Disposable earth

Interstellar: Movie directed by Christopher Nolan (2014).

Interstellar appeals to a bizarre and destructive myth that human beings are special. We are explorers, the story goes, with dreams and souls too big for just one lousy planet orbiting an average star in a random corner of an off-brand galaxy at the edge of the universe. Like a talented tap dancer bustin’ out of Rawlins, Wyoming, and catching a Greyhound to New York, New York, we humans have big-time, Broadway-sized dreams to chase!

But all that’s out there is empty, inhospitable space. Humans have yet to create or invent anything that actually nourishes life – fresh water, food, air, hospitable temperatures, solid ground. All that stuff’s on earth. If we started to take care of it again, I bet we could enjoy those living systems we depend on for quite a while longer. Nothing out there that even resembles earth exists in a location that any human has any hope of reaching.

Interstellar’s trailer, along with most reviews, revel in the idiotic ravings of Matthew McConaughey’s character (and I will get to them). Truth and rationality, on the other hand, are represented by John Lithgow’s character, the boring grandpa. This poor schlub is stuck back on earth making sure the kids get raised, fed, educated, and taken for regular medical and dental check-ups. (Loser.) Lithgow gets sensible lines such as, “This world isn’t so bad.”

Like a wise and patient psychotherapist, Lithgow explains that it’s time for McConaughey, who was trained as an astronaut, to get over himself. There were some bad breaks: “You were good at something. You were never able to do anything with it. I’m sorry.”

While the actual females in the movie are busy supporting McConaughey’s psychotic quest, Lithgow’s is only character who articulates the feminine: nurturing, conservative, thoughtful, reflective. In other words, he’s this movie’s useless old fogey, there only so that McConaughey has someone to make proclamations to, like this one: “We’re not caretakers!”

It’s Lithgow who provides exposition for the minor plot points of what’s happening to earth. Now if it’s true that the cosmology and physics of Interstellar is good science, the same cannot be said for its earth science. The earth-related disaster hasn’t been thought out and is held together with duct tape.

It goes something like this. You might think earth has been pretty cool, but you’re wrong. Earth isn’t (wasn’t) all that perfect! For one thing, there’s all that nitrogen. (We breathe, you know, oxygen!?) Blight has destroyed the really big crops. Wheat. Then okra. (Yes, okra.) Soon it will be corn. And then we will be dead. Blight feeds on nitrogen, so blight will just grow and grow and destroy all the oxygen. (As it, apparently, feeds on and excretes nitrogen?)

Bad stuff is happening. Huge dust storms have appeared out of nowhere. Six billion people have already died. Drones launched from India ten years ago fly around – though I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing.

Still there are some good things. Consumer goods such as big trucks and bottles of beer are still available (maybe for the purposes of product placement?). Climate change doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

Still, we’re all going to die unless we listen to Matthew McConaughey and all of his words. Like: “We’re not meant to save the world; we’re meant to leave it.” And: “This world’s a treasure, but it’s been telling us for a while now to leave.” Also: “Mankind was born on earth but was never meant to die here.”

So, a wormhole appears next to Saturn. The remaining resources of earth are used sending exploratory missions through the wormhole. At the end of the wormhole is a solar system in another galaxy. One of those planets resembles earth. Next comes terraforming – not something that humans actually know how to do – under the supervision of Anne Hathaway’s character. Meanwhile, all of humanity waits in a giant space station until FedEx delivers our new planet. A better one, and lighter on the nitrogen.

After all, as McConaughey says, “We used to look up at in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars.” He thinks that was a good thing. “Now we just look down, worry about our place in the dirt.” That is a bad thing.

Is this a plan? No. It is a dangerous delusion. Human beings are stuck with problems like the Sixth Extinction, chaotic climate change, dead zones in the ocean – and probably half a dozen more we don’t even know about yet. Let’s figure out how the human race can choose life over death, wealth over money, generosity over competition, joy over greed.

No miraculous interstellar relocation awaits us.

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