December 8, 2014

Annabelle Pendlebury

Or just another Hollywood boy’s club for male stars to shine?

OK, punny jokes aside, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details about Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster. I felt Interstellar must be commended for its ambitious storyline. Set in the future, when our world is covered in dust and nearly uninhabitable as it teeters on the brink of collapse, a group of explorers including farmer/engineer Cooper (played by Mathew McConaughey) must set forth into space in search of a new world for humans to colonise. Amidst mind-boggling adventures into black holes and wormholes, there are some emotionally stirring moments, beginning with Cooper having to make a choice between staying with his family or abandoning them to go on a quest to save the human race. Additionally, it is relevant to current debate about how we will survive in a world we are slowly killing. Thus the futuristic plan to tackle another world and start from scratch hooked me in right away. It’s final point of interest for me was that it contained not one but TWO lead female characters. I began to think perhaps another box was ticked, seeing as this is rather unusual in any Hollywood movie, where women are pretty much just useless love interests (see the Bechdel Test). Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite so pro-equality as it could have been.

First however, let’s take a look at the story itself. The beautiful scenes of outer space are stunning and the feeling that you are peering into unknown depths of our galaxy allows for an enthralling experience. While I was apprehensive about sitting through a 3 hour film, its length becomes excusable thanks to a well-woven storyline that progressively builds in intensity. However, I am a sucker for a sci-fi space expedition and if watching people float around in space isn’t your thing, you might not find the storyline as appealing. I did not find my mind wandering and managed to even avoid going for any sneaky phone checks once the space-age story had me hooked. The only questionable point for me was the ending. During the climax of the film, the ‘scientific’ ideas became just a little too absurd and were too airily explained. So much happening at one time also gave way to me feeling a little lost.


How else didn’t Interstellar quite meet my expectations? Well, I loved the fact that two females were key players in the scientific explorations portrayed in the movie. Yet, why only two of them? In the whole team of about 12 astrophysicists and astronauts, only one happened to be a female. Extremely rarely do we see women amongst all the scientists, farmers and doctors wandering around in a world that is supposedly the future! How refreshing it would have been to see Nolan, instead of stopping once he had ticked the “Token Female Character” box, make an effort to encourage equal representation in the film industry, particularly as he is such an enormously influential player in this field.

Also a little disappointing was the fact that Nolan didn’t ever give his two lead females any room to move outside of their stereotypical roles. Clever scientist Amelia Brand (played with talent by Anne Hathaway) somehow ends up as the astronaut on board the spaceship who is in charge of the embryos they are carrying to a distant land. Why must this necessarily be the female’s role and not any of the male astronauts’ – who are in abundance? Her decision-making skills are also called into question when her love for her astronaut boyfriend supposedly clouds her judgment. Meanwhile, Cooper’s daughter Murphy, in order to earn her place as a human being interested in science, must be made into a tom-boy, complete with boy name. Of course she couldn’t have been a feminine girl, because girly-girls don’t care about science, only boyish ones do.


Interstellar certainly satisfied my need, hidden at the back of my mind since seeing Inception, to watch another mind-boggling and engaging movie that makes you think. I only wish it hadn’t forced me to think about the lack of female involvement in the plot. Instead of more of the same empty-headed female characters with barely more than five speaking lines, it was a nice change to see some females on the big screen who were actually inspiring to me (and half the population of the world). But why must it stop with a few? If we need statistics to startle us into action, they are already there. Actress Geena Davis has started her own Institute on Gender Media Research. Her institute’s research reveals that only 31% of characters with speaking lines are female and in family movies, for every 1 female character, there are 3 male characters.

This imbalanced, fictional world where women are scarce begins to look normal when we see it again and again on the big screen. What’s the hold up? It is about time that Nolan and his fellow directors and screenwriters of Hollywood recognise their immensely powerful influence upon the world. I want to see them step up to the responsibility of making female viewers, who make up half the sales in the box office, feel reflected and included in the storylines of their movies, as men do.

– Annabelle Pendlebury

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