EM SC 240N
Energy and Sustainability in Contemporary Culture

Lesson 11: Critical Analysis of Interstellar



Now that you have dissected and critically analyzed multiple contemporary works of popular literature, it's time to move on to a different medium: cinema. Movies tell stories and give messages, and like written and verbal stories, they can (and almost certainly do) contain rhetorical devices. Sometimes, the message can be sustainability-centric, whether sustainability plays a subtle or prominent role. Movies are much more likely to have mass popular appeal than books. Think about it - when is the last time a book was a major news item, in the way movies like Black Panther, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Schindler's List, or Titanic have been? For better or worse, movies are probably the most widely consumed story-telling medium today, and so offer a great opportunity to get one's message "out there."

In this last module, you will apply your now well-honed critical analysis tools and sustainability and rhetorical knowledge to the analysis of a movie. You will watch Interstellar, a very prominent movie that was released in November of 2014. This has proven to be a very popular movie, grossing more than $675,000,000 worldwide! It also won an Oscar for "Best Achievement in Visual Effects," and was nominated for four other Oscars. Contributing to its mass appeal is the fact that it stars prominent actors and actresses, including Matthew McConaughey (the McConnaisance continues!), Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and the legendary Michael Caine, and was directed by Christopher Nolan of Batman fame. As you will see, sustainability - in particular, the ability of the earth to sustain life - plays a central role in this movie, which is one reason it was chosen for analysis.

As with the last artifact, I want you to think critically about the movie as you watch it, especially with regards to how the content relates to sustainability (all 3 E's) and the ability of humans to live within the ecological limits of the planet while maintaining and/or establishing a reasonable quality of life for the people on Earth. It is important that you think as objectively as possible, trying to see past preconceived ideas and consider the science behind the story and the rhetorical devices used. It is important that you look at the assignments for the lessons in Module 4 before you begin watching because they will indicate key pieces of information to focus on. Also, keep in mind as you watch this movie how you can apply some of the techniques in your final project.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • apply sustainability concepts to the analysis of the movie;
  • critically analyze claims made in the movie; and
  • assess the effectiveness of the rhetorical content of the movie.

Required Reading/Viewing

  • Watch the movie Interstellar. This is provided for free to all Penn State students through the PSU library! There is a link on Canvas. This is also available in many DVD kiosks (e.g., Redbox, if that's still a thing), can be purchased from Amazon (and other retailers), and is available for digital viewing on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and more. It may even be available at your local library.
  • Suggested: Review key concepts in Module 1.

What is due this week?

This week you have part 1 of a discussion board due, and an optional discussion board as well. Also, note that the rough draft of your final project is due this week. Again, see Canvas for details.

Lesson 11 Checklist
Requirement Item Location Submission Location
Lesson 11 Discussion Board - Scientific Analysis of the Movie Part I See content on Canvas. Canvas - Modules tab > Lesson 11
Final Project Rough Draft See content on Canvas. Canvas - Modules tab > Final Project


If you have any general course questions or questions about this lesson's content, please post them to our HAVE A QUESTION? discussion forum located under the Modules tab in Canvas. I will check that discussion forum regularly to respond as appropriate. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses and comments if you are able to help out a classmate. If you have a question but would like to remain anonymous to the other students, email me through Canvas.

If you have something related to the material that you'd like to share, feel free to post to the Coffee Shop forum, also under the Modules tab in Canvas.