Movie Reviews

“Interstellar”: Finding A New Telos

We've forgotten who we are: explorers, pioneers... not caretakers. (Joseph Cooper)

There's an unwritten rule with movies: the more you expect from one, the less you get from it. Another unwritten rule is that a remake is, in most cases, not as good as the original.

Christopher Nolan seems to be the great rule-breaker of today's film industry. When he took on the project of salvaging the Batman franchise after Joel Schumacher had almost destroyed it (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), who could have predicted he would release a trilogy that would almost completely eclipse Tim Burton's two first opuses (Batman and Batman Returns), which were actually really good?

When Interstellar's trailers started to catch my attention, and it was evident that Nolan was attempting a remake of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, I thought that the stakes were too high this time. How dare Nolan challenge The Master?

Interestingly, Christopher Nolan has often been described as Kubrick's heir, partly because of the two directors' common propensity to cut the Gordian Knots of established filmmaking. Kubrick was one of the very first moviemakers to use a nonlinear narrative, in The Killing (1956), and Nolan went even further in Memento (2000), which recounts the fragmented story of an amnesiac whose memory is rebooted every five minutes.

The comparison between Kubrick and Nolan is even apter in the case of Interstellar. Indeed, Interstellar is more than a remake of 2001. It is 2001, only way, way better. If Kubrick was film's Copernicus, then Nolan is its Galileo.

Before raising Radix readers' eyebrows, I should mention that Nolan's improvement upon Kubrick's 1968 movie is not due to technology. Unlike many futuristic movies these days, Interstellar is two-dimensional, and though there is, of course, an important use of CGI, it is not what defines the movie (and it is worth noting that in technical terms, 2001 has aged quite well). I could go as far as saying that Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity (2013) was graphically much more audacious than Interstellar. But it would be missing the point: though Interstellar takes place in outer space, it is not about space conquest. Much like 2001, Interstellar is about biological evolution, the meaning of human existence, Mankind's destiny, and God.

And though there is an important reflection on artificial intelligence in Interstellar, supercomputers are here reduced to the status of farm animals. There is no equivalent of “HAL,” arguably 2001's central character.

The prominence of humans in the scenario made the casting a matter of ultimate importance. Whereas the actors of 2001 could easily have been replaced with others, Matthew McConaughey's performance in Interstellar already is, and will remain indispensable.

Though not as famous as Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception), and still mostly known for starring in a string of interchangeable "rom-coms," McConaughey has recently proven as a man of both wit and emotional depth. With only a few minutes of screen time in Martin Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street, released last Winter, McConaughey managed to play the movie's most famous scene with a simple “money mantra” (or whatever it's supposed to be).

McConaughey also appeared on TV this year. In HBO's True Detective, he plays officer Rust Cohle. Down in Louisiana's post-industrial rubble, he and detective Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) are investigating a series of murders committed by the local elite in a ritual, Satanic fashion, leading some website editors to analyze True Detective as a “conspiracy theory” series. Commenting on the “tomb of the American Dream” he and Hart have to muddle through, Rust Cohle has some lines that echo those of Nolan's comic-book heroes and villains: “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”

In Interstellar, McConaughey, starring as Joseph Cooper, doesn't fail to provide the spectator with catchy lines. But before I start quoting, perhaps some contextual elements are in order.

The story takes place in the United States, or rather what used to be the United States. Joseph Cooper, a former engineer and pilot who had to retire after a crash, is now growing corn to provide for his two kids and his father-in-law. Cooper's wife died a few years before the story begins. She had a tumor that, had it been diagnosed in time, would have been curable. But the lack of proper medical devices and qualified physicians sealed her fate.

Cooper was wise enough to plant corn instead of wheat, corn being (for now) the only crop which resists a blight that is ravaging plantations.

The earth, both with a small and a capital “e,” is dying. The rotting plants turn into dust, which, due to frequent windstorms, makes it harder and harder for people to breathe. Field fires are commonplace. Harvests hardly reach survival levels. Apocalypse has come, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Though early 21st-century technological devices keep being used as long as they work, civilization has globally reverted to a pre-Industrial Revolution level: most human activity is oriented towards food production. Cooper's elder son, Tom, whose intelligence is only slightly above-average, will have to study how to grow corn in high school. More and more, boys learn their fathers' trade, as it used to be before the 19th and 20th centuries' division of labor.

