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Is ‘Interstellar’ Visually Representative of Something other than Space?


A Glimpse Into Our Forthcoming Environmental Future

Does Interstellar visually convey something other than the space narrative that is seen throughout the movie? Does the film convey another story other than Cooper’s mission to find another habitable planet? Despite the movie’s centralization on a group of astronauts their journey through space, there is another subtopic that is impossible to ignore- the urgency of the environment’s worsening state. So, how does Nolan communicate this urgency to his viewers, while simultaneously providing a narrative about Cooper’s journey to save mankind? 

Nolan’s Structure of Interstellar: A Notion of Alarm and A Beacon of Hope

Nolan does not waste time trying to convey the deteriorating state of the environment. The film starts out with clips of elderly individuals discussing what life was like when the environment started getting worse, years ago when they were still on Earth. They each spoke of different experiences, like the blows of dirt in the area referencing the dust storms, or the habits they had to adapt to adjust the environment, like setting the plates upside down on the dining table so that they would not get dusty from the dust in the air. What did we think Nolan was trying to accomplish with setting the scene for the movie like this? With Interstellar being a space oriented narrative, Nolan could have easily begun the film diving straight into Cooper’s narrative and the space journey. Instead, however, he sets up Interstellar to convey the message that the environment was suffering at the beginning of the movie, and he wanted to communicate to viewers that this was the reason why Cooper was forced to explore. Because that was the state of the Earth for Cooper- a dystopia consisting of environmental deterioration. 

Arguably, however, he could have also begun the film with the elderly discussing the state of the environment when they were younger to prove that there is hope for a solution. The first individual speaking of their experience in the climate was the older version of Murph, implying to the reader that there was, in fact, a solution for the environmental collapse. Without giving away major spoilers, Nolan including the older version of Murph could perhaps be interpreted as a beacon of hope. Murph in her old state is a visual representation that the journey that Cooper sacrificed his life for was worth it since she survived, and that perhaps the efforts that humanity will make in reality will be worth it as well. 

Glimpses Into Problems, A Light Into Cures  

Nolan begins the film by giving viewers a glimpse into what Earth may be like, likely sooner than we think. Viewers are given an insight into what he believes will be the future of science to adapt to climate change conditions. When Cooper finally finds NASA’s secret base after finding the coordinates through the gravitational anomaly, he meets Dr. Brand, who discusses future environmental problems and their solutions, such as blight, a plant disease causing the failure of crops on Earth affecting crops such as weed and okra, leaving corn to be the only crop available but one that will cease to exist in due time. Dr. Brand additionally makes reference to how the increase in blight will lead to less oxygen. While Kip Thorne in his novel The Science of Interstellar discusses that this situation of blight affecting the Earth in reality as it does in the film is unlikely, the concept still successfully provides reference to how plant diseases that will emerge with climate change will have a drastically damaging effect on the agricultural system. 

Despite Nolan’s emphasis on an agricultural conflict, he still offers a glimpse into a possible cure for a future interstellar population. Anne Hathaway’s character, Brand, discusses the “population bomb,” a solution for continuing the population on another habitable planet without taking everyone from Earth. She explains that about 5,000 fertilized eggs at a light weight will be taken into the new planet, and with a well thought out plan and an expectation for surrogacy, the population will be exponential. Scientists in the modern day often discuss the problems that may arise when populating a new colony in the future, including genetic diversity, environmental adaptation, and limited resources, though the plan explained by Brand deals with genetic diversity by taking the genomes from the diverse population on Earth into the new colony itself, rather than starting reproduction on the new homogenous colony. Nolan successfully sheds light on issues that will arise in the near future as climate change progresses like agricultural failure, though simultaneously brings hope to issues like future population growth.  

Interstellar Main Image

A Powerful Drive For A Solution- But Why? For Who?

Cooper’s journey to find a habitable planet is one filled with uncertainty, danger, and everything more. So, what made him do it? Surely, it could not have been solely Dr.Brand’s persuasion, conveying that he needed to for the sake of it. After all, Cooper had two children he would be leaving behind on a planet, currently in a state of degradation. 

But that’s exactly what it was. His children. 

Viewers observe Cooper himself asking Dr. Brand how long he will be gone, and Dr. Brand offers an inconclusive answer. To the average person, embarking on a journey into the universe with the uncertainty of ever returning to home would be something unavoidable. Cooper himself says that he has kids, and to which Dr. Brand replies, “Go out there and save them.” This was when Cooper realized the true significance of this issue, when he realized that he was no longer just fighting for his own generation. He was fighting for theirs and every one after. 

Cooper’s dedication and sacrifice of both his relationship with Murph and his own life is undeniably a message from Nolan to his audience about the sacrifice that we must make to attend to the environment. Although Cooper’s gesture in this manner is to embark on a journey into space itself, and one that is not at all in the range of the average person, it is a representation of how the audience must acknowledge the worsening state of the environment, and that it is in the hands of humanity to solve it. The film also functions to show that the importance of fighting to solve climate change is for the future generations, demonstrated through Cooper’s primary motive of agreeing to the mission being to find a habitable planet for his own children, Murph and Tom. There is a palpable sense of love and its strength shown that Cooper has for his children, one that viewers should be inspired by when thinking of who they should be fighting for when dealing with the environment. 

So, What Is Nolan’s Message In All Of This?

Dr. Brand carries a line of dialogue towards the beginning of the movie, one that may leave viewers wondering if this is truly what the future holds, “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.” Whether this is the case for reality or not, humanity remains unsure. However, what we do know is that Nolan wants us to realize that this reality may come sooner than we all believe. Undeniably as well, he makes this clear through his work in Interstellar, where he sheds light on the environment’s future corrupt state, its issues, and its possible solutions. 

At one point in the movie, Dr. Brand quotes from Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” One may interpret this as not easing into death without a fight. And why might have Nolan included this in his film? He is telling us not to accept death and environmental destruction without a fight, a battle that requires us to find solutions for the world around us. 

So ultimately, what can one conclude from Interstellar and Nolan’s plea for environmental awareness? 

It’s simple.

That we must not go gentle into that good night. 

Interstellar is available on most streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, and Apple TV. 

Interstellar Last Image

Interstellar (2014) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Ella-Rose Hugo is a student at UCLA majoring in Business Economics with an anticipated minor in film. She is experienced in creative writing and is newly involved in the entertainment business industry. She hopes to pursue a career combining entertainment business, production, and writing.

Hi! I am a Dramatic Writing and Performing Arts major at SCAD from Puerto Rico. I have an intense passion for all things film, tv, and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and putting it out there is the most important.