Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather are joined by special guest Zack Johnson of Kingdom of Loathing to overthink Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey.[audio:http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/mwrather/otip332.mp3]
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I’m going to skip that one… That reminds me, I should get back to DKR episode, ’cause I skipped that, too.
Completly out of context: The Dark Knight Rises episode was nice.
I haven’t seen Interstellar, but the discussion reminded me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (another Spielberg movie), in which the male lead abandons his wife and child to go off into space, while the female lead seeks out the aliens in order to rescue her son and stays on earth with him. It seems like there are some similarities in the gender dynamics in the two movies.
You’re on to something there midnightq2. I might be reaching here but several space exploration movies seem to resemble frontier and Western literature and later movies in labor specialization between genders. Men were portrayed as guardians (or outlaws) and women as home-makers with emphasis on the dramatic actions of men as the center of story, leaving the interesting possibilities of the roles of 19th century frontier women much less represented, ignored, or not lent dramatic significance.
The majority of popular sci-fi takes place during a more favorable century for women’s labor and identity mobility, so we have space stories about women as central agents (Alien, maybe Contact, drawing a blank for more examples). The same exploration/colonization division of labor crops up though.
Like, Anne Hathaway’s most prominent task ends up being pick a hospitable planet and make a family in the event of Plan B. Yeah, I understand that she has the only biological capacity (uhhh this is a weird job), but is she the only one in charge of that part? The other three guys and the two robots are merely in charge of transporting her to the planet?
Did this movie remind anyone of Contact (1997) also with Matthew McConaughey, family, and a wormhole?
Yep, as Mr. Garrison said on South Park, “I waited that entire movie to see that alien, and it was her goddamn father!”. Again, another piece of Interstellar from another (and perhaps better) movie.
Given that Carl Sagan is such a major political/cultural figure at the moment in certain circles, it’s not surprising that this movie was so influenced by Contact.
Please, Please do an Overview or at least a special podcast episode on The Core! I love that movie so much, and it’s about the most Overthinkable movie I’ve ever seen!
It’s definitely worth drilling down into.
WE HAVE TO GO DEEPER!
THIS IS ONLY THE ASTHENOSPHERE! WHEN DO WE HIT THE STIFFER MANTLE?
(I haven’t seen this movie, but I do have access to a graphic of the Earth’s interior: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_core#mediaviewer/File:Earth_poster.svg)
I watched this movie when I was probably too young to be subjecting myself to the spectacle of a man literally cooking to death. The horror.
I completely agree with Pete about the similarity between Interstellar and Dr. Who, especially during the Steven Moffat era. Moffat’s tenure as Dr. Who showrunner has been far more concerned with emotional truth and character, rather than any notion of sensible plot. Various actions happen seemingly without any causal justification, only because that’s where he wants the characters to be emotionally. While watching Interstellar, I felt the same way — so much of what was going on made very little sense, except as some sort of affective journey for particular characters, at the expense not only of plot comprehensibility, but also at the expense of other characters that the filmmakers didn’t care about (i.e., anyone other than McConaughey).
The other thing that struck me about the film what just how much it is indeed a pastiche of other science fiction films, especially in the imagery. You all mentioned the obvious 2001, and Moon, but I noticed another which I thought was interesting: Abram’s first Star Trek film, the opening of which also juxtaposes rural American corn fields (including vintage vehicles) with spaceships (the Enterprise seems to be constructed in the middle of an Iowa farm). In the case of Star Trek, the pairing of imagery of early mid-century rural America with space seems intended to invoke an imagined simpler time of straightforward values and can-do attitude in post-war America. In the case of Interstellar, however, that relationship appears instead to be in opposition — the corn fields represent humanity giving up, and farming is not a gritty, individualistic, self-sufficient practice, but an inward-turning, collectivist, “safe” choice that denies the pioneering spirit of “Man”. I think it’s odd that two very recent films have chosen to pair corn filed and spaceships, and especially interesting that they seem to have used this pairing to make nearly opposite points.
I didn’t even think about the corn significance. It’s sort of a strange central plant for a space and apocalyspe film. Hmm.
Also there’s a corn field robot chase scene in both movies. The police robot chases and catches Kirk; Cooper catches a defunct military drone by co-opting its nav system.
I also think there are plenty of similarities between Nolan and Moffat, though not because of any emotional truth or character study. Nolan (in his non-comic based movies) loves the puzzle of the plot and Moffat loves the mystery (especially around his female characters). Also, their problematic female characters.
