Thoughts on Nolan’s Interstellar


Warning: Some – no, a lot of spoilers ahead. I can’t not talk about it because it really is a great movie, and I suggest that you watch it while it’s still being screened in cinemas. I can feel that the experience in the theater would be vastly different from watching it on Blu-Ray or on a laptop.

I recently watched Interstellar, and I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint. The visuals were amazing, the writing (save for a few plotholes) was on point, and the acting was well done. My favorite performance in the film was Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, which highlighted the conflict between wanting to save mankind and wanting to stay on Earth and take care of his loved ones. It was evident in the film that his heart got in the way of the mission that he was supposed to accomplish, and this led to very interesting developments in the film’s plot.

However, I especially loved how Interstellar brought up some huge questions regarding life, death, the human drive for survival, and of course, love. Needless to say, the questions I had in mind while the credits were rolling as I was leaving the cinema (that’s right, I don’t watch until the end of the credits because I suck like that) were philosophical in nature, and for a while, walking around Greenhills Shopping Center and waiting for my sister’s iPad to be repaired, my mind lingered upon these questions.

What is more important, the needs of the many or the needs of the few? Is it alright to sacrifice millions of people in order for humanity to survive? Interstellar touched upon this very intelligently, and it proved to give rise to some amazing character development, especially in the characters of Professor Brand and Dr. Mann. They both believed that Earth was a lost cause, and that the only hope for mankind was the Lazarus Mission. While millions of people would perish on Earth, it would have to be a necessary sacrifice in order to ensure that the human race would carry on.

Professor Brand had to keep this belief a secret from the rest of the world, including his own daughter, Amelia, and especially Cooper, who he knew would not go on the mission unless it gave his loved ones a chance at survival. He died without telling it to anyone except Murphy, Cooper’s daughter, who in turn transmitted the information to Cooper’s team. Brand was willing to sacrifice his very own humanity, along with the millions of lives that would be lost on Earth, in order to make sure that human life would carry on. Brand, who was made to be seen as the typical elderly mentor-type character, who pushed Cooper to go on with the mission in order to save mankind, and later on even trained Murphy to become a top scientist at NASA, lost all hope in the rest of humanity, and accepted the fact that there was no chance for them to survive. However, this final act of confessing to Murphy could be seen as his redemption of sorts, and it could be seen that in the end, he still had the hope that the people left on Earth would be able to survive. Until the end, he kept on reciting Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, telling of survival, and of hope of a new life for mankind. Even if he initially believed that sacrificing a select population was necessary for the good of all, even if that population was composed of millions of innocent people, it may be seen that in the end he kept the faith and kept on telling mankind to rage against the dying light.

Meanwhile, Dr. Mann was previously considered as one of the best and bravest scientists of NASA and even the world, with Amelia regarding him as a hero when she said that they wouldn’t be doing their mission, and they wouldn’t have gotten that far if it weren’t for him. As it turns out, Mann also believed that the people left on Earth were doomed, and that the objective to find a new planet to call home was more important than saving the rest of humanity. Upon discovering that the planet he resided in was uninhabitable and finding out that Cooper had plans to go back to Earth, he tried to murder him to ensure that they would still be able to find a life-supporting planet, and afterwards tried to take control of their ship, the Endurance, and caused part of it to explode in the process. It would seem that this previously brilliant, heroic man had been corrupted not only by the time he had spent in solitude, but also by the lack of faith that he had in the mission itself. It would seem that he had gone mad, and had decided to give up on saving the rest of mankind, deeming them hopeless causes, but it may also appear to be rational thinking that led him to make those decisions. He perceived a threat in Cooper’s desire to go back to his family, and he tried to eliminate it. He only wanted what was good for the whole of mankind, what was good in the long run, and what he considered to be the greater good, and from his point of view, he may have had to get his hands dirty in the process.

These situations pose the question of what can be considered to be the greater good, and as per usual with philosophy, there is no concrete, absolute answer. There will always be too many factors affecting what is right, and what is good, and what should be, and it may not always be what everyone wants. Humans are as individual as they are communal, and that individuality affects our notions about the world, our environment, other people, and even ourselves. Your moral code may not always be the same as mine, maybe because of the different things we went through.

Cooper probably had the faith that he would be able to help save the people on Earth because he had tangible things to fight for, like his children, and his drive to save them, his selfless acts of love for them, were what led him to keep this belief in the salvation of all of mankind, including those left on Earth. In the same way, Mann’s perception of the people left on Earth may have changed, be it from his solitary stay on a galaxy far away from them, or from some other factor that the film did not touch upon. This perception, this belief that there was no hope for the abandoned humans on Earth, led him to take the actions that he did, to take all measures necessary to ensure that they would be able to survive as a species, and unfortunately, eventually led him to his demise.

Why does man feel the need and drive to survive? The entirety of Interstellar is based upon the premise that Earth has become uninhabitable, and man must search for a new home in order to carry on its existence. The whole expedition to another galaxy in search of an inhabitable planet was for the survival of the human race. But was all this even necessary?  We are but tiny, tiny humans living on a tiny, tiny “pale, blue dot” among the multitude of speckles in the galaxy, which may then be a tiny speck among a multitude of other galaxies, the cluster of which may then be another tiny speck among a seemingly infinite blanket known as the universe. What lead us to embark on a journey to the final frontier, to the grandiose vastness of space? What called us to go beyond the limits of our home, the Earth, and go on voyages to worlds besides our own?

