The Quest for Restoration; or, Gone Girl and Interstellar Considered as the Same Film

Thesis: Gone Girl and Interstellar share a single narrative, though they tell it in two different genres (the Hitchcockian darkly comic thriller and the Kubrickian/Spielbergian science fiction epic, respectively). Were it not for Christopher Nolan’s commitment to gravity (pun very much intended), Interstellar could be called Gone Guy.


1. The narrative of both films begins with the ruination of America, by contemporary economic decline in GG and by near-future environmental catastrophe coupled with cultural defeatism in IS. The main protagonist of each film (the protagonist whose flight gives the plot its motion: Amy in GG and Coop in IS) refuses to accept this defeat of American aspiration and sets out to remedy it.

2. Both films are structured by the separation and reunion of a familial male/female pair (husband and wife for GG, father and daughter for IS). In both films, the male/female pair is ambitious and productive in its union, GG‘s Amy and Nick in culture, IS‘s Cooper and Murph in science. Moreover, the relationship of each pair is based on a mutual goading to higher and better aspirations. Both films offer a vision of family not as haven from the world of production and worldly activity, but rather as an agent in that world: this is the family as miniature enterprise. As a corollary, both films feature family members who are too “normal” (too unambitious) to do their part for the family’s advancement (Go in GG, Tom in IS), and these have to be marginalized.

3. Both films stage a flight of the protagonist, but each protagonist continues to communicate in coded messages to the loved one left behind. The fleeing member of the pair (Amy, Coop) achieve self-transcendence via literal travel, an expedition to find what was missing from the family enterprise outside the family, while the stay-at-home member of the pair (Nick, Murph) achieves self-transcendence through the intellectual activity of translating the flight’s results from code into language or action. The American family must learn again to venture in physical space and in intellectual space, must undertake voyages in territory and voyages in mind. Note the importance of literacy in both films: Nick and Amy are writers, Coop and Murph are readers.

3. In both films, the maternal, both as fact and as value (i.e., the traditionally feminine), is held in abeyance until the end. Both conclude with a promise of a new generation (Amy is pregnant at the end of GG; Amelia Brand is about to begin her colony on Edmund’s planet, presumably alongside Coop, at the end of IS), but that generation cannot come to birth, mothering cannot become relevant again, until the American family has won back sufficient resources and territory. In the quest to do so, the maternal and its trappings appear as redundant or worse: GG‘s cast of hysterical female yellow journalists and their audience, standing in for the aggrieved wives/mothers of the ruined America, are playthings for Amy and menaces for Nick; while IS motivates Coop and Murph’s close and collaborative relationship by the mother’s death, and the father and daughter moreover are shown defying together the “caretaker” maternal state regime of the public school that holds back enlightened knowledge. Both films suggest, through their disparagement of the maternal and its appurtenances, that an overly feminized culture cannot reverse its decline. Incidentally, both films show inadequate father figures as well: the effeminate Mr. Elliot and the insane Mr. Dunne in GG, and the weak Donald and manipulative Brand in IS. In both cases, good and resourceful men must rise to the challenge presented by decline, to make the world safe for mothering again.

4. The main human obstacle to the reunion of the male/female pair in each film is a selfish, sociopathic male: GG‘s Desi and IS‘s Mann. Both put personal desire above family and community and are eventually undone by their hubris. Each keeps a cold palace in which the questing protagonist is threatened to be detained forever: Desi’s mansion, Mann’s planet. Each has, literally or symbolically, refused the reproductive familial. In IS, we are directly told that the crew of the Lazarus expeditions had no families and were, in effect, married to the mission; in GG, it is more complex and contextual, as Desi is notably played as an effete dandy by a gay actor most recently known for portraying a lothario on a long-running television show. In each case, the family-oriented protagonist must first defeat this anti-familial villain and escape his infertile realm before reuniting with the loved one. If the first obstacle to the reinvigorated family is a prematurely feminized culture at large, the second is an icy prison of lovelessness presided over by queer masculinity.

5. Within the above parameters, though, both films insist on the intelligence, competence, and toughness of women. Indeed, both show that the American family cannot come back from decline without its female members’ attainment of a high level of social and intellectual authority. The assumption of this authority and its responsibilities by women is precisely what will prevent the triumphant inertia of cultural feminization from completing its dominance. Both films, then, hark back to the older and explicitly national-imperialist feminisms of the nineteenth century.

Conclusion: Gone Girl and Interstellar dramatize the recovery of the American middle-class family; both identity the sources of the family’s decline in disordered or unbalanced gender roles; both identify the solution to the problem of decline as self-transcendence pursued through the recovery of traditional questing and traditional learning. Both express the conservative longings of a class horrified to countenance the end of its historical reign.

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