In both cases, they take those things to be shortcuts to actual emotional connection or character development. Take Moffat’s predecessor, Russell Davies who also didn’t care for tight plotting but his season finales always ended on an emotional release, especially when it came to the loss of a companion (Rose and Donna come to mind). Moffat’s finales always require a solution to a long running mystery, reducing the time available to build up any sort of emotion.
Nolan’s love of puzzles is pretty obvious but he’s trying, and failing, to insert emotion into them, specifically a father’s love because it transcends space or time or whatever. In Inception, Cillian Murphy longs for his father’s love and when he gets it the audience doesn’t care because he’s the mark of a long con. DiCaprio gets to express his at the end but the audience still doesn’t care because his kids are words on a script. Interstellar does a better job of it because we get to see some interaction between father and offspring but when McConaughey falls into the black hole/tesseract and the puzzle clicks into place, Nolan assumes this will create some emotional connection with the audience because he’s literally shown how love transcending space and time. It’s the physical manifestation of Hathaway’s monologue earlier in the movie. I laughed out loud in the theater.
Also, Pete, for Plan B there were 10 artificial wombs onboard for the initial seeding of the population then there would be exponential growth or something. I guess even Nolan thought a person having 10 babies in succession was too hard to swallow. NASA must have taught Hathaway how to operate those things and then trained her to raise 10 babies while they were teaching her astronomy and astrophysics?
Also, they’re both British.
This comment got away from me…
I mean, Hathaway’s character is named AMELIA. I refuse to believe that’s a coincidence.
I care, Fenzel. I care that Naruto became Hokage.
I care too! And it was pretty funny that they just paired characters off. Lord knows I hope to one day marry a girl I met in middle school.
The end of Naruto has me all nostalgic because that was the first fan translated manga I ever read and got me into that scene. I even ended up translating One Piece for a while. I never did watch the dubbed version, though I am generally aware of the “BELIEVE IT” thing.
I didn’t get why Naruto’s son is named Bolt for a while, but it is more resonant in Japanese. Naruto’s name would be broken up as na-ru-to. I haven’t seen the raw, but I’m guessing Bolt is bo-ru-to. So that’s kind of cute.
Yeah, “bo-ru-to” is the explanation I saw in one scanlation.
The discussion of the senselessly dying black dude in space makes me think of Event Horizon, which has many flaws but is nice in that it has two black dudes, one of them is the (SPOILERS) doomed primary protagonist and the other actually survives until the end of the film along with one of the women (if I recall correctly it is left ambiguous whether anyone survives much beyond the end of the film.). Watching 90s movies sometimes is a great way to see how far we’ve gone backward in terms of representation of women and minorities in popular culture.
Personally I though the impulse behind the movie was “Support the space program”
…by inflating Nolan’s ego to such astronomical proportions.
Everyone, you need to stop what you’re doing and take the Buzzfeed “Which ‘Too Many Cooks’ Cast Member Are You?” quiz NOW:
Well done, Buzzfeed. Well done.
(I got the killer! YES!)
Maybe we need to introduce the concept of the Huey Lewis ex machina, which is when the power of love magically resolves all the problems. The ur example for me is A Wrinkle In Time, when all you need to do to rescue your brother from the most evil being in the universe is love him. See also:
* The end of The Naked Gun
* The end of that season of Buffy with the nerds of doom
* Every episode of Care Bears ever
* The end of The Neverending Story, but in that case the redemptive power of imagination is sort of baked into the pie
Suffice to say, this is almost always terrible. Emotions don’t solve problems. People ACTING on emotions solve problems. Characters making choices solve problems. (NOTE: Another one of my pet peeves are movies that are resolved by the good guy telling the bad guy that they have a choice, which causes the bad guy to renounce badness.)
EDIT: TV Tropes is there first, of course, down to the title:
Would you consider the LEGO Movie to have been one that did “the power of love” right or does it still miss the mark in some way? (Because its pretty much the same as your pet peeve)
I think the LEGO movie’s power of love ending is justified on multiple levels.
1. The ending fits with the whole film’s well established, friendly tone.
2. The film is a series of action, adventure and children’s movie tropes and cliches.
3. The multiple character relationships between Lord Business and Emmet, as well as the originary conditions of the LEGO universe, would realistically allow for the power of love to win.
