Colonialism in Space & The Poetics of Survival

Mechanized industrial agriculture, failed crops, and dust storms; this isn’t the opening to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, instead, it is the opening to the film Interstellar. The film is set in the not-so-distant future, where humanity is suffering from massive crop failure, and is looking for a solution to the famine, disease and oncoming extinction of the species.

Cue, the government funded agency, NASA. Yes, you’ve seen ’em in Armageddon, Apollo 13, and Space Cowboys, and now they’re (secretly) saving the world in Interstellar. Well, actually they’re not really saving the entire world, nor does the public know about the severity of the dust storms. Don’t you fret though, this is a major Hollywood film, you’ll get a sugar-coated happy ending– one that glosses over the presumed destruction of the planet Earth and all its inhabitants.”

The film Interstellar is ripe with literary parallels, character archetypes, massive ecological disasters, and the best technological advances that Director Christopher Nolan could afford to put on screen.

Truly, the literary references within this film are unprecedented; from the naming of the space mission project (Lazarus), to the quoting of poet Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light” as Matthew Mcconaughey and crew leave the Earth’s Orbit.

My only major gripe with this film is the erasure of the rest of the world, because the film focuses on rural America. Throughout the film, I kept asking myself “what happens to the urban folks, what happened to the other parts of the world, where did all the aboriginal people go?” For a (nearly) 3 hour film, the scope is rather limited. This is the film’s major weakness, a failure to have a diverse representation of Earth’s inhabitants. One result is that the film then suggests that survival is for a select few– a few elite– who are still publicly funded, and whose intention is NOT the survival of the planet whatsoever.

The reason I find this scenario to be problematic is because I refuse to believe that world’s activists, ecological educators, and generally conscious people would not come together to create solutions; could not set aside a few hours a week to put together some plan of action locally. Lest everyone who spoke out disappeared into some mystery black hole, probably not though.

All of this said, I just have to say that to classify Interstellar as a Science Fiction film would be erroneous, it is not. Instead, this film is a grim fantasy film that presents a hyperbole of our current science and technologies. We’re not watching what will happen, but we’re watching what has already happened with the use of industrial agricultural practices, and being exposed to the affects of mono-cultural farms, and genetically modified produce. The question is, what do solutions do we want to create as we go down river, given that we already have our a map, the technologies to navigate our course.