I tie “Interstellar” to the concept of time because of how rooted it is to a specific time in my life. I was 18 years old when I first watched the movie in my AP Literature and Composition class. I knew nothing of it other than that it starred Matthew McConaughey and came out in 2014 — my freshman year of high school. When we watched it, I was a month shy of graduating. I can’t tell you the run time, or at what point I truly felt myself reeled in, but I bawled my eyes out and forgot about the assignment all together.
I am currently 21 years old and the same still stands: I will, without a doubt, bawl my eyes out to “Interstellar,” though it doesn’t feel the same way it did three years ago. I don’t know if this is a cliche or not, but the older I get, the more it dawns on me how stagnant artwork itself can be while its meaning is personal and ever-evolving. I think that’s because we are ever-evolving — which brings me back to the movie in question. The running theme (in the most figurative sense) of the movie is time — running time, the physics of time and lost time. The movie takes place in a mid-21st century America plagued by blights and dust storms. Culture has regressed into a post-truth society in which the younger generation is taught that events and ideas like the moon landing and space travel are hoaxes. The story is told through the lens of farmer Joseph Cooper, a former NASA pilot. After accidentally tracing geographic coordinates to a secret NASA facility, Cooper is recruited to pilot Endurance, a team of volunteers tasked with finding an alternative earth. Alongside this ambition are grave risks, namely the time variance between space travel that occurs far more rapidly than that of Earth’s.
There’s a moment before Cooper’s ascent to space in which his daughter Murph protests his departure. Cooper brushes this off by joking that he might be back on Earth by the time him and Murph are the same age. This joke sours by the time Murph reaches his age and he is (spoiler) not back. After watching a stream of videos that accumulated from his son Donald, Cooper watches the 23 years he lost flash before his eyes. He gradually moves from embracing these moments to crying at the realization that his children have grown up without him. Every time, I cry as Hans Zimmer’s “Main Theme” for “Interstellar” plays in the background, knowing what is to come. I lose it once the music stops; looking up at the screen before him, Cooper finds an adult version of his daughter calling him a “bastard,” still visibly upset for his leaving.
I think about this scene a lot because I’ve been in Murph’s place. I grew up not seeing one of my parents a lot, and this is an anger I still wrestle with as an adult. Can a parent truly care if they can’t be physically there for you? This was my question as a child. I wouldn’t say the reasoning for my situation parallels that of Murph’s, but it strikes me how much my reaction does. Murph’s last memory of her father was centered on the anger she felt toward him, and these feelings endured into adulthood. This is probably something I’m pulling from a psychology class I’ve taken at some point, but memories feel more tied to emotions than they are to actual events. The one thing I am certain of is that art means different things to different people because we’ve all had different experiences. I’m curious about how things would be different if I were a parent rather than a child at the time I first watched the film.
I’ve never considered “Interstellar” profound for its plot. For one thing, it’s a bit too esoteric for my understanding. I don’t have much of a knack for physics. The plot holes are also glaring given the complexity of its synopsis. But I don’t think this demerits the heart and brilliance of this film; I praise the movie more so for its delivery — the way it elicits specific emotions and navigates relationships.
I discovered this film around the time when I first caught on to the link between love and time. I spent all of high school in love with a friend who wasn’t right for me. Whether or not they felt the same way is something that matters less and less each day — another attribute of time. But when I think back to that person, I can only remember her the way I loved her. This is the power of love, and “Interstellar” captures it well. At the movie’s core is a love story between a parent and a child. Cooper spends days on an exhibition that ages him beyond his comprehension, but he does it out of love and emerges out of it still in love with his children. Murph is frustrated with her father throughout the duration of the film, but it’s also out of love and the way her 10-year-old self understood his departure. Despite the time and turbulence, the one constant of “Interstellar” is love and its extensions across different experiences. As my understanding of love changes more and more with age, I find that I can at least keep constant the way I felt in that moment of certain experience.