HOW DOES THIS FILM RATE FOR INCLUSIVENESS?
As I was watching my thoughts were more about race. This story is set in the near future, when current children are about 60 years old. In that real world scenario, I am expecting the world to look a lot less white than this movie does. Sure, there is a black guy on the space ship but I’m pretty sure he gets way fewer lines of dialogue than the white characters. The odd Asian face pops up here and there. My own imagination has never stretched to a future in which white Americans will save the world. There is simply so much brain power outside America now, and other countries have more successful education systems.
The Bechdel Test
The Bechdel test was never really intended to be used as a barometer for a good feminist film and I’ve recently been noticing that many stories do pass the test but are still not all that great in regards to portrayal of women.
For the record, this film does pass the Bechdel test — two women do eventually talk to each other. Given that this is about 3 hours long, a couple of brief scenes doesn’t count for much. One of those was about a man. The other depicts two women who don’t like each other. So although Interstellar passes the Bechdel Test, some have made an amendment that ideally there are two women talking who don’t hate each other. Because everyone knows how ‘women are their own worst enemies’, right?
As for the gender breakdown:
There are 15 first-billed characters (counting as single the characters played by multiple actors). One of those characters is a robot and has a male voice, but I’ll take that number down to 13. Of those 13, 2 characters are female (played by two actresses each). So when you look at the raw numbers, this film is typical for Hollywood in its gender balance.
I’m not sure whether this is good news or not (I might just be used to the imbalance), but this cast felt like quite a balanced ensemble as I was watching. This is partly because the two main female characters have agency. Both are super smart and dedicated to their jobs and we don’t have any bullshit backstory in which they’re torn between their jobs and their families — in fact, that particular dilemma is reserved for the main male character, and that’s refreshing. In contrast, Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity had a backstory which involved her family, I guess because it was thought a female astronaut without a sob story would not be sufficiently relatable for audiences who are used to women as caregivers. The women in this story do not have children that define them. This felt great.
That said, I am detecting that we’re in the age of The Hermione Trope, in which girl characters work behind the scenes as ‘secret protagonists’, working out complex problems for the male characters who get their hands dirty on the fictional battlefield, whatever form that might take. I’d thought it applied mainly to family movies but I may have to revise that.
The frustrating thing is that we’re still not seeing many movies in which the female is the plain ole ‘protagonist’. Don’t forget that this film could just as easily have been about a woman cast in McConaughey’s role, with the young swots being male. That’s just not a story Hollywood is prepared to gamble on yet. From Peggy Olsen, Claire Underwood and Kima Greggs to the girls in Paranorman and Monster House, significant female characters are still not the main characters even when they have the brains. Perhaps this smart under-dog dynamic is thought to be more interesting. Perhaps such relationships do appeal most to female viewers, for whom it’s a certain kind of satisfying to see a woman under-appreciated and then triumph, despite the patriarchal world in which she lives. I’m still waiting for more stories in which fictional worlds of the future depict a social milieu in which women have achieved full agency, not that which comes out of the shadows, behind that of a man.
AND IS IT ANY GOOD?
Pretty fantastic! This was one of those films which stays with you for several days. High concept stories are hard to pull off 100% but all loose ends were tied up. Viewers would benefit from seeing it more than once. Part of the ending did run to cheese in my opinion. Interstallar reminds me of Contact only it is more complex, more frightening, more exciting. I wasn’t bored at any stage, despite the length of 169 minutes.
I’m looking forward to watching this with my daughter when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. Commonsense Media recommends the film for ages 12 and up.
Pair with the book The Never-ending Days of Being Dead by Marcus Chown for some mind-bending astro stuff presented in readable fashion.