Within the first ten minutes of “Interstellar,” I was informed that Murphy’s Law actually means “whatever can happen will happen.” This is a move about possibility and about the walls humans have built physically and existentially. Have I blocked myself off from the universe with the assumptions of science we hold as irrefutable? Have I blocked myself off from other people because I don’t want to have to complicate leaving? This is a movie that is a profound trip through space, time, and my own mind. Needless to say, I left the theater changed, enlivened and in love with the possibility of the universe.
At its core, “Interstellar” is a film about motion, or perhaps more accurately, the question of what creates motion. As TARS, the hulking, former robotic marine, explains, “It’s Newton’s Third Law: humanity cannot move forward without leaving something behind.” Over the course of the film many things are left behind physically: flags, cargo, probes, homes and earth. Then there are the less tangible things: values, loves, faith, hope and belief. One of the things I think the film does cleverly with this is its use of sound. Sure it can reach earsplitting moments, but it also has some of the longest silences in recent memory.
Leaving and being left create tension between characters and construct some of the most profoundly heart wrenching scenes. Being left behind by someone is a pretty standard fear in the modern age and is the inherent danger of love. Love is essential to the story of the film. It comes in a variety of forms, but the bond love creates between people and how that bond motivates action is more central to the story than the romantic buildup we normally see in films. The love in “Interstellar” possesses a certain desperation, it is fully formed by the start of the film, and I believed in it because of how well portrayed the desperation and despair over it is for the actors. Love in many ways is the equal opposite reaction to propulsion, whereas propulsion in the film seems to suggest motion as moving away; love says we are always moving towards.
The film captures the feeling of being caught in the beauty of a vast universe of jumping across space-time and still wishing you were caught in the last gasp of a dying planet because the person you love is there. As Brand put it, “Love is the only thing that transcends space and time.” This reaffirmed my belief that love is perhaps the most radical thing people can do because it requires a defiance of all the laws of physics and rationality and god and government. Here is an ark full of people ignoring the laws of the universe in the name of love.
In the recent documentary “Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?” Noam Chomsky says, “The world is a very puzzling place. If you’re not willing to be puzzled you just become a replica of someone else’s mind.” The same hold true for if you are content with the explanations given. This is certainly true in “Interstellar.” Where the question of what can we know? It comes up a great deal. Scientists in Nolan’s future attribute the appearance of a wormhole that represents humanity’s best hope for salvation to “they.” Who are “they?” No one knows. But the message is clear, there are answers we are not meant to know and we simply have to be content with them extending us a helping hand.
One of the astronauts remarks of black holes that all answers are in them, but we can’t see beyond the event horizon and into the key to the universe. Many of the players human and robot alike seem to accept “they” as an inherent fact of life. Of course, there are other truths that characters hold dear and refuse to question. These truths are both scientific (data based and assumptional) and spiritual (man’s relation to the infinite and the functioning of time). This is a film that is not afraid to contradict itself.
Therein lies what I love most about the film, but what might be most frustrating to others. The film gives no answers. It asks questions and provides plausible defenses for a vast array of potential answers. Of course, others might criticize the last 30 minutes as jumping the shark and relying on deus ex machina. However, I would argue that the implausibility and impossibility are the point. This film accepts at its core that everything is possible. I suppose that this is why though Interstellar is similar in ways to “Déjà Vu” and “Source Code” it takes the project one step further. While “Inception” concerns itself with dreams, “Interstellar” is about the laws we’ve created and how those may just be not dreaming enough.
“Interstellar,” if found by aliens or orcas, would be seen as a question of humanity. Where is it going? Where has it been? They would see it as something akin to gospel, as an attempt by tiny beings to wrestle with their place in the vastness of eternity. There are no answers, but then again are there ever answers?