Looking at Interstellar’s ending along these same lines sort of help me figure out why the library ending felt strange. (I think the podcast covered all of this and I’m just rehashing.)
1. The tone of the movie doesn’t feel consistent with the ending. Sure, I do expect McConaughey’s mission to succeed, since he has children and there’s a poltergeist. However, everything feels too cold and calculated to expect some endearing magic to save everyone. I’m trying to figure out how the black hole visions work and there’s nothing to figure out.
2. Sure, throughout the movie there is unexplained phenomena to hint at some greater saving force at the end. I’m not sure what expectations I had about what that saving entity would eventually be.
3. This film universe didn’t make sense. Maybe we could argue that the universes of LEGO movie and Inception didn’t make sense, but both of those movies established the flow and rules of their universes immediately with the first scene.
They leaned very heavily on “the power of love” during the 11th Doctor’s tenure, part of the reason I skipped out on those seasons. The finale of the 12th Doctor’s first season handled the relation of the emotional plot and the saving-the-world plot much better.
I get annoyed when science fiction shows/movies turn on ideas. For all there is the laud about Contact, I’m still ticked about the climax, which is an interstellar journey for the progatonist to see an image of her dead father and learn he did love her after all. She could have just stayed on a therapist’s couch for that.
Perhaps the problem is that, without that kind of personal emotional resonance at a very human scale, the human perspective is just dwarfed and alienated. 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t have that kind of plotline, and it is often described as chilly and alienating, with flat characters. Star Trek: The Motion Picture had lengthy sequences of the Enterprise flying by the vast V’Ger machine, and the crew sitting there doing reaction shots of awe. Maybe, confronted by the true vastness of the universe, human emotional subjectivity is lost, and we counter-react by fixating on trivia (classic rock songs, our own Oedipal issues). Minds that evolved to live on the savannah with about 30 people just can’t handle it.
So maybe this is just the space madness talking, but I really liked this movie. It didn’t execute flawlessly, but I loved its ambition, the action was great, and I even thought the 5-dimensional bookshelf scene was a pretty good of wrapping up the story (though I admit having Coop survive was pretty silly). While it’s not perfect, I thought that the movie actually holds up to scrutiny fairly well.
The podcast was just too full of people raking the movie over the coals, looking for a way to slice and dice it. I guess what I’m saying is that the podcast had……too many cooks. (I’ll see myself out)
I thought it had echoes of Borges’ “Library of Babel”, and anytime I get Borges echoes is good time.
I’m picking at Interstellar’s plot and story even though I enjoyed almost every scene. Tulse’s description of the movie as a pastiche of space awesomeness seems to really bring out the strengths of the movie.
I’m no Grinch who can’t tolerate a little schmaltz. But this felt like a bait and switch. Interstellar sells itself (both within the movie and in the marketing) as “hard” sci-fi, a quasi-realistic look at how wormholes and space travel might work. But then at the climax of the movie, science is thrown completely out the window. Cooper falls into a black hole, sends a message back in time to his daughter’s watch, then falls OUT of the black hole just in time to be saved. There’s barely a fig leaf of “maybe somebody in the future set this up, somehow.” It feels like a really forced happy ending – a textbook deux ex machina. In general, you don’t want to see your protagonist miraculously rescued. You want to see him do something really clever or awesome. (Exception is Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is the most literal deux ex machina in film history and will probably hold that record for all time.)
And fig leaves made of paradoxical time loops are notoriously transparent, and really don’t do much to conceal one’s narrative naughty bits.
Re: the “mansplaining” scene, for a movie that does this kind of scene really well, everyone needs to go watch the Danny Boyle’s 2007 movie Sunshine. There’s an extremely well done scene where the crew of a spaceship is making a similar binary decision, and Chris Evans’ character cuts off the discussion and is like “Guys, this isn’t a democracy. We’re all scientists, and so the person that’s most qualified to make this decision should make the decision” and then they ask the physicist whose job it is to actually understand the issue at stake. It’s pretty great.
I’ll also just point out that Hathaway’s character is actually right in the end — Edmunds’ planet was indeed more habitable, and if they had gone there directly, the token black guy wouldn’t have died, and Cooper wouldn’t have had to take what he thought might be a fatal trip through a black hole.
