Climate

Right Wing Attacks Media For Saying Interstellar Is About Climate Change. Seriously.

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Screenshot of trailer for "Interstellar" showing a typical dust storm on post-apocalypic Earth.

Spoiler Alert: This post reveals key plot points of Interstellar, to the extent the movie can be said to have a plot. Or a point. Also if you are a cli-fi fan or science geek, Interstellar will spoil your appetite — unless you watch it with earplugs.

Screenshot of trailer for "Interstellar" showing a typical dust storm on post-apocalypic Earth.

Screenshot of trailer for post-apocalyptic Interstellar showing a now-typical dust storm, which may or may not be human-caused.

Interstellar may be the greatest silent movie ever made. It is a stunningly gorgeous but annoyingly noisy, second-rate sci-fi movie with Icarus-like aspirations of greatness, an intentionally-confusing film with hints of climate change. So naturally it has become the latest target for the deniers.

Here are actual headlines an excerpts from right-wing websites

First off, thank goodness this anti-inspirational movie isn’t (clearly) about human-caused climate change, given that a main theme, as expressed by its genius NASA scientist (played by Michael Caine) appears to be:

“We are not meant to save the world. We are meant to leave it.”

And if you find it hard to believe that any modern eco-parable could have such a ludicrously defeatist theme, here’s the trailer:

Christopher Nolan himself admitted of that line, “Obviously, if that’s taken literally it would not be particularly positive.” Duh? When the writer-director doesn’t want a featured movie line taken literally, you know you are about to enter the looking glass.

As an aside, what kind of science geek movie — whose main characters are all scientists or engineers — screws up “Murphy’s Law” so badly? For the record, Murphy’s Law is “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” And no parent in their right mind would name their daughter “Murph” after the law. But I digress.

So what is the movie about? To quote the internet:

In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.

This certainly sounds a lot like global warming — especially since widespread Dust-bowlification is one of the most widely predicted (and worst) consequences of human-caused global warming. So is disease or invasive species.

And the movie goes out of its way to draw a link between this post-apocalyptic Dust Bowl and the 1930s Dust Bowl, even using some actual interviews with survivors seen in Ken Burns’ recent Dust Bowl documentary about “the greatest man-made eco disaster in U.S. history.”

So are Interstellar’s blight and Dust Bowl also human-caused? Nolan — auteur of “The Dark Knight trilogy” and “Inception” — is famously known for “Experimentation with metafictive elements, temporal shifts, elliptical cutting, solipsistic perspectives,” and movies about “the malleable nature of memory and personal identity.” With Interstellar, he doesn’t disappoint his fans, which is to say he disappoints everyone else by being deliberately obscure.

From the perspective of Interstellar’s big themes and its political-cultural relevance, it certainly matters a great deal whether humans caused the eco-collapse that the movie is built around. If we didn’t, then humanity is just a victim of circumstance, and the movie’s larger themes are not particularly relevant to us.

Now, on the one hand, there is one line where Cooper’s father says something like “six billion people, and every one of them trying to have it all.” The 2008 online script has it as “But we made a lot of mistakes. Six billion people. Just try to imagine that. Every last one of them trying to have it all.”

On the other hand there are plenty of times in the movie where Nolan could have directly stated that the collapse was due to man-made “climate change,” or “global warming” but he chose not to — those words never appear in the movie — instead hanging the dust-bowlification on a series of crop blights related to nitrogen.

As the Washington Post notes, the movie ”never explains the source of the blight and the dust storms that plague Earth’s remaining residents.” This Nolan-esque-ambiguity appears to be intentional, based on this recent interview:

Reuters: In “Interstellar,” Earth faces a severe environmental disaster brought on by the grounds drying up. Did you want to address climate change?

Nolan: Not consciously. The honest answer is we live in the same world, my brother and I. We work on the script, we live in the same world as everyone else so we’re sort of affected by the same things, worried about the same things, but we try not to be didactic in the writing, we try not to give any particular message or sense of things.

Yes, why make a big-budget movie about an eco-collapse that looks a lot like worst-case projections for global warming and then bother to give viewers “any particular message or sense of things”? I think it’s safe to say that Nolan and his co-writer brother do NOT live in the same world we do.

Nolan responded to media and viewer complaints that there were “parts where the music totally obliterates the dialogue” by explaining that was intentional! What about Michael Caine’s deathbed scene where it’s hard to tell if he is in fact admitting the whole notion that his efforts were aimed at saving humans on Earth was a lie? That was also meant to be intentionally confusing!

So is there anything to the right-wing complaint about some reviewers who argue the movie is a climate change parable — or to the deniers’ reverse complaint about climate hawks being annoyed with the movie’s (literally) pessimistic message about humanity’s chances to survive an eco-catastrophe?

No. This is how Nolan rolls. He likes big controversial themes that are presented in an intentionally opaque, confusing, and even contradictory fashion.

If you understand the dire (but preventable) nature of humanity’s actual climate predicament, the movie is simply the umpteenth missed opportunity by Hollywood, just as “The Hunger Games” series has been — though with the latter, the movies excised what appeared to be the link to climate change in the books.

George Monbiot writes in the U.K. Guardian: “Movies about abandoning Earth reflect the political defeatism of our age: that adapting to climate breakdown is preferable to stopping it.” Grist notes in its take-down of the multiple absurdities of the movie, “I can’t believe that intergalactic space travel was the best route to food security.”

That’s especially true since — “plot” spoiler — it’s fair to say that humans from the future are not going build a wormhole near Saturn for us to flee Earth to another galaxy. In the U.K. Guardian piece “How Interstellar made Michael Caine think again about climate change,” the actor himself says:

If Earth screws up, I think we all go. How many people can go through a black hole in a rocket? It’s not a bus.

Interstellar — the climate solution for the one percent. No wonder it appeals to conservatives….