The Women of ‘Interstellar’

[caption id="attachment_16185" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Interstellar movie poster Interstellar movie poster[/caption]

Written by Amanda Rodriguez.

Spoiler Alert

Director Christopher Nolan’s latest opus, the dystopian space/time/dimensional travel film Interstellar, is impressive. It’s beautifully shot with stunning visuals (the black hole is amazing). It depicts a realistic species-threatening crisis with the dwindling success of food cultivation. It has an expansive vision of our future as human beings, and it has super cool science that it manages to make accessible to the layperson. Despite a running time of two hours and 40 minutes, I very much enjoyed Interstellar, but… (I wish there didn’t always have to be a “but”) the film’s depiction of its female characters was lacking to say the least.

[caption id="attachment_16187" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey with the two female leading hanging off him. Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey with the two female leads hanging off him[/caption]

 

Interstellar is about Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and his struggle to save the human race and get back to his family. Make no mistake, despite there being two strong, female supporting leads, this movie is all about Coop; his quest, strength, morality, ingenuity, and righteousness. Even at the end of the film when he discovers that everything had always been about his daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) and her ability to solve the “gravity equation,”  we linger very little on her story or her life as it exists outside of her father.

[caption id="attachment_16190" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Murph destroys the last vestiges of corn crops Murph destroys the last vestiges of corn crops[/caption]

 

Even the long-awaited father/daughter reunion is rushed and anticlimactic with Murph insisting that she isn’t important and that Coop has better things to do than spend time with her. What the hell? Aside from the payoff being weak from an objective standpoint, this scene reinforces the idea that even the most beloved female characters exist solely to spur on and facilitate the journey of the male hero.

[caption id="attachment_16193" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Thankfully, there was no real sexual tension between Coop and Dr. Brand Thankfully, there was no real sexual tension between Coop and Dr. Brand[/caption]

 

On the space expedition with Coop is his mentor’s daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway).  She is a scientist, but I’m not exactly sure what her area of expertise is. She’s in charge of the “Plan B” genetic material, which is sort of a mother role, but she also claims to be the expert on which planet they should choose based on its proximity to the black hole. Regardless, her duties aboard the Endurance are a bit fuzzy.

[caption id="attachment_16194" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Dr. Brand cries after her massive fuck-up Dr. Brand cries after her massive fuck-up[/caption]

 

Dr. Brand’s most distinguishing characteristic, though, is that she is a fuck-up. In her obsession to retrieve logged data (which proves useless) from one of the potential new homeworld planets, Brand jeopardizes the entire mission, gets a fellow scientist killed, and loses the crew a lot of years. She cries about her mistake while Coop lays into her. I couldn’t help wondering why the sole woman on the expedition had to be the one who supremely fucks over the crew even worse than the male rogue scientist who is actively trying to sabotage them?

[caption id="attachment_16196" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Proximity to the black hole causes time to move differently on-world (one hour is seven years). Proximity to the black hole causes time to move differently on-world (one hour is seven years)[/caption]

 

Brand also makes the case that the final planet the crew should investigate is the one on which her lover awaits them in cryo-sleep. Her scientific reasoning that the planet being far enough away from the black hole that it would be unaffected by its gravitational pull is sound. However, she then launches into an impassioned, weepy speech about love and how love drew her across the universe. In the theater, I almost puked all over myself. Though the film then adopts the concept of love being the only force that can traverse all dimensions, it’s hokey and annoying that the only female scientist on the mission must be the one to deliver that saccharine sweet, touchy-feely message, especially since it runs counter to her reserved and logical character.

[caption id="attachment_16203" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The ship spots the black hole on the horizon The ship spots the black hole on the horizon[/caption]

 

I’m not saying that women can’t be sensitive or fuck-ups or supporting characters, but it gets tiresome when this is frequently the case in films. It’s getting old hat to constantly see female characters on screen who lack dimension, exist solely to further the plot, or whose ability to do their jobs is questionable. At least Interstellar didn’t grossly sexualize the women of the film? Interstellar is a good, solid film that entertained my brain (which seems like a rarity these days), but it fails to be a great film due to its inability to create a female character worth watching in any of the 200 minutes of its run-time.


