‘Interstellar’ and ‘The Whale’: A Review of Two Movies that Help Us to Understand Family and Love

What won’t we do to pursue and find a way back to those we cherish? It’s a question prompted by both of these cinematic masterpieces.

Here is an image showing the Milky Way galaxy.  Photo Credit: Felix Mittermeier / Pixabay

Here is an image showing the Milky Way galaxy. Photo Credit: Felix Mittermeier / Pixabay

When the topic of family is brought to the dinner table, we think of memories that foretell our ability to interact with them. Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings, traveling across the globe, or hearing stories from our parents that enthrall us in their own lives are some of the things that come to mind. These bonds that we have, whether with brother and sister, aunt and uncle, mother and father, are timeless. Of course, when we look at symbols that represent those ties together, we rarely think about the films that take life on our T.V. screens. However, cinematic masterpieces can oftentimes be the most powerful indicator of what it means to be a part of something greater than oneself and represent the very advent of familial ties. 

Directors throughout history have created both animated and live-action films that have incorporated significant relationships we might have as a crux. One in particular is the strength shared between a father and daughter’s bond. In the realm of cinema, two such films stand out for their ability to capture vigor through deep emotional resonance: Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014) and Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale” (2022). Both excel at capturing the intricate dynamics and powerful connections forged by family.

Both movies delve into what it means to be human and offer poignant narratives that excel in thematically capturing love, sacrifice and enduring bonds that tie us together. Nolan’s “Interstellar” allows us to witness a perilous space mission to save humanity under the pretenses of environmental catastrophe. The main character, Cooper, leaves behind his children to find habitable planets elsewhere and beautifully captures the struggle between Cooper’s love for his family and commitment to a greater cause to save human life. 

These sacrifices that he makes resonate with viewers because they highlight the profound lengths a parent would go to ensure the survival and wellbeing of their loved ones. Similar dynamics exist throughout Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” The story revolves around a father, played by Brendan Fraser, who is coping with the loss of his former life due to rapid weight gain and trying to rebuild a relationship with his estranged daughter. Through the portrayal of their troubled interactions, the film explores the transformative power of unconditional love and the willingness to make sacrifices to repair familial bonds. Audiences are moved by the characters’ struggles, ultimately realizing the importance of family and the healing potential it holds.

Each film helps relay the concept of time and its impact on families. In “Interstellar,” the characters grapple with the relativistic effects of space travel, leading to significant time dilation. This exploration of time’s fluidity underscores the desire to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. The film explores the intergenerational connection between parents and children, as well as the weight of the choices made in the present on the future of a family.

At the beginning of “Interstellar” in particular, Cooper’s departure creates a sense of abandonment in Murph, his daughter, who feels betrayed by her father’s decision to leave her behind. Throughout the film, Murph becomes involved in a NASA project, and, as she grows older, she becomes a prominent scientist working on solving the problem of Earth’s dying environment. Cooper, meanwhile, finds himself in a different dimension near a black hole, where time is distorted.

Here is the full cast and crew with Darren Aronofsky, Sadie Sink and Brendan Fraser at the movie premiere of The Whale film in Toronto. (Stock Photo Used by permission: © Anita Zvonar| Dreamstime.com )

Despite the vast distances and the time dilation between them, Murph is able to sense Cooper through a mysterious gravitational anomaly in her bedroom. Through this connection, Murph and Cooper communicate across time, allowing Cooper to relay crucial information to her. Their relationship becomes a symbol of love transcending time and space. Murph’s unwavering trust in her father and her understanding of the bigger picture motivate her to solve the gravitational equation necessary for humanity’s survival. Cooper, driven by his love for Murph, is determined to find a way back to her. 

Even in the darkness of black holes and an entire cosmos against him, Cooper overcomes. He is able to retrieve something lost to him and learns that, in the tapestries of time, one can both see and feel a force more powerful and real than any other — love. But the question of whether or not Murph wants her own father back is not an enigmatic prompt for the viewer; instead, it surpluses the ability to speak upon the vision of always learning to move forward. 

Although the film is certainly famous, it means more to students like Marco Giordano ’24 than the number of people who know about it. Rather the quality of direction is what is particularly meaningful about this movie. He states, “Where do I begin? “Interstellar” is the best movie of all time, and its relevance to today is something that no piece of art has been able to replicate since. Nolan’s pinpoint casting decisions and careful dialogue brings out emotions in any of its viewers no matter their preferred genre in film.”

When asked which parts of the film might have resonated with him the most, he talks about Michael Caine’s monologue to the crew in the beginning of their trip, where he recites Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” 

Thomas wrote that poem for his dying father, pleading to him to not fight for his life and resist human death to the last minute possible. The poem creates a beautiful parallel between the context of the poem and the dying of the human race. 

The mission in “Interstellar” was the resistance of humanity to extinction, and Caine delivers a great monologue to emulate that message with sorrow in his own voice (given that he knew none of the mission leaders would return home). Giordano sometimes listens to that monologue in preparation for significant moments in life because of its breathtaking beauty and perspective on life.

Giordano adds, “Another unique vision of “Interstellar” is its superb score. I think it is one of Hans Zimmer’s best works, and most notably “Corn Chase” and “Mountains” set more emotional tones for the film and are scores I frequently listen to on my own time.” 

In “Interstellar,” the characters are confronted with existential threats to humanity, enduring physical and emotional hardships. Yet, it is their unwavering determination and the love they hold for their families that fuels their resilience. Audiences are inspired by the characters’ ability to overcome insurmountable obstacles, demonstrating the strength derived from familial connections.

“The Whale,” on the other hand, offers a more intimate perspective on time, legacy and family. It delves into the idea of generational trauma and the lasting effects it has on family relationships. The film suggests that confronting the past and understanding one’s roots is essential for personal growth and the preservation of family ties. By examining the complex interplay of past, present, and future, “The Whale” highlights the significance of acknowledging one’s family history and its role in shaping individuals.

Brendan Fraser portrays Charlie, who is a reclusive man physically and emotionally isolated due to his immense weight, which confines him to his apartment. Ellie, a rebellious and stone-cold young girl, is his daughter who has lost any emotional attachment to her father because of a similar sense of abandonment felt when Charlie leaves his wife and family for another man. 

Through their newfound interactions, Charlie wishes to become a mentor to Ellie, trying to provide his daughter with guidance and wisdom on what it means to live honestly. Through navigating on simple things like schoolwork with his daughter, Charlie is able to find both persistence and power in rebuilding their connection. 

“The Whale” takes an introspective approach to resilience. It delves into the emotional journey of a father and daughter as they navigate grief and confront their own internal struggles. The film emphasizes the transformative power of familial support, portraying how the love and understanding within a family can help individuals find the strength to heal and rebuild their lives. 

In fact, it is the contrast between the two films that offer a particularly stunning portrayal of love and life. Their captivating family dynamics that explore the themes of love, sacrifice, time and resilience are livid in their thought-provoking narratives. These films have provided the audiences with a profound understanding of newer complexities and importance of family connections. 

We learn from Cooper’s fight to grab his daughter’s attention that there are no limits to love; instead, we will traverse dimensions and learn to overcome tremendous obstacles to save the connections we have. Charlie’s urge to reclaim his daughter’s love is a remarkable portrayal on what it means to lose the things you cherish the most and captures a lesson on how vulnerability is a gift rather than a curse. Both films offer us an answer on what it means to be human and what it means to be people first. From space to sea, these films will reside in the hearts of history. 

Both films offer us an answer on what it means to be human and what it means to be people first. From space to sea, these films will reside in the hearts of history.