We test the reliability of two neural network interpretation techniques, backward optimization and layerwise relevance propagation, within geoscientific applications by applying them to a commonly studied geophysical phenomenon, the Madden-Julian oscillation. The Madden-Julian oscillation is a multi-scale pattern within the tropical atmosphere that has been extensively studied over the past decades, which makes it an ideal test case to ensure the interpretability methods can recover the current state of knowledge regarding its spatial structure. The neural networks can, indeed, reproduce the current state of knowledge and can also provide new insights into the seasonality of the Madden-Julian oscillation and its relationships with atmospheric state variables. The neural network identifies the phase of the Madden-Julian oscillation twice as accurately as a linear regression approach, which means that nonlinearities used by the neural network are important to the structure of the Madden-Julian oscillation. Interpretations of the neural network show that it accurately captures the spatial structures of the Madden-Julian oscillation, suggest that the nonlinearities of the Madden-Julian oscillation are manifested through the uniqueness of each event, and offer physically meaningful insights into its relationship with atmospheric state variables. We also use the interpretations to identify the seasonality of the Madden-Julian oscillation and find that the conventionally defined extended seasons should be shifted later by 1 month. More generally, this study suggests that neural networks can be reliably interpreted for geoscientific applications and may thereby serve as a dependable method for testing geoscientific hypotheses.