With Covid-19 raging making so many of us feel like Planet Earth is failing and turning its back on us I thought discussing a movie with a similar premise was in order. Immediately the unsettling 2014 sci-fi film Interstellar came to mind as it certainly fits the bill. This futuristic film directed by Christopher Nolan (who has 34 Oscar nods and 10 wins to his credit) paints a very dismal picture of our once plentiful abundant planet rapidly becoming increasingly uninhabitable. Yesteryear’s bright blue skies have been replaced by endless dust storms. Thus transforming Earth’s lifegiving atmosphere into a grossly contaminated cosmic disaster full of disease affecting mankind’s respiratory ability and reducing a once lush topography into an arid wasteland where next-to-nothing grows.
With all species on the brink of extinction, this time-paradox flick largely centers on widower former NASA pilot Cooper (well-played by Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers who are sent by brilliant NASA physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine) across the galaxy via a wormhole to explore three top-scouted planets, to determine which one could best sustain life as man’s new home. However, despite all this film’s galactic fan-fair the underlying foundation of the story is the poignant love that exists between a father and his daughter with the number three playing prominently. So let’s flesh this out. Firstly, there are three possible life-sustaining alternate planets to investigate. Second, a three dimensional cube transformed into a tesseract (a geometric term for a four-dimensional cube; if a cube is the three-dimensional equivalent of a square, a tesseract is the four-dimensional equivalent of the cube) serves as the solution (fourth-dimension time/fifth-dimension harnessing gravity) where the three elements of the human experience (past/present/future) line-up. Lastly, there are three father-daughter tales woven into the movie. Namely Cooper (McConaughey) and young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain/Ellen Burstyn) who he leaves to save the world. Professor Brand (Caine) and his scientist/astronaut daughter Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) who he sends into the universe uninformed of her fate in an effort to save the human race. Lastly, Donald (John Lithgow) who is Cooper’s father-in-law and who out of love and duty is helping his son-in-law to raise his dead daughter’s children before, during, and after Cooper is sent into space.
Though prior to explaining the significance associated with the number ‘3’ I what to say that I really like when symbolism is embedded in movies. It’s clever and thought-provoking as it challenges viewers to keep an open mind. A lot of filmmakers include these subtle boons as a method of creative release as many tend to be incredibility intelligent deep philosophical thinkers. With that said, numbers can represent a lot of things. But perhaps the number three is a theme in this deep-space drama as it relates to the fact that the interstellar polyatomic molecule H3+ (aka trihydrogen) is the simplest yet most abundantly produced molecule in the universe (next only to H2). But why is this an important underlying detail in the story considering H3+ isn’t even mentioned in the movie? It turns out that this unearthly molecule H3+ is credited with creating the entire universe. It consists of three protons arranged in a three-sided equilateral triangle, sharing two electrons among them. H3+ is a highly reactive giver, primed to donate a proton to anything it stumbles into causing a chain reaction that serves as a chemical facilitator in the production of larger more diverse particles. In short, H3+’s existence is volatile and short lived – it bonds, slows down, emits light, and in doing so allows other entities (dust and clouds) to form and grow, which like reproduction leads to the birth of planets and stars. It’s the ‘Mother’ of all molecules! But what’s often overlooked is that we need ‘Father Time’ in the equation, no matter how immeasurable the stint is (eon vs. millisecond) or nothing happens. In short, this movie wants us to remember that dads ‘matter’ a ton and their importance should not be ignored. Fathers have a profound knock-on effect in their daughters (and sons) lives whether they are decidedly present or absent. Thus the number three is artfully used to denote the value of H3+ (mum) but it’s not the focus of this film per se because the storyline wanted instead to center on the importance of ‘time’ (dad). Moreover, this chicken vs. egg (which came first) plot attempts to stick to the laws of science even reciting Einstein’s general theory of relativity re: time dilation (a difference of elapsed time between two events, as measured by observers that are either moving relative to each other, or differently, depending on their proximity to a gravitational mass), causing some critics to claim this film is much closer to science-fiction than science-fantasy. So in keeping with science, this picture emphasizes catalysts, consequences, and cause-and-effect scenarios throughout reminding us that each part of the equation is fundamentally vital; H3++ time = star, mum + dad = baby. But enough about quantum physics and astrochemistry. What on earth is the main meaning of this interplanetary film!?!?
