The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan made his conservative leanings clear in that film and in The Dark Knight Rises, which earned the sobriquet of “reactionary vision” from the leftist newspaper The Guardian. Is Interstellar as unabashed in its conservatism? No, but there is a political subtext to the film that’s visible to the discerning. It may not be showy about being conservative, but it’s conservative just the same. Let’s look at five ways the film aligns with conservative philosophy and values.
1. Human beings are not just another animal.
Once this proposition would have been uncontroversial, but not anymore. Today liberals hasten to remind us that we’re just one among many species. “Human beings are no more special than a butterfly, a gazelle or a paramecium,” opined a onetime senior White House science policy analyst at the Huffington Post. “Our species is nothing but a normal consequence of natural selection, and certainly not the pinnacle of evolution. We are nothing special. God is just not that into us.” Nonsense, says Interstellar: the hero of the film, a pilot played by Matthew McConaughey, says humans have a special gift for adjusting and overcoming the sometimes dire circumstances of nature. Man is unique.
2. America is not just another country.
President Obama noted, in an unscripted debate moment in 2008, “The problem is – is if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.” Even more famously, he noted in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
So exceptionalism is an illusion.
In Interstellar, which begins in a dystopic, technologically crumbling future in which everyone is forced back to the farms, the world’s armies have disbanded and the one sign of cutting-edge technology is a leftover drone from India that’s been buzzing around aimlessly for a long period of time; the liberal hope that America would someday be cut down to the same size as every other country has come to pass. But as humanity prepares to breathe its last breath, there is a rescuer in the form of NASA, which has supposedly been dissolved but is actually operating secretly underground. No other country has ever had anything that could top the brilliance, creativity and resourcefulness of America’s space-exploration team.
(Mild spoiler ahead)
3. Christian teaching continues to be immensely powerful.
Though we won’t go into detail about it, there is an element introduced in the second half of the film that celebrates the story of God sacrificing His only son in order to give salvation to humankind. Without festooning the film with crosses and Bible talk, Nolan nevertheless provides an updated retelling of New Testament themes that should resonate powerfully with Christians.
4. Climate change isn’t going to doom us.
Nolan’s Dust Bowl sequences seem to be the latest iteration of the idea that climate change is going to have sweeping consequences. The difference in this film is that, thanks to the confidence and competence of the Cooper character played by McConaughey — his motto is, “We’ll find a way, Professor, we always have” — there isn’t the slightest doubt that Nolan’s view of climate change is that it is simply another of the many environmental situations that man is equipped to cope with. In the context of the film, this means extreme actions that make for cinematically exciting scenes, but on an allegorical level Nolan is saying, “Mankind has the creativity to respond to crises, even global ones.”
5. The Right Stuff endures.
The can-do spirit of the frontier reaches all the way back to how the west was won, even back to the Mayflower. Americans have never been afraid to take chances, to explore new fields, to use our swagger and muscle to make new worlds. As Ronald Reagan was forever at pains to point out, things are a lot less complicated than liberals believe them to be, with courage, élan and moral righteousness providing a sound foundation for our values. Michael Caine’s scientist character sums it up for us in the witty line, “You’re the best pilot we ever had. Get out there and save the world.”
A scene in which we’re told that American propagandists have successfully disseminated the lie that the moon landing was staged in order to embarrass the Soviet Union is Nolan’s satirical rebuke to those who would rewrite history to minimize American accomplishments.