Interstellar and Freud's Early Surrealists

If you’ve seen Interstellar—a visually beautiful, poignant, thought-provoking movie—you may have come away wondering about holes in the plot. Or, like me, you may have come away a little deflated by holes in the plot. (Don’t worry, I’m saving the spoiler for the very end of this post. Please read on.)

I’m not talking about artistic license here—the little liberties artists take with the facts or convention. Say, when a writer changes the location of a town. Or ignores grammar like Shakespeare with “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears” (which is missing an “and”). Or writes in sentence fragments, like I’m doing here.

No, I’m talking about art with flaws or based on flawed arguments. In my mind, that is a big deal. (Or maybe it’s just a big deal to me.)

Movie-Plot Holes

They’re all over the place. If you Google famous movie plot holes, you’ll see what I mean.

This one made me laugh, considering how many times I’ve seen Star Wars (dozens) and never even thought about it. From MoviePlotHoles.com:

On the topic of the Skywalker family tree, wasn’t the existence and identity of Vader’s children supposed to be a secret? Why, then, was Luke allowed to retain the surname Skywalker?

Also, why did they take Luke to his relatives on Tatooine? I mean, even if Vader didn’t know he had kids, he might show up one day out of the blue just to kill his relatives and erase the physical ties to his former self. (The guy was pretty messed up.)

This one from Raiders of the Lost Ark cracked me up too (again, dozens of viewings). I remember wondering about it even as a kid:

Our hero swims to a German u-boat that is about to dive, where he grabs onto the periscope and should drown. Or maybe get hypothermia…What should not happen is that he would be able to sneak aboard the sub or cling onto the periscope and hold his breath for the entire journey. Exactly how he does this is unknown, as the next scene shows him inside the sub, a tad wet, but otherwise alive.

Another one that’s always bothered me is how James Bond goes around telling everyone he’s James Bond. I mean, isn’t that Espionage 101? Why not just hang a sign around your neck: “I’m a British spy.”

Freud’s Flawed Arguments on Women

(Switching gears…)

It’s common knowledge that Sigmund Freud was a misogynist. (Penis envy?) Most psychoanalysts agree that Freud’s views on women say more about the times in which he lived, his own experiences with women and his misunderstandings regarding women than anything else. He admitted to not ever understanding women, although that curiously didn’t stop him from expressing views on them.

From Samuel Slipp’s The Freudian Mystique:

Many writers have contended that Freud’s views on feminine psychology were erroneous because they basically reflected and perpetuated the Victorian bias against women. This is in all likelihood true, but the picture is more interesting than this simple explanation alone. To understand how Freud developed his views on female development, it is important to explore not only the patriarchal and phallocentric Victorian society of Vienna but Freud’s own personal conflicts as well.

…These factors include losses of important early childhood attachment figures; unconscious conflicts with his mother, who appeared to be seductive, aggressive, intrusive and exploitative; his mother’s own frustrations as a person and her constricted social role; and anti-Semitism, which contributed to his father’s economic failure and Freud’s own professional difficulties.

Early 20th Century Misogynistic Surrealists

So why did the early 20th century Surrealists go along with Freud’s flawed arguments?

From a Michigan State University study:

A composite illustration published in La Révolution surréaliste in 1929 of photographs of the Surrealists arranged in a rectangle around [René] Magritte’s painting of a naked woman has always seemed to me very telling. This work indicates that the surrealist movement, like so many other twentieth-century avant-garde movements (Futurism, Dada, Expressionism, et cetera), was a men’s club.

The Surrealists lived in their own masculine world, with their eyes closed—the better to construct their male phantasms of the feminine. They did not see woman as a subject, but as a projection, an object of their own dreams of femininity. These masculine dreams play an active part in patriarchy’s misogynistic positioning of women. It is precisely in Surrealism, with its emphasis on dreams, automatic writing, the unconscious, that we can expect to find some of the least inhibited renditions of male fantasies, and thus gain a good understanding of male desires and interests.

One of the early 20th century Surrealists who serves as a punching bag for feminists is German artist Hans Bellmer. From a Cornell College symposium on misogyny in early Surrealism:

The German Surrealist Hans Bellmer’s work, La Poupée (Doll), represents a typical way that Surrealists conceptualized femininity and depicted women. Hans Bellmer published this as part of a book of photography, Les Jeux de la Poupée (The Games of the Doll), in 1938. His photographs depicted severely deformed and twisted adolescent female dolls. The sadomasochism and fetishism throughout his doll series indicate how the male fantasy and ambivalent fear of women affected his representation of the female figures.

Despite the genius in the early Surrealists’ work, the misogyny in some of the pieces diminishes the art for me personally. It’s more than just an actor’s meltdown onset or an athlete’s transgression outside a sport. It’s part of the art.

Interstellar Plot Deflation

I feel the same way about Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s latest epic. I was riveted— riveted—to the screen for the entire 2 hours and 49 minutes. I enjoyed that movie so much. However, I have to put in a caveat: “I loved it…for the most part.”

Nolan himself has addressed the plot holes in his movies and Interstellar, in particular, ad nauseam. He has said that most of Interstellar is grounded in solid science and scientific theory. I’m not an astrophysicist, but it appears to be true—space’s vast distances limiting travel, worm holes, gravity’s effect on time, et cetera.

But then the whole plot depends on a very debatable idea that, to say the least, stretches logic.

(Spoiler alert!)

In a nutshell, a worm hole appears in our solar system just as Earth’s humans are running out of food. NASA thinks a more advanced species has put the worm hole there to help us. They build ships, go through it and find another habitable planet.

Then it turns out that future humans put the worm hole there.

So, to survive, we have to go through the worm hole. But the worm hole doesn’t exist until future humans put it there. It’s called a bootstrap or ontological paradox, and it’s very much up for debate.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Or overthinking. Nolan probably just set out to create an awesome movie, which he did. In fact, the only reason I am nitpicking is because it is such an awesome movie. (Any other run-of-the-mill sci-fi movie, I wouldn’t say peep.)

There are elements of Interstellar that elevate it to social commentary—ecological, socio-political, ethical, philosophical. But then the whole thing teeters on the knife edge of a now-cliché paradox. And, unfortunately, that diminishes it a little for me.