And, of course, if they’d gone to Edmunds’ world first, they would have also completely avoided the whole time dilation issue. At the very least, I would have thought you’d leave the time-dilated planet until the last, as it seems like a really bad, last-ditch idea to let your ship and life support systems age 23 years while you’re doing your surface excursion — surely one should do that only as a last resort. (Especially since earth is also passing 23 years at that time, when supposedly the situation is incredibly dire.)
And yeah, Sunshine is a pretty great film. Unlike Interstellar, it has one silly premise (“we need to restart the sun”) but otherwise sticks to pretty rigorous science and reasonable plot.
“I’ll also just point out that Hathaway’s character is actually right in the end”
TOTALLY. And if Chris Evans had been there, he’d have told Coop to shut his stupid trap – the PLANETARY SCIENTIST should be making the decision on WHICH PLANET TO GO TO.
It’s true that Hathaway is right in the end, but (other than the mansplaining nonsense) I find it hard to fault the decision to go to Mann’s planet. This is a common thread in sports analysis – you shouldn’t judge a decision based on the outcome, you should judge it based on the decision making process. On the face of it, the data gave the edge to Mann’s planet, IIRC. Hathaway was arguing that the indicators from Edmunds’ planet were good, albeit not as good, and the distance from the black hole make it more likely to have random beneficial effects. It’s a decision that could go either way, and I can’t blame them for not guessing that Mann had been faking data the whole time.
With Miller’s planet, I thought the point was that they didn’t have enough fuel to leave and come back. They certainly didn’t plan to stay that long there – I think they say that the plan was for a ~2 year non-dilated visit just to confirm with Miller. Of course, they probably should have realized that the time dilation meant that Miller’s signals were delayed, but it’s not like they had an astrophysicist handy.
(On a more technical note, I’m not sure the signal from a time dilated planet would work that way. In the special relativity scenario, time dilation only works on an observer, and photons are massless and always traveling at the speed of light by definition. While events on the planet are dilated, any communication sent out would travel at normal speed. They speculate that Miller had arrived on the planet only minutes before them, so there should only have been one signal. But gravitational time dilation may work differently because of the spacetime distortion.)
Sunshine is…half of a good movie. My friends sold it to me as The Core in space, so I was prepared for a so-bad-it’s-good type movie, but it was legitimately engrossing for the first half. And then it all went crazy in the second half, and not in an entertaining way like The Core.
Has anyone mentioned the name of the evil guy? Mann?
Man is evil, selfish and deceitful.
Brand – mark of Cain?
Murph, I guess a Robocop homage?
Upon reflection, and I wish I’d figured this out by the podcast, “Mann”‘s name almost certainly seems to be a reference to the German writer Thomas Mann, and perhaps his novel _The Magic Mountain_.
In the Magic Mountain, an engineering student goes up into the Alps to a sanitarium to visit his brother, but he ends up getting sick and stuck there for a long time. While he’s up there, he meets a lot of people and ends up learning a lot about the human condition — in particular about the fear of death.
So yeah, that’s my take for what Mann means.
I nominate “It’s Barbara Walters all the way Hugh Downs” for best news show related pun of 2014.
I was definitely intrigued by individual ideas and moments in this film. Particularly when they come back from the time dilation planet and Anne Hathaway has a big freak-out about how ‘this mission has gotten out of control; we’re totally unprepared for this’. I thought that was a really powerful expression of how, once humans leave the Earth, we’re no longer kings of all we survey. The universe isn’t built to our scale and that’s kind of terrifying.
I think it fell down primarily because there was no strong unifying idea. For example, The Prestige is so successful because the central idea is really simple: ‘It’s not an illusion; it’s real.’ I don’t know what Interstellar was trying to say – ‘love is the most powerful force in the universe’ is just so blah. It doesn’t really mean anything. Maybe if they’d focused more heavily on the idea of time as the antagonist it would have held the narrative together better. Once people started yapping on about love I was done.
Really gorgeous CGI, though.
Yeah, maybe Interstellar’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t follow through on its very clear statement of purpose that comes very early on in the movie — we should be looking up at the stars, rather than down in our place in the dirt.
Matt Damon’s character is an interesting foil to this idea (“We are best at looking at the stars _because_ we are looking at our place in the dirt.”) — but nobody presents Mr. Mann with alternative to his worldview, other than grisly death.
What the movie really needed, I think, was Cooper or Amelia Brand or _somebody_ to rebut Mr. Mann in some way that rose to the level of rigor of his own arguments — and in a way that connected the Mr. Mann subplot to the statement of purpose at the beginning of the movie.