Cooper's daughter, Murph, is much more like her father. She seems to be endowed with a kind of “shine” that allows her to feel a part of reality that the five senses cannot detect. Unlike her brother, she knows that “something is wrong” in the present state of affairs. She doesn't live by the rules, because she feels that rules are dooming her family. Though—or rather because—her intelligence is vastly above-average, she has troubles with her teachers at school. On her spare time, she tries to figure out what “ghosts” want to communicate to her. Although Cooper doesn't believe his daughter's “ghosts” stories, he supports her in her personal experiments. One day, she detects a signal that resembles geographical coordinates.

Cooper, who has noticed anomalies in his automatic ploughing machines' functioning, believes it is due to a magnetic field, whose center has been located by Murph. He decides to go there, and his disobedient daughter manages to hide in his pickup truck and go with her father. (Promethean Nolan likely means that all evolutionary leaps are made by rebels, like Columbus in his time.)

It turns out that the mysterious site is nothing less than a covert NASA base. Once the pride of the world, NASA has gone underground since government credits have been cut in favor of agriculture. (But as “Paul Kersey” wrote, in today's “real world,” space conquest has been abandoned to the benefit of “Diversity.” At least humans in Interstellar have the excuse of starvation.)

In a very short-sighted manner, what remains of the government thinks that Mankind's dire situation justifies that “frivolities” like space exploration make way to more essential endeavors like farming. (History school books are orwellianly rewritten to describe Apollo 11 as a hoax.)

Slipping the “Surly Bonds of Earth”

Here I am reminded of an episode from TV animated series Archer. In the twelfth episode of the third season, Commander Tony Drake (with Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston's exalted voice) explains to curvy quadrooness Lana why space colonization is the right answer to “here and now” problems:

Drake: You think space exploration is a boondoggle?!
Lana: Well, come on, in this economy?!
Drake: Exactly! Now, more than ever, is when we need to look to space for the solutions to Mankind's problems. In just two hundred years, Earth's population will exceed her capacity to produce enough food. And even as the famines begin, global war will erupt as fresh water becomes scarcer than gold. But if we begin now, using the lessons learned aboard Space Station Horizon, a small group of brave colonists can terraform Mars. And Mankind can finally slip the surly bonds of Earth, to live forever... AMONG THE STARS!!!

“Slipping the surly bonds of Earth” is exactly what Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a NASA researcher, has to offer Cooper. Brand wants Cooper to lead an expedition with Brand's daughter (Ann Hathaway) to a black hole located near Saturn's rings (which is reminiscent of 2001's black monolith revolving around Jupiter). Beyond this black hole is another stellar system, in a faraway galaxy, with three planets apparently similar to Earth both in gravity and atmosphere composition. The expedition's mission is to find out whether one of these exoplanets can be terraformed.

Cooper faces Ulysses' dilemma. Should he stay in Ithaca or should he go conquer Troy? And Penelope's dead anyway. As painful as it is for him to leave his children and his home, Cooper decides to go. He begs his daughter to forgive him and explains to her that he has to live at last. To live, that is, to exist beyond food, shelter, and reproduction. To put the Greater Good above one's family's interests (or rather to understand that the latter depends on the former). To follow one's Destiny, even if said Destiny is tragic. And, for those who have that rare power, to bring Mankind to a higher level of consciousness, mastery, and being.

Cooper knows when he leaves that his chances of seeing his family again are very thin. Not only is the journey long and dangerous, but spacetime is different on the three exoplanets: one hour there amounts to seven years on Earth.

Which means that the expedition, named Lazarus after the Christian saint who came back from the dead, is a race against time. Even if Cooper manages to make it, he might be back when there's nothing left to save on Earth (a little like in the first Planet of Apes). And, of course, when his kids are dead.

But he accepts the challenge, which appears to be Mankind's last chance. Pr. Brand informs Cooper that corn will also die out eventually. Even worse, the Noah's Ark-like vessel ready to follow Cooper's pioneer expedition is, for now, too heavy to overcome Earth's gravity.

NASA's calculation is that Cooper will get back when the scientists on Earth have managed to make the vessel fly, due to the spacetime difference between the two stellar systems.

If this “Plan A” doesn't work, they'll turn to “Plan B”: a light shuttle with fertilized eggs aboard will leave with a few colonists to the New Earth; the rest of Mankind will be left to die. (I wonder what will annoy conservatives most this time: surrogate motherhood or the idea that not all human lives have the same value?) Thanks to these eggs, a new Mankind will be recreated. As Brand puts it, “We must think not as individuals but as a species.”

