Before reading below, it should be noted: THERE BE *SPOILERS* HERE, TOP TO BOTTOM.
One of my favourite quotations from recent science fiction cinema comes from Steven Soderbergh’s shockingly underrated 2002 remake of Solaris. When discussing how mentally equipped mankind is for stellar discovery, the mission-leader, Dr. Gibarian opines, “We don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors.” To be specific however, it was the ghost of Gibarian, or perhaps even a construct from an Alien intelligence projected from the mind of psychologist Kris Kelvin. Maybe it was just a dream. It’s complicated, but you get the idea. We go out into space to learn more about ourselves, finding new life and civilizations is just something that might happen along the way.
In the case of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, we not only want mirrors, we also want old-time agriculture, book-shelves of dead-tree textbooks, battered and well loved pick-up trucks, baseball, and presumably, 35mm analogue film. In other words, apple-pie Americana with minimal materialism or digital devices. The only thing missing in the film’s love of all things twentieth century are the churches; in a way they too show up incorporated heavily into Hans Zimmer’s score. Co-incidentally enough, if the bombastic score were absent the epic organ-chime moments, it would very much resemble the subtle, driven work in Cliff Martinez’s score for, of all things, Solaris. Mirrors, indeed.
There is a bit of classic political head-butting in dusty small town America when former NASA pilot turned farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) goes into his kids’ school for parent-teacher interviews. In what is perhaps the films best scene, the principle and school teacher inform Cooper that the administration has ranked every 15-year old student’s future career path by a computer algorithm, a nanny state decision which must be abided. To add insult to injury, these governmental stewards charged with educating the youth are also moon-landing deniers and take umbrage to Coop’s daughter bringing ‘outdated textbooks’ into the classroom. Cooper, being the more come-what-may kind of cowboy (“alright, alright, alright kids, flat tire be damned, lets harvest and repurpose that old Indian solar wardrone!”) who likes manual-transmission, Morse code, and flying by the seat of his pants. The shackling of the future, and of history for that matter, to the lowest level of ambition, merely surviving, or as he puts it, staring down at the dirt, instead of looking up at the stars, gets his dander up. He’s a believer in technology, optimism, and problem-solving around a fast-ticking clock, in a world which has no interest in engineers or ideas. He funnels this frustration into his relationship with his bright and willful daughter. When the school administrators are looking to him to discipline his daughter, he tells them he is taking her to a ball game, and giving her popcorn and soda-pop. (She gets a suspension from formal schooling his insolence and goes on to eventually save the world. Take that liberals!)
In the mean time, the United States is experiencing a second Great Depression and Dust-Bowl scenario. We don’t know what is happening anywhere else in this inward-looking film (heck, we don’t even know what year it is!) Presumably, either America’s climate change denial, or its preemptive strike foreign policies, possibly even over-subsidizing corn-production to the point of mono-culture, has brought the whole ecosystem to the brink and the human population is merely a fraction of the 7 Billion souls at the beginning of the 21st century. Environmental blight ecological collapse is diminishing remaining oxygen supply to the point where there is only enough time and food for a few more generations. That is the scenario and it is grim, possibly man-made, and quite likely, irreversible.
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