monday morning movie club

Is TARS the Best Character in Interstellar? and Other Questions to Ponder

Photo: Warner Bros

It’s another edition of the Monday Morning Movie Club, and we’re here to talk about Christopher Nolan’s latest popcorn epic, Interstellar. Spoilers aplenty, obviously.

My God — it’s full of TARS.
If you made a Jenga tower out of the monolith from 2001 and imbued it with an arsenal of dry asides, you’d have TARS, the unusual robot that is clearly Interstellar’s best character. TARS isn’t going to cry his eyes out in space or punch an astronaut in the helmet like *some* other characters we could name: Instead, TARS goes about his mission with cool efficiency, pausing every so often to gossip about Anne Hathaway. He’s even willing to sacrifice himself to help his space-friends, just in case you didn’t already realize he was the Groot of this movie. Long live TARS! —Kyle Buchanan

The appearance of that famous guy.
There’s nothing like a slobbering movie star popping out of a sleep chamber to promptly take you out of a movie. Did your theater also gasp when Matt Damon appeared? A fun surprise, but one that manages to remove some people from the film for as long as the surprise double-crossing villain is onscreen. Did you guess that this shifty astronaut would turn out not to be such a good guy? I did! The minute Damon showed up, I could tell something wasn’t right and that the team had chosen wrong. (Lesson: Always listen to the woman. Always listen to love.) —Lindsey Weber

In space, everyone can see you cry.
There’s that moment when Matt Damon’s character sees a human for the first time in ages, and he grasps Coop and sobs loudly against his neck. Or the incredibly moving moment in which Coop weeps as he watches decades’ worth of family videos despite having only been off ship for an hour or two. It’s a very cry-filled movie, despite Nolan’s critical reputation for being a cold, British fish, full of tear-streaked close-ups and, at times, mournful (yet still bombastic) organ music from Hans Zimmer. Did the emotions hit for you? (As a new father, they did for me. MURPH!) —Gilbert Cruz

“Say It, Don’t Spray It”: Don’t say it or spray it.
Cooper engages Romilly (David Gyasi) in a discussion, and when Romily leans over Coop’s shoulder to point out the wormhole, Coop interrupts him to do his best impression of a teenage character on a bad family sitcom: “Say it, don’t spray it.” It is infuriating on all the levels. First, on a basic level, how the hell did “say it, don’t spray it” make it into a movie in 2014? It was hack and cheesy when Zack Morris said it on Saved by the Bell 25 years ago. How did Christopher Nolan and his co-writer/brother Jonathan think it was okay? How do adult producers and executives see that line in a script and not start foaming at the mouth? Or did they start foaming, only for Christopher Nolan to retort, “Say it, don’t spray it.”Ahhhhh, I hate it so much! Okay, but more important, why would Coop say that, on a character level? We are supposed to believe he is (1) nice, and (2) smart, so why have him periodically talk like a poorly written, sarcastic teenager? Throughout the movie, Cooper interrupts scenes with similarly pithy comments. I understand the goal is to relieve tension, but it is done to the detriment of the character. Sarcasm is easy. Sarcasm is lazy. Sarcasm is comedy for people who don’t have senses of humor. And that’s why I’ll never truly like a Christopher Nolan movie: He doesn’t get the joke. —Jesse David Fox

Should Matthew McConaughey have even been in this movie?
This is maybe sacrilege, but: Was Matthew McConaughey miscast? In a vacuum, his performance is great, but at times, it seems like he’s operating on a completely different wavelength than the rest of the cast; he plays Coop like he’s five seconds away from slipping away into a Lincoln commercial. (“I’ve been drivin’ a spaceship since long before anybody paid me to drive one.”) What would Interstellar be without someone so cucumber-cool as the lead? Try to imagine what this movie would be like with a true Everyman — Mark Ruffalo as Coop, or even Mark Wahlberg! Or pull a casting switch and let Matt Damon play the lead, and give McConaughey the fearless-leader cameo. Now, that would have been something. —Nate Jones

But what about the politics?
A 19th-century imperialist would have adored Interstellar. Christopher Nolan says his movies are apolitical, and I’m sure he genuinely thinks they are, but the unspoken racial and cultural metaphors in this movie were abhorrent. Ultimately, it’s a story about manifest destiny, cultural chauvinism, and willful ignorance. Coop and his coterie make one assumption that the movie never questions: Humanity (which, for all we ever see, is white, English-speaking America with a couple of black friends and one British guy) deserves to go to the stars and will suffocate if it’s confined to its current environs. That logic was, of course, one of the main justifications for most imperial expansions since the dawn of the 1800s. No one stops to ask whether this civilization (which, in the movie, appears to have murdered its home planet through human-caused climate change, though, for some reason nobody talks about that) needs to make some fundamental changes in its approach to social construction and resource use. Indeed, when we see the bright new future on Cooper Station, it’s all baseball and manicured lawns. Perhaps more important, no one questions whether human expansion will kill off the new planets’ current residents. Sure, we’re told that the planets are uninhabited … but uninhabited by what? Carbon-based humanoid lifeforms? What if we immediately kill off whatever fragile ecosystems we find once we take off our helmets and exhale our Earthly germs? Of course, I’m reading too much into a movie that isn’t even implying any of the messages I’m inferring, but that’s the problem right there: No one’s even asking the questions, and for humans, that kind of attitude usually leads to bad answers. —Abraham Riesman

Is TARS the Best Character in Interstellar?