From Le Voyage dans la Lune directed by Georges Méliès released in 1902 to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968, outer space exploration in cinema has become increasingly popular throughout the years. Although the novelty of the dark and faraway unknown is enough to spike the curious audience’s interest, space and our vast galaxy has also served as the backdrop in film to highlight existing earth-bound concerns as reflected by the filmmaker’s position on the state of our world. One truly current example would be the movie Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan that takes place in a future not so distant from our own where Earth has become inhabitable and therefore humans are seeking to relocate to a another planet through a wormhole. Despite the emphasis placed on space and the importance of mankind’s impending migration, the story focuses on today’s concerns such as climate change, fear of the future, our lack of control in the face of an ever-changing technologically advanced society, and our ever-present desire to love and be loved.

The inevitability of climate change permeates the opening sequence of the movie by showing a barren earth where it is almost impossible for the inhabitants to grow any crops or harvest the land. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the impact of rising temperatures due to climate change “can prevent crops from growing.”

[1] However, Google “climate change” and the first articles to appear center on why people do not care about climate change or how many believe it does not actually exist. Thus, by choosing to open Interstellar with an image of Earth as being ‘used up’ and no longer able to provide for us, the film is speaking directly to the consequences for our earth if we do not deal with climate change issues now.

So what then is our response to the devastating reality that we have ruined our home? Find another one, of course. There is a fear throughout the film that plays into our 21st Century anxiety about the future.  Author of Raising Children in a Digital Age Bex Lewis states that “we are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And [yet] we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.”[2] Fear is therefore one of the main driving forces in Nolan’s film as the main characters struggle to reconcile what they know with that they cannot know, as well as personal gain versus the advancement for humanity as a whole. For example, when Dr. Mann (an astronaut sent for 35 years to a planet to see if it could be habitable for humans –this character is played by Matt Damon) suddenly tries to kill our protagonist Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey), we are faced with the incessant selfishness that accompanies fear –Dr. Mann wanted to get home safely and feared he’d never get that chance again if he didn’t kill Cooper and take his spot. Despite the ‘otherworldly’ environment and the very different physical landscapes in which both men find themselves, the backdrop is used to highlight our survival instincts for the self over mankind.

With the earlier reference to current attitudes towards climate change, ignorance and apathy play equal parts throughout history and seemingly will continue to do so in the future as exemplified in the film Interstellar. It is inevitably human fear, passion, and determination that determines their fates.

[1] Hatfield, J., G. Takle, R. Grotjahn, P. Holden, R. C. Izaurralde, T. Mader, E. Marshall, and D. Liverman, 2014: Ch. 6: Agri­culture. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J. M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G. W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 150-174.

[2] Gardner, D. Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear Virgin Books, 2009, p11