Bitch Flicks writer and editor Amanda Rodriguez is an environmental activist living in Asheville, North Carolina. She holds a BA from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and an MFA in fiction writing from Queens University in Charlotte, NC. Her short story “The Woman Who Fell in Love with a Mermaid” was published in Germ Magazine. She writes all about food and drinking games on her blog Booze and Baking. Fun fact: while living in Kyoto, Japan, her house was attacked by monkeys.

7 Comments

  • Kunal
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Why don’t you direct one yourself then!!

  • tani
    Posted November 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Great review. I loved the movie – except for this you pointed.

  • Aleisha
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    This was very cynical… While you can’t make everyone happy when character writing, I’m disappointed with how much you disregarded in order to suit your review.

    Coop thought he was supposed to “Save the Earth” but Murph did. SHE completed Plan A. The Cooper Station was named after her not him. I feel Murph was very much the HERO of the film.

    Murph moved on emotionally – that’s why the reunion feels anticlimactic. Her whole life was defined by her father’s expedition after he left but she out-aged him hugely. She was already at peace with him (knowing he was the ghost). She’s had kids, grandkids etc. She isn’t a child anymore who needs a parent in the end. She’s much older and wiser – telling Coop what to do instead of linger and regret how much of her life he’s missed.

    In regard to Brand, she and Coop BOTH cried and had emotional moments. I don’t see why you would want her to be cold and emotionless? Reserved and logical characters can experience and advocate for love. Her character was being pulled to see her lover again just as strongly as Coop was being pulled home to see his children. She is hardly a total fuck-up, able to set up the early stages of Plan B by herself as we see in the end – completing her job and the mission.

    Miller fucked up worse. And Coop chose Miller’s planet based on Miller’s approval rather than the planet’s stats. That was a big fuck-up on his behalf.

    • Wonder Warrior
      Posted November 12, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      While it’s true Murph saved humanity, the movie brushed aside her plan of relocating humans as if it wasn’t integral to the main story, which I felt that it was, and even though the film was already long, I think an extra scene or two would’ve helped the film achieve closure for Murph’s side of the story.

      I agree with you with Cooper moving on to Edmunds’ planet. Besides thanking Murph for saving the planet and bidding her a final good-bye on her deathbed, there was nothing left for him there, because he no longer knew any of the people left on the NASA station, including his grandchildren and their families. I suppose you could say he could’ve gotten to know his descendants or wait until Murph died and for her funeral service, I think that would’ve felt anticlimactic. I like the closure in having Murph go off to Edmunds’ planet to see Amelia.

      As for Amelia’s emotions, I do find them worthy of criticism. Cooper feeling sad for leaving his family is rational. Amelia speaking of love as another dimension is hokey, and although the final stretch where Cooper enters the extra dimension lends credence to Amelia’s interpretation, I still feel such an interpretation felt forced because of how out of place it felt in a movie so science-based. It seems like when a character does have this notion of love, they are disproportionately female, like Amelia.

      That being said, I really did enjoy this film. It is my favorite film this year and one of my favorites of all time.

  • Chantell Monique
    Posted November 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I read that in the first drafts of the screenplay, Murph was a boy. I like the fact that they switched sexes–I was proud of her character: her smarts, ambition, devotion to her species and her father. I don’t think the sex mattered in terms of focusing on Plan A–honestly, the Nolans probably ran out of time. In addition, if Brand didn’t have an emotional speech and was cold and calculating, I fear we would have commentary about that also. I did feel bad that she “fucked up” but Coop does also by choosing the Frozen planet over the other one, which he admits to. Nevertheless, such an amazing film!

  • Caroline Madden
    Posted November 12, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I was so underwhelmed and disappointed by their reunion. I also think Murph could have had a lot more development or scenes then the little we did see of her. I would’ve liked to see a bit of her side of the story, and especially why she held on to the hate for her father all those years.

    • Posted July 19, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m about a third through this film and already, I am so over both Murph and Brand. Brand is a pompous jerk with no social skills and Murph is such an immature brat that she tragically wastes several chances to see her father before he leaves the solar system because she’s on an extended snit. How I wish Hollywood could write better female characters, especially since we aren’t even close to equally represented as it is. And what is up with Nolan’s obsession with dead wives?

      The FX are great, though.

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