Now that the Oscars nominations are in, Interstellar is back in the news again for its 5 nominations (but all “below the line”, as Hollywood calls them). A lot of pundits will probably comment on its absence from all major nominations, and will go back to the main critics that were raised during its full run. During that time, Interstellar was news fodder more specifically for its supposed box-office “failure”, its sound problems, or its “spotty” science.
However, a coverage or analysis I didn’t see at all about this amazing movie was how great a role model it could be for girls everywhere, and also how strong a bond it showed between a father and his daughter.
How many father / daughter movies do you know? There are a lot of father/son and mother / daughter movies; TV shows love to play on these bonds in half of their episodes, whether it’s a drama or a sitcom. But you can probably count on one hand the father/daughter movies. Off the top of my head, I can only count one as I write this article, and it’s Father of the Bride, which is not that memorable, whether you love Spencer Tracy or Steve Martin (so I do hope you’ll suggest some in the comments section below!).
On top of that uniqueness, there are so few movies with positive role models for girls that you’d be hard-pressed to share those movies with your daughter. Outside of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, there really aren’t great movies for girls. And don’t go about talking about Katniss or Bella, as you definitely can’t put them in the same category as Hermione or Murphy Cooper, the strong girl from Interstellar. It's really rare to find good movies to inspire your daughter to be “all that she can be”. Disney Princesses are really not the right model, even if Brave and Frozen are much better than their predecessors in showing that swooning girls should not live and die by their Prince Charming alone…
But again, there really is a lack of great movies and entertainment for us “modern fathers” that are trying to push our little girls into becoming strong, autonomous, smart, independent and most of all accomplished persons. This means showing them that the sky is the limit, that no job, no career, no artistic achievements is beyond their reach, and that they should always reach for the Moon, and beyond!
So, as a father of a 6-year old girl, I really felt a special connection between Cooper and his daughter and really identified with Matthew McConaughey’s character. I really challenge any father of a little girl to see this movie and not only to not weep but also to not admire it for what it shows!
So, in a kind of chronological order, here are (with MAJOR SPOILERS), the five events in the movie that made me think what a great inspiration for a father/daughter relationship Interstellar is.
1. He believes in her and defends her against non-believers
In a great humorous moment but a very key moment as well in the movie, Cooper is summoned at Murphy’s school to meet with the Principal and her teacher. They are quite unhappy with her and her “bad education” as she brought a non-redacted/uncensored book to school, which talks extensively about the Moon-landing.
This is a key moment for two reasons: First, we learn how desperate this world has become: one of humanity’s greatest achievement, as well as the United States’ greatest success in the ‘60s is now lobbed into “propaganda” and “Stanley Kubrick did it” rumors rather than celebrated for how much inspiration it brought to the world. Second, we see how fiercely Cooper defends his daughter, and how he’s ready to reward her with “taking her to a game of her favorite baseball team with candies and popcorn”.
The whole exchange at school was also quite revealing on the tone of the movie as well, and how much information we gathered on the state of the world (“we need farmers not engineers!”). But really, this was the first instance where we saw what a special bond Murphy and Cooper shared. The whole film would develop this bond and show that nothing could break it.
2. Her father inspires her to follow a path so rarely followed by young girls
I am kind of “cheating” here by using some of what happens at the end of the movie to explain part of that special bond that is illustrated at the beginning of the movie. But it’s nice to see how Murphy develops a love of science from her father’s nudges but also out of her own curiosity.
Indeed, how many movies do you know where the big brother becomes a “mere” farmer and the younger sister becomes a heroic scientist? This is not a dig at all at farmers, far from it! One of my favorite texts ever is Paul Harvey's 1978 'So God Made a Farmer' Speech. Harvey’s text highlights just how amazing and important farmers are and have always been (and will be). It’s just that even in Interstellar, Cooper has loftier goals for his children: he wants them to use their head rather than their arms.
And this is what he invites Murphy to do when she encounters her “ghost”. Her father pushes her to look for evidence, to analyze her surroundings, to gather the facts, and most of all, to think! This is really obvious, of course… But having read many books on raising a daughter, I know how many people believe that “girls are just not good at math” and “should stick to marketing”. How many women work at the NASA? How many are Managing Directors in Investment Banks? Sure, most of it is due to the lack of women having been recruited at first and having been given the opportunity to rise to the top. However, look at today’s world: how many women are in engineering schools? Yep, not that many! So the trend is not looking like it will change any time soon.