A bunch of the characters have meaningful relationships to this statement of purpose, but it just seems like what they were doing or thinking or saying wasn’t connected enough to it to inform it with richness, truth or beauty. It gets muffled.
And of course you could look at this movie alongside big sweeping artistic films that don’t so much have a unifying sense of purpose as a pastiche of images and ideas tied together in beautiful and incomplete ways — except the movie does stop and make these big proclamations from time to time, so it doesn’t allow itself to be mysterious.
Basically it either should have been more about philosophy or less about philosophy. As somebody who really enjoys engaging with even popcorn movies on a philosophical level, it was jarring and unsatisfied in the way it backed off from its own ideas and made new ones on the fly.
Also, just in terms of the visual language of the film, one of the big sins is that it seems to drop the aesthetic role of dust. There’s all this intimate time early in the movie spend looking at and interacting with dust, and then you go to these desolate planets, but there’s no dust on them or snow treated like dust, and there’s no dust on the spaceships, so that image is left behind and doesn’t get a chance to evolve with the story.
Even when Jessica Chastain and Topher Grace are going through the rural heckscape, the dust has taken on an entirely different visual character — it feels much more generic and not really related to the dust that is everywhere at the beginning of the movie.
There’s the sweeping fluid grandeur of the wormhole and black hole sequences, but that didn’t so much feel like a counterpoint as an entirely different artistic voice, let alone a different motif.
So yeah, there are any number of things in Interstellar that could have served as a throughline or point of connection to exert connective or attractive force (gravity, if you will), on all the disparate parts of the story, conflicting ideas, and incompatible discourses (hard science / campy fantasy / romantic comedy / frontier survivalism / Stanley Kubric / etc. etc.)
Firstly, when I start a bluegrass punk band I’m going to call it The Rural Heckscape.
What the heck was going on with the Topher Grace character? At no point did he do anything interesting or even necessary. Do you think there was another subplot with him and Jessica Chastain that got cut?
I did wonder if the dust was meant to be a contrast to the bleak emptiness of space. Dust kind of makes the air tactile – it fills that ’empty’ (visually at least) space with motes of physical stuff. In a weird way, it’s almost comforting – it makes the planet seem softer and more forgiving by blurring the edges.
That’s a really stark contrast to when they’re travelling in space and suddenly the visuals are crystal clear; the lines are clean and hard. Everything is brutal, there’s no softness to protect a fragile human body.
Maybe this falls down when you consider that the dust on earth is killing people. Though I suppose it brings home the point that humans can only exist in this tiny Goldilocks zone – too much ‘earth’ and we suffocate, but not enough and we starve.
I get the sense that the dust is to represent the drawbacks to the concept of “stay/don’t go” which is his daughter’s emphatically repeated plea throughout. The reason it is so absent from the middle of the film is that Coop is dealing with the consequences of not staying. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Edmunds’s planet, which we only see in the last shot of the movie, is the only one that has dirt/dust on it, because it represents a return to the concept of staying in one place.
Oh, I just thought of another way to put it. By choosing to fly away over staying with his daughter, he flew the Coop. So to speak.
It didn’t seem to me like the movie misunderstands the Dylan Thomas poem because the two people who lend their voices to it (Michael Caine and Matt Damon), are the closest things to antagonists in the movie. I think the movie means for us to see the flaw in applying the poem’s true sense to all of humanity (instead of just to Thomas’s relationship with his dying father), and to connect that flaw with the tragic fates of those two characters: Michael Caine dies thinking that humanity will soon be extinct, and he is probably more convinced of it than anyone else ever has been; Matt Damon is afraid of being more profoundly alone than anyone else ever has been, and that’s pretty much how he dies in the end. Regarding the poem, the movie seems to be saying: there are dire consequences for those who apply this poem to their own fates, or in other words: when you rage against the dying of the light, the dying of the light rages back.
It would be fun to do some kind of schematic comparison of Interstellar to Contact. Both are about a father/daughter relationship, both feature a wormhole opened to humanity by ostensible extra-terrestrials, both feature Matthew McC, both feature Matthew McC giving a girl a watch as a symbol of hope or faith while one of them goes off to space, both eventually feature a young woman who’s driven into science after mourning the loss of her father and both feature a father-daughter reunion made possible only by some strange time-bending mechanics. At what point does ‘influenced by’ turn into ‘blatantly ripped off’?