The life lessons are acutely entrenched in this lengthy intricate and very complicated movie so you need to pay attention or you will get lost – just like real life! The point is there are no do-overs. Ever! Once something is done it can’t be undone. There is no time-machine, no turning back the clock. You get one chance and if you don’t choose wisely your choices can haunt you. Like an anonymous ghost that visits from time-to-time through the portholes of your mind, with the crushing weight of gravity on your chest, so dense you can’t breathe. It can remain dormant, but it never leaves, and in case you haven’t figured it out – that’s the face of regret. Choices, choices, choices – life is full of them and most people have good reasons for the choices they make. After all we have to make decisions all the time. Every day in fact. But there are always a few choices throughout our lives that are very instrumental as they have the ability to change the whole trajectory of our journey. Heavily impacting our lives and those closest to us, especially when children are involved.
Yes vs. No, Stay vs. Go… which path is the right one? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. This movie has dad Cooper fleeing planet Earth to find a solution that will save the world and his children. Yet with every passing celestial moment (translating into years on Earth) he desperately wants to return home. Witnessing his daughter transform at light speed from a young kid into a young woman causes him to question his purpose and whether he made the right choice. Realizing just how precious ‘time’ is, coupled with the dwindling odds of returning home, a profound grief and sorrow sets in. His agonizing repetitive self-talk is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Like an echoing sonnet. It’s a tune latent with heartbreaking sentiments he wants his daughter to know but expressions she never hears, though each word is reflected in his every thought and action; ‘I just wanted to get back to where you are’ yet the divide is just too enormous. The gap cannot be bridged. Unfortunately Cooper has bought into somewhat of a Faustian Bargain (a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches) but it doesn’t turn out how he expected. Does it ever? To quote Mitch Albom – ‘All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped.’ I’m not sure I agree with this statement but if it’s true I am certain that most parents do not mean to break their children’s heart, which gets to the core of this ‘stellar’ interstellar film’s ultimate take-away message. Intentions matter! In fact, intentions in all life’s decisions count for a lot even if the outcome goes horribly wrong. Intentions always supersede the act itself and can serve as a conduit to redemption rather than a black hole in your soul. That’s good news as most things tend to work out accordingly if decisions are made with pure intent using the best information at-hand. A sentiment this movie taps into via the subliminal Morse Code that finally presents itself and eventually resets the balance.
An Aside Note: Speaking of intentions, President Trump has tested positive for Covid-19 and it’s tempting, particularly for those who dislike him and his leadership, to feel that he’s getting what he deserves. After all he intentionally downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 from day one. But negative energy projected onto others only ends up reflecting onto the beholder, so beware. Instead leading with good thoughts, feelings, and intentions will be much more beneficial in stopping the spread and finding the medical latch-key to lock this virus down! Much like the movie Interstellar, in time, equilibrium will return to our world – but with valuable karmic lessons of humility in tow. That’s what you get.
P.S. Briefly returning to the topic of father-daughter relationships. My dad, whom I lost 2 years ago, always appeared in my eyes to be such a giant of man that nobody messed with. A big powerful outdoorsman with a heavy accent (sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger) he was a very bright, talented, successful, self-made man, with so many fantastic qualities, though being a father was not his strong point. I’m sure there are elements of his life as a parent he would like to ‘do over’ as being warm and giving were just not his style. That said, if he is stuck in a Gargantua 5th dimension somewhere trying to send me a message wishing he could change anything I would tell him, ‘Dad don’t worry about a thing – it all turned out for the best – you were loved all the same. In the end you did right by your daughter(s) and we forever did right by you. That’s all that matters.’ Bless.