In Interstellar, the final frontier is not outer space but the fifth dimension, which exists beyond the three dimensions of space and the time dimension of relativity. This is not surprising: director Christopher Nolan conducted ambitious experiments with space and time in his prior films Memento and Inception. Here he returns to the set with a hypothesis that rests somewhat uneasily on both the hardheaded persistence of science and the earnest vulnerability of the human condition. For instance, it is noteworthy that Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist who specializes in gravitational physics, served as a consultant and executive producer. Yet, Interstellar is a movie where “love” is uttered in the same breath as explanations for Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the formula to break the space-time continuum can be found in a child’s bedroom. What Nolan conveys is that the problem, the drive that pushes mankind to explore space is connected—inseparable, even—to the spaces of interiority we inhabit as individuals, and the solution lies beyond the perceptions cast in three dimensions.
What distinguishes Interstellar from his prior work is the way that Nolan tackles the consequences of the very same pleasure found in the technological offerings in his other films like The Dark Knight trilogy and The Prestige. Accordingly, his latest movie builds off these premises: that humans have exhausted all resources within 3D Earth, technology has accelerated its obliteration, and time is pushing the planet forward to ruin. The Atlantic’s Noah Gittell writes that when it comes to addressing the effects that technological fallout may have on the environment, “Hollywood has yet to adequately address [it]… When faced with unpleasant [End Page 92] realities, we all prefer a fantasy.”1 This is a movie that explores ways to escape Earth, and the protagonist Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is charged with carrying out an undercover NASA mission to find a suitable planetary replacement. Cooper agrees to the mission after discovering NASA’s underground headquarters and meeting its de facto head Brand (Michael Caine), who spells dire consequences for Earth. This imperative pushes mankind out of the dust and out into the stars.
In the world of Interstellar, if man is contesting his place under the sun, then where does technology fall? Computers no longer serve as totemic objects; rather, they appear in a home-worn ubiquitous way, much in the same vein as Her, Gravity, and other recent sci-fi films. In Interstellar, technology is no longer representational—it does not appear as glitzy gadgetry that typically serve as plot gimmicks nor as the focus of cyborgian suspicion like with Ridley Scott’s David in Prometheus or Spike Jonze’s Samantha in Her. The film’s droids come in the form of TARS and CASE, and the former, voiced with deadpan humor by Bill Irwin, portrays none of the tension that arises from artificial sentience the way that his predecessors do. In fact, most of the technology looks worn: the ship is called the Endurance and the images of the team’s take-off look like they were pulled from footage of Cold War era space missions. Man’s greatest endeavors are meant to look fragile. At a moment of grave miscalculation, Cooper rages at Brand, the professor’s daughter and a scientist of her own right (Anne Hathaway): “We’re not prepared for this.” Movie critic A.O. Scott observes, “The Nolans cleverly conflate scientific denialism with technophobia, imagining a fatalistic society that has traded large ambition for small-scale problem solving and ultimate resignation.”2 The movie occupies half of its screen time in dust-baked American farmland. By juxtaposing scenery evocative of the 1930s Dustbowl with televised memorials of elderly Americans recounting the blight with an innocuous black laptop on a kitchen table collecting dust, the film subtly jolts viewers back to the movie’s futuristic premise.