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Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar (2014) describes a bold scenario for the future of planet Earth, but Heritage looks the same as ever.

Interstellar poster showing the farm house where the story starts…

Set around 2070, farming in the US and indeed on Earth no longer supports its human population due to frequent and massive dust storms resulting in crop failures. A secret rescue plan is devised in co-operation with NASA which consists of either to evacuate living humanity from Earth or, if that fails, to start another human population from frozen human ova carried on a spacecraft.

The hero and pilot Cooper and his daughter the physicist Murphy become central characters in these rescue plans that quite literally involve saving our world, with Cooper leaving and Murphy staying behind on Earth.

As it is common in science fiction movies, the future presented is one of a rather spectacular physics with some mind-boggling technology. This involves travelling to another galaxy that is accessible through a wormhole near Saturn. It also involves a five-dimensional reality communicating with our own, three dimensional world across a bridge provided by gravity.

There is talk of access to infinite time and space. The concrete possibility of asserting a force across space-time due to the insight that “gravity can cross the dimensions including time” becomes significant for the plot.

Eventually, humanity is saved and has re-established itself on space-stations. The main one is Cooper Station which we see at the end of the film, “currently orbiting Saturn”. It looks like a hollow cylinder with a living human landscape resembling that on Earth covering its entire inside, defying gravity as we know it.

Believable or not, the film presents a visionary future. Cooper is told by the space robot TARS that “they didn’t bring us here to change the past”. This is unfortunately true in the sense that the movie’s presentation of the past is anything but visionary.

Interstellar’s five dimensional world of futuristic physics

Science-fiction expert Dolly Jørgensen (2015) concluded accordingly in her study of the function of museums in time travel narratives that contrary to what curators often assume, objects of the past displayed in a stagnant museum are not necessarily valued in the future.

Cooper farm house museum
The cylindrical world of Cooper station

Why is heritage in Interstellar presented so vision-less?

On Cooper Station, which is named about Murphy Cooper, her scientific achievements allowing evacuation and the heroism of her father are being remembered. We see a memorial stone and then Cooper’s old farm house from Earth reconstructed.

When Cooper is being shown around, the house is filled with all his furniture and household items, much as it was presented in the beginning of the film. There are also video monitors displaying historical witnesses remembering the last period of human life on Earth.

Since the house is now a museum and heritage site, there are bollards with red velvet rope demarcating the area accessible to visitors. Pushing this boundary aside, Cooper’s guide invites him in: “Home, sweet home. Everything is in its place and faithfully reproduced.” Even the space robot TARS was preserved and Cooper brings it back into operation. On the inevitable question “Is that what it was like?”, Cooper replies with a familiar critique of heritage: “It was never that clean.”

Inside Cooper museum

So this heritage site, then, is essentially a somewhat dull period house of our own present moved into the distant future. As if heritage cannot have a visionary future of its own and cannot be rescued from its own problems on Earth. Clever internet vendors are now even selling the logical Cooper station museum merchandise such as T-shirts.

Heritage focuses on historic individuals, preservation means faithful material reconstruction, visitor interpretation represents how it really was, and access is restricted.

Curiously, this seems to be exactly the heritage which even here on Earth volunteers for a one-way trip to Mars say motivates them: “The most important thing to do in life is to leave a legacy. … Everyone will remember who were the first four people who stepped onto Mars,” said would-be astronaut Ryan MacDonald, 21, from Derby, England.

In such science-fiction scenarios, heritage is portrayed as a means of historic appreciation temporarily turning back the clock.

Time-traveller Cooper has not aged himself and the museum house feels like his own house, but he shows little interest either in the reconstructed house or in his own family’s legacy: “I don’t care much for this, pretending we’re back where we started.”

Science-fiction expert Dolly Jørgensen (2015) concluded accordingly in her study of the function of museums in time travel narratives that contrary to what curators often assume, objects of the past displayed in a stagnant museum are not necessarily valued in the future.

It is a pity that the museum of the future in Interstellar denies Cooper what he needs most — a visionary heritage on which he can draw in his present. “I want to know where we are, where we’re going.”


Jørgensen, Dolly (2015) Remembering the past for the future: The function of museums in science fiction time travel narratives. In Time Travel in the Popular Media, ed. J. Ormrod and Matthew Jones, 118–131. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Cooper station museum merchandise