Interstellar sums the answer up very simply. The human race needs to leave Earth because of food shortage and harsh living conditions. Resources are low in supply, and time is running out for so many people. The Lazarus Missions, along with Cooper and the rest of the team, aimed to find a new home for man, and these people braved the terrifyingly infinite nature of the universe in the hope (against all hope) that they would be able to discover a chance at survival. Futile as it seem, they “succeeded”, but not without losses, and seeing as the people abandoned on Earth were able to survive on their own (not without the help of Cooper, of course, through some very confusing yet beautiful transcendental space-time manipulation), it would seem that the expedition was, to some extent, a failure. However, with Amelia’s (who was the only person in the expedition crew who “survived”) eventually discovery of the planet that human beings could call home, it would be revealed that this expedition was still successful in achieving, as it was said, Plan B.

But would all of that have been necessary? What if what was meant for man was to succumb to its tragic fate, which was to eventually die out? What if this demise was inevitable, and the expedition that was carried out only contributed to the suffering that people experienced? Eventually a man would have to come to terms with his very own death. It is inevitable. But what if the same happened for all of mankind? The death of humanity itself would not be the same as any massacre, or genocide, or epidemic, as it will deal with the elimination of not just a specific sample of the population, but of the whole population itself. Wiping out the existence of mankind, something that we very much like to think we own, and something that we very much like to think of as constant and permanent, is different from any sort of death because it will not just be the death of any one. It will be the death of culture, of government, of language, of morals, of knowledge. The demise of humankind will be the demise of humanity itself. Does this justify, then, our primal drive for survival?

We’ve been surviving for as long as we’ve existed as a species. We adapted to changing environments, eliminated predators, caught prey, and eventually learned how to cultivate lands. With our expanding knowledge, we created structures, and with those structures, we began to shape our very own environment, the very Earth that we live in. Our very own intelligence, the greatest ability we utilize in order to survive, has been the tool to our progress. While it has divided us, it has also brought us together as people. So would the launch of an expedition to go beyond our dying planet be something that wasn’t meant to happen? It could simply be seen as us human beings doing what we’ve been doing ever since: Surviving. What could be so wrong with that?

Ultimately, it is still up to us to decide what to do with our intellect, and it is still up to us to decide to do what we can do. There will be things beyond our finite, human control, like death, calamities, the confines of time and space, but we can still take over what little control we have. We can still take steps that inevitably affect everything around us. We can choose to perish, we can choose to try and survive, or we can even choose to not choose at all. In fact, we can choose to believe in choices, or choose to believe that we cannot choose at all. In Interstellar, the people of Earth chose to take a chance at survival, and it happened to be a choice well made.

Why is love so important? Cliche as it was, Interstellar explored a key theme that has intrigued and inspired us human beings for as long as we can remember: Love. Does it exist, or is it merely a social construct designed to motivate or encourage us? Is it our way of adapting, of extending our instincts of survival not only to ourselves, but to other people? It is, after all, easier for man to survive in groups rather than alone. Is this thing that we call love something that merely serves a function, and nothing more? Different social, physiological, and psychological factors may be able to explain how love exists, and what it does for us.

But that isn’t what Interstellar meant when it touched upon love, and frankly, it isn’t really what I fully believe when it comes to this  widely-discussed topic. Interstellar explored the concept of transcendental love, love that exceeds all boundaries, love that goes beyond the confines of space, time, and whatever may be greater than that.

Cooper loved his family so much that he was willing to be sucked into a black hole for them, even if it meant his very own demise. His love continued to drive him to cross into this transcendental dimension where he was given a chance to manipulate the very fabric of space, and made him able to traverse the limitations of time (it got really really confusing towards the end, but nonetheless that scene was pretty cool) by giving signals to Murphy through gravity.

In this case, love was shown to be able to exceed even the most permanent, stoic of boundaries. In its unconditional, infinite, and pure nature, love is able to be transcendental and go beyond what would normally limit other forces. Cooper was able to transcend the very confines of his finitude as a farmer on a dying Earth, as an astronaut seeking to save the human race, and perhaps most importantly to him, as a father trying to be with his children again. His love drove him to take the steps necessary, even if they seemed to be impossible, suicidal, and ultimately futile, but in the end, love prevailed. Love drives us to do the unthinkable, even if it meant letting yourself get sucked into a black hole with no chance of escape. It is that aspect of our human spirit that enables us human beings to be greater than what we are, and to possibly change the things around us in ways we cannot comprehend. Like what Cooper said, it’s not something you can quantify or measure empirically, because as cheesy as it may seem, love achieved the impossible because its something that was greater than all of us.

There are so many more thoughts that I have on Interstellar, but I can’t collect them all as of now, like prioritizing one’s duty to a greater cause over what one’s heart is saying. Another thought would be how we are even able to comprehend something as vast as the universe, and if that means that there is something greater, bigger, and more powerful than the universe or if it just means that we haven’t even comprehended the universe itself enough. Unfortunately, I do not have the time (for now) to address and ponder upon these questions, so I’ll save them for another time.

Please do try to watch Interstellar. It’s an amazing film, a wonderful work of art by Christopher Nolan. It did have its weaknesses, but personally, its visuals and the thoughts it invoked in me made up for it tenfold. Thought-provoking, wonder-inducing, insightful, and simply majestic in its portrayal of the universe, Interstellar is like the first breath of fresh air after ages of floating around in the endless depths of space.


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