A closer look at… Interstellar

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Interstellar is rated 12 for infrequent strong language, moderate threat, violence. The film is available on DVD.

The Scoop

Earth, the not-so-distant future. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) scrapes a living as a farmer, dwelling on his past as a failed astronaut and dreaming of the day when the human race will reach for the stars once again. The future for his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet) looks bleak: years of drought have reduced the country to a dustbowl, with worse environmental catastrophe looming ahead.

The appearance of a strange gravitational phenomenon in his daughter’s room leads Cooper to a secret base, where he discovers the world’s best-kept secret. The NASA space program, thought long defunct, has been sending astronauts to a faraway galaxy through a newly discovered wormhole, in the hope of finding a viable new planet for mankind. Under the leadership of Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), this ‘Lazarus Project’ is about to launch its most ambitious mission yet – and Brand wants Cooper to be part of it.

Cooper leaves knowing that he may never see his children again. Even if he returns, the vagaries of special relativity will mean they’ve aged more rapidly than him. While he flies away through space and time in an attempt to save the world, a grown-up Murph (Jessica Chastain) must decide whether she can ever forgive him.

Dig Deeper

 

  • What was your initial response to the film? Which scenes were particularly striking or memorable to you? What were the main questions you were left with?
  • How did you react to the film’s special effects – in particular, the wormhole, the black hole, and the water planet? What did these effects contribute to the story, and to your experience of the film?
  • What did you think of the film’s script? Did the story hold your attention throughout the 168 minute running time, and how well do you think it was structured? How effectively did the Nolans convey complicated ideas through dialogue?

‘Everything about this movie was personal.’ – Director Christopher Nolan

  • To what extent do you think Nolan was successful in making a film which people will respond to on a primarily emotional level? Why do you think he is often criticised for making films which don’t engage emotionally, and is this a fair criticism of his work in general? Do the scientific and intellectual ideas explored in Interstellar distract from its emotional elements, and why or why not?

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  • What emotional journey did you go on throughout the film? Which scenes were the most emotional for you, and why? What would you say is the emotional core of the story, and did this reach a satisfying conclusion for you?
  • How does Interstellar explore the relationship between parents and children? What makes the idea of special relativity – time passing more slowly for Cooper than for his children – so emotionally resonant in this respect? What universal aspects of parenting does the film touch on?
  • How much did you know about wormholes, relativity, quantum physics, black holes and the other scientific ideas explored by Interstellar before you saw the film? Did it matter to you whether the film presented these ideas with scientific accuracy, and why or why not? How important is it for Science Fiction to be grounded in scientific fact?
  • How is science viewed by different characters in Interstellar, and by the film as a whole? According to Interstellar, what potential does science have, and does it have any limitations? To what extent do you think the human race can solve our own problems through scientific endeavour?

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  • How credible is the future portrayed in Interstellar, and what contemporary cultural hopes and fears does the film’s vision of the future reveal? What are some common responses in our society to the idea of global warming and other potential threats to human life on our planet? What do you think the not-too-distant future holds for the human race?

‘We need to teach our kids about this planet, not about leaving it.’ –  Miss Kelly (Collette Wolfe)

  • Does the film as a whole seem to support or contradict Miss Kelly’s statement here? In your view, is it morally responsible to invest money in space exploration which could be spent solving earth’s problems? What moral imperative do we have to care for our planet – and what moral imperative do we have to explore beyond it?
  • How did you react to Cooper’s decision to leave his children behind by going into space? In your view, was this a selfless decision, a selfish one, or both? How does Cooper weigh his responsibility to his loved ones against his wider social responsibility, and how might people in our culture respond to a similar dilemma?

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  • What did you make of the moral dilemmas facing Professor Brand and Dr Mann, and the choices they made to deceive the others? To what extent does the fact that Brand did ‘the wrong thing for the right reasons’ (lying about ‘Plan A’ to motivate the astronauts) excuse his actions? Do you think you could have behaved more honourably in Mann’s position, and why or why not?

‘It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are. Explorers, pioneers. Not caretakers.’ – Cooper

  • To what extent do you agree with Cooper’s statement here as a description of the human condition? In what sense are we designed to be ‘caretakers’, and in what sense are we designed to be ‘explorers, pioneers’? Is the urge to explore beyond our known boundaries a spiritual one, and what might this tell us about ourselves?

‘Maybe [love] is some evidence, some artefact.’ – Dr Brand

  • How – and why – does Interstellar attempt to marry the scientific and the spiritual: to rationalise the spiritual aspects of human existence, or spiritualise the rational ones? Where does the film ultimately place its hope and faith, and what did you make of its conclusions? If love is a form of quantifiable evidence, where might this evidence lead?