global warming, and Ms. Hathaway (who is simultaneously a sometime or former Obama supporter and an admirer of Ayn Rand) stopped Degeneres and corrected her – the climactic/biological crisis wiping out the earth has no specified cause she said – the movie leaves it open as to whether it is climate change, or something else, possibly not man made.

And that is correct.  Species, including human crops, are dying out one after another (wheat and Okra are gone, corn is about to go) due to a “blight” and the only thing said about it is that it depends on nitrogen.  Simultaneously, the soil, maybe because it is infected with this blight, and not its normal bacteria, is producing dust clouds that terrorize the dwindling human populations and lead to high rates of childhood respiratory problems and mortality.

Matthew McConaughey is a widowed father, Cooper, with a son and daughter (Murph) living in a farm house with his widower  father (John Lithgow).  It’s not exactly the Mel Gibson corn field farm house from Signs, but alien forces are at work in it, making things fall from the shelves in his daughter’s bedroom, which she interprets as ghosts.

(This post will contain spoilers, AFTER the video, so it is safe to read the part before.)

And this is one of the notable things about Interstellar:  it’s what Molly Haskell would call a women’s film, or 70 years ago would have been called a “weeper.”  It has some action, but no sex, and almost no violence.  (Spoiler alert!)  It’s a movie about a family, a father and daughter.  Ultimately it is a remake of The Wizard of Oz, where a wizard like interlocutor in the 5th dimension tries to tell Jessica Chastain (Dorothy) how to get (her father) back home, communicating to her from behind the curtain of her childhood bookshelf by means of manipulating gravity.

It’s also about mis-communication and treachery and deceit.  And most of the deceit and treachery, libertarians will enjoy seeing, is from the government.  An Obama-like soft totalitarian government is trying to manage the decline, and perhaps extinction, of the human race.  The internet doesn’t seem to exist any longer.  The government allocates diminishing resources to what it thinks important: very few people are allowed to go to college (Cooper’s son is denied admission) and most are encouraged to become farmers.  All text books have been re-written to teach that the space program was a hoax and men never landed on the moon – it was simply a brilliant bit of Cold War psyops to make the Soviet Union bankrupt itself (apparently communist central planning alone didn’t do that) by wasting money trying to compete in a fantasy space race.  Pre-teen Murph gets in a fight and suspended from school when she brings her dad’s old text book to school that has a chapter on the lunar landing.

Her father’s model of the lunar lander (turns out Cooper was an pilot back when NASA existed) is one of the items the ghostly forces keep knocking of Murph’s bookshelf.  She starts trying to figure out what the poltergeist is telling her, scientifically recording its bumps in the night and trying to see if they are Morse or other code.  Eventually Cooper discovers that they are coordinates, and off he goes in his farm truck to find them (with little Murph stowed away against his orders).  They arrive at a NORAD base being used by the remnant of NASA (now apparently run by Straussians who treat the possibility of space travel as esoteric wisdom) to assemble a last ditch effort to create an interstellar ark to save the human race.  A scientist named Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) runs it, and was conveniently an old teacher of Cooper’s; Anne Hathaway is his daughter.  Plan B is to send a few people and thousands of frozen embryos (the women among them will get to carry), through a black hole some extraterrestrial intelligence has parked (shades of 2001) near Saturn. that leads to another galaxy with marginally habitable planets.  Plan A is to send a whole colony through on a giant space station (but this requires solving some advanced physics about black holes, quantum mechanics, and relativity, that is beyond current earth science).

Hathaway and McConaughey are part of a 4 person crew who undertake Plan B, and head off to the new galaxy.  During a long trip that is days in their time but decades of earth time (due to relativistic effects), they discover that the whole NASA project may have been a treacherous attempt to get them to go, shepherding the frozen eggs, even though no one believed they would ever be able to return; nor would any more human beings (including their families) ever be able to join them.  In tracking down a handful of scientists/astronauts who made the journey in a dozen small ships a decade earlier to find the most hospitable plant, they meet Matt Damon, alone on an icy world.  He’s sent back fake data claiming it as a good candidate for Earth 2.  Turns out he is a homicidal maniac who has decided he alone knows best how to shape humanity’s future.  A delicious turn given Damon’s real life statist politics.  And funny that the world they are escaping is run by programming its citizens with politically corrected history in the public schools, given Damon’s history of attacks on school choice.

The science and the deus ex machina used to wrap up the movie aren’t that important.  It’s still worth seeing if you decide to go to a film this Holiday afternoon.  And it’s kind of patriotic and anti-statist at the same time.