I’m not saying that engineering school is the best path for a young girl to get all the best opportunities. I’m not saying marketing is the wrong path either. I’m just saying that if today’s best engineering schools only have 10% of girls in their rank, then there’s something wrong with how we motivate girls to take on scientific paths. Even medical schools and hard science related studies are male-dominated. Is it because women are not attracted to it? Is it because the work is too hard? Is it because some of it is rocket science? None of that! It’s because from birth parents tend to push girls toward “softer” skills, think that “girls just don’t have ‘math in them’” or that “boys are just more scientific”. Of course, this is all scientifically wrong, but it’s just not changing anytime soon.
So, when I saw a strong-willed girl, taking her father’s advice (you could say being motivated by him and most of all being pushed by his departure and being raised by the new father figure that Michael Caine represented), but most of all using her insatiable curiosity to prod, search, analyze, and push the boundaries of her own knowledge – and ours! – to go into a scientific line of work to learn and better mankind, well, when I saw all of that I felt very inspired!
3. He makes the greatest sacrifice for her (and for Plan A)
This is as it should be: there is no greater reward for a father (or a parent) than to be able to give his life to offer something more to his children. Going back to my definition of “success” in this article (http://linkd.in/1GxfPU5), I believe that the greatest measure of success in a parent’s life is to be able to give your children more – even if it’s just a little more – than you got from your parents. This is how you create a virtuous circle: to aim to give your children always more than you received yourself from your parents, so that in turn they aim to give even more to their own children. This is how you create a prosperous society as well: parents aiming higher for their children, trying to avoid the “Third Generation decline” that was so well described in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mommy.
And so, circling back to Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey’s character makes the greatest sacrifice: he is ready to die to give his children a chance at a better life. One could argue that he decides to live his dream by becoming a pilot again; but it’s easy to see that he would easily give up this particular dream if it meant spending more time with his daughter – or children – if he were assured that they would live in a prosperous world. But since this world is far from prosperous, he bets away his life and future with his children in order to give them just that, a future.
4. She believes in him so much, she decided not to trust him
This is where it’s convoluted, so hang in there!
In Point 2., I mentioned that Murphy’s father pushed her to always be more curious, investigative, and always believe in facts. This is what inspired her to become a scientist.
However, she also loved him so much that she was ready to dismiss his teachings in order to find him again.
How is that? Well, for starter, she had to continue believing in her father for more than 23 years. Despite feeling betrayed by her father and then her father figure, she still believed her father would come back. He had promised her so, so that’s what she believed. And even if Michael Caine’s character betrayed her, and in that instance made her think her father also betrayed her, she still trusted her father.
And then, she didn’t trust him at all and ignored him completely, when she started believing in ghosts. One could argue that this process was concomitant with her loss of trust in her father: because she started believing he might have lied to her about coming back, she started believing he also lied to her about facts, and evidence, and ghosts. So she started questioning rationality and logic, and started investigating the “paranormal” activities in her house.
But actually, she realized in the end that her father was right all along, and there are no such things as ghosts, but that it was her father bridging the chasm of space and time and reaching out to her beyond the stars to send her a message and help her escape a dead earth.
So, she really needed to believe in him hard enough that she could comprehend something as absurd and incredible as her father talking to her through a 30-plus-year-old watch. And believe in him she did!
5. Their love is at the center of the movie. It's not science and worm holes and exploration. It's a father's love for his daughter that drives the movie.
An unbreakable bond that even space and time could not rend asunder. This is what the movie is about.
It’s not about hard or soft science; about facts or fiction; about action or special effects; about good and bad; about this planet or that planet; about staying on earth or exploring the stars; about dreaming of a better future and reaching for the stars or rewriting history to pretend the moon landing didn’t happen.
It’s about a father’s love for his daughter that is so strong that not only does it save humanity, it also drives the movie! Murphy loves his daughter so much that he’s willing to hurl himself into a worm hole because it might give him an infinitesimal chance of getting back on earth and seeing his daughter again.
No matter what critics say, this is what I got from the movie: an inspiring love between a father and his daughter; so inspiring that the daughter becomes an amazing rocket scientist and saves humanity; so strong that the father crosses infinity to communicate with his daughter and give her the tools to save humanity.
What else do you need in a movie?!