Later in the movie, Cooper will throw the line that prompted me to write this review: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”

A Philosophical Challenge to Identitarians

Interstellar is problematic for Identitarians, who follow two simple principles: Blood and Soil. If the former is only shaken by Nolan (more on that below), the latter is completely crushed by the British Faust.

Indeed, space conquest means that Man will not dance around the same wooden totem pole for Eternity like Hobbits, which Identitarianism often boils down to.

But I think Instellar is a challenge rather than a stop sign to Identitarians, at least for (Pan-)European ones. As I mentioned in my debut article at Alternative Right (my very first article in the English language, by the way), this “Let's do as our ancestors have always done” motto may suit Indian tribes, but it is unworthy of Sons of Europa, whether the “European New Right,” which is neither European in spirit nor New nor even right-wing, likes it or not. “We are the heirs of conquerors,” fellas. Our distant ancestors had to “slip the surly bonds” of the Pontic steppe so they could reach a higher stage of evolution in their millenial upward journey.

Of all people, Americans should understand that reality better than any of their European brothers, which is actually the reason why I decided to “slip the surly bonds” of my beloved Hexagone two years ago (which answers the usual question I'm asked: “Why are you doing all this?”; that's why).

The real founding of America—when the Mayflower left Plymouth, not when the “Holy Scrap” was written down—is not even four centuries old, a period of time, in strictly evolutionary terms, that's merely a blink-of-an-eye.

If evolution keeps its course (I think it will), there will be a Mayflower spaceship someday. Let's just hope that it won't be crammed with Puritans.

As for the “Blood” part of the Identitarian motto, it is also challenged by Nolan, but in a more subtle way. Viewers will have noticed that the Lazarus expedition comprises one Black man, and a woman whose name could be Jewish. Well, call me a “race traitor” (but again, traitors are firstly those who betray Europa's spirit) if you will, but I didn't hide under my seat in terror. Let's not forget that Art shouldn't be confused with Politics, something the Right has never understood, and the Left less and less understands, which is why its works of art are getting embarrassing.

The second reason why I don't mind seeing non-Whites in a European expedition is because as Oswald Spengler put it, “those who talk too much about race no longer have it in them.” What is more traitorous: non-Whites appearing in a clearly European movie, or great-grandsons of Acheans, Romans, Franks, and Vikings placing their hopes in this or that model of car?

(“Both are equally abhorrent” is an easy, common, but... wrong answer.)

There are, in my opinion, two competing strains of Identitarianism, whose opposition can be summed up thusly:

“What is Mine is Fine” VS. “What is Fine is Mine”

(Due to Prince Harold's history-shifting shipwreck on Picardy's shores and the Battle of Hastings that ensued, the rhyme also works in French: “Ce qui est mien est bien” VS. “Ce qui est bien est mien.”)

I explained that in an interview at AltRight with Alexander Forrest:

We can recognize the various strengths of [other] civilizations and take inspiration from the noble and inventive things they engendered. That is exactly what the West used to do best. To use a very basic example... the Arabs produced coffee long before the West adopted it and transplanted it to the Americas. Today, the most refined coffee is brewed in Italy. It is the essence of our civilization to take what is best in other civilizations and improve upon it.

The worst aspect of “Blood and Soil” rigidity is that it deprives those who stick to it of a telos, of a final cause that would transcend their individual lives and therefore enable them to pass their dreams down to their descendants, until the time when these dreams can be put to practice.

I believe such a dream should be space conquest. I obviously won't live it, nor will my children, and I don't think my grandchildren or even my great-grandchildren will. And therefore, in the meantime, a European Home should be established so as to make the carrying out of this dream possible and even thinkable (the rewriting of history books about Neil Armstrong's giant leap is one of Interstellar's most important scenes).

But this European Home would't be sustainable—it wouldn't even see the light of day, since its founding is, in itself, a project involving several generations from conception to realisation and therefore requires transcendence to survive the bite of time—if there wasn't an idea bigger than us, an idea that will mean the same thing in one century as it now does. It is time we cultivate this idea instead of doing as if it was still "five to midnight" and we had to "act before it's too late."

It is not five to midnight. It is five past midnight. The night is still dark and cold. Predators of many kinds prowl around the camp. Ghastly screams echo in the void. Waiting for the Dawn, torch-bearing guards keep the fence, and poets recount glorious tales around the fire, while everybody looks to the stars.