I wasn’t always terribly conscious of the political subtext of the movies I watched. Like most people, I just wanted to have a good time and enjoy the show. But at some point, it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. Now I’m far from being the only one that’s noticed, but lately coming out of the theater anymore feels like I’ve been lectured for a couple of hours by the teacher from Interstellar:
If you don’t remember it right off, here is her big scene:
Teacher: Murph is a great kid, she’s really bright. But she’s been having a little trouble lately. She brought this in to show the other students. The section on the lunar landings
Dad: Yeah, it’s one of my old textbooks. She always loved the pictures.
Teacher: It’s an old federal textbook. We’ve replaced them with the corrected versions
Teacher: Explaining how the Apollo missions were faked to bankrupt the Soviet Union.
Dad: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?
Teacher: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda that the Soviets bankrupted themselves… …pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines.
Dad: Useless machines?
Teacher: And if we don’t want a repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th century… then we need to teach our kids about this planet. Not tales of leaving it.
Dad: Y’know one of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI. And if we had any of those left, the doctors would’ve been able to find… the cyst in my wife’s brain before she died; instead of afterwards. And then she would have been the one sitting here listening to this instead of me… which would’ve been a good thing because she was always the… the calmer one.
Teacher: I’m sorry about your wife Mr. Cooper. But Murph got into a fistfight with several of her classmates… over this Apollo nonsense. So we thought it would be best to bring you in and see what ideas you might have… for dealing with her behavior on the home front.
Dad: Yeah, you know what, there’s a game tomorrow night. She’s going through a bit of a baseball phase,
her favorite team is playing. There’s gonna be candy and soda… I think I’ll take her to that.
I think a great many of us have had it with this teacher and what she represents. We don’t go to the movies to get a “feel bad” story on how colonialists exploit native populations for unobtanium. (Avatar, y’all.) We don’t go to see “nice guys” smuggle sick people across the border in order to get free medical care. (Elysium.) Really, this stuff makes about as much sense as Brad Pitt being a stay-at-home dad (World War Z) and Obiwan Kenobi proclaiming that only the Sith deal in absolutes. Enough.
It’s the hectoring tone of these films that grates on the nerves most and not just the message. If you’re wondering why it is that people got so excited about Interstellar last year, it’s because for one brief shining moment, someone stood up to that teacher and told her just how we felt about her sanitized, “corrected versions” of history, the future, and our aspirations. Maybe we’re just not that keen on putting our hard earned dollars down on entertainment that mostly just makes us reflect on the supposed sins of humankind. There’s a place for that sort of thing, sure. (Hint: it’s called church.) But if you’re looking for mind blowing thrills and epic adventure, at some point someone’s going to have to think outside the boundaries of whatever it is that Mrs. Grundy’s on about this week.
The people that put Interstellar together did that. And it was awesome.