On one hand Interstellar is a post-apocalyptic film, as the landscape of a near futuristic Earth is brushed out onto a dry, barren canvas. Science and the unappreciated efforts of NASA are seen as insignificant wastes of resources, newly marketed as a scam to the public. The state of the planet is at a critical level. Dust storms regularly fan across the globe, showering the land in dirt. Ecosystems have been ravaged and it appears as if humans are the only creatures left on Earth. Agriculture is the last asset and culture in the world, and one-by-one, crops are failing to grow due to blight. It is yet another bleak vision into the future if we stay the course. Interstellar is so much more though, because it is about space exploration, human nature, a healthy debate over proven science vs. other concepts like love, faith, and trust, as well as an encounter with the third kind.
Some day our planet will crumble, or reach an irreversible point. What will give us our best chance at survival, science or one of the other less physical motivations? Is there room for both? Surely the reaction to it or any hard-driven science fiction film is expected to be divisive. Interstellar will spark its share of conversations.
Watching Interstellar is like sitting at a Brazilian restaurant with a parade of protein being served at your table. After you’ve had your fifth plate of food, there’s still so much more to consume. Be prepared; Insterstellar is a dense and long film that traverses along many paths. Who doesn’t want a little more for their money? No one questions the length of a novel. It takes as many pages that it needs to tell the story and at this point, a lengthy running time is one of Nolan’s signatures. It requires a full commitment by the viewer, to step onto his carnival, full of both despair and cosmic wonder.
Director and screenwriter Christopher Nolan (along with his brother, co-writer Jonathan) makes puzzles, and in this one, everything you need to solve it rests between the start of the film and the end. It’s true that Nolan’s body of work lack warmth, or the typical Hollywood sprinter’s pace for storytelling, but maybe that’s what makes him the perfect filmmaker of the next great space movie, because there is little out there in the vast universe to give any kind of warm reassurance that a nearby safe haven exists beyond the one beneath our feet. To feel like there is hope, we need one incredible voyage, and Nolan delivers that.
Theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne (who also worked on Contact) was the film’s scientific consultant and one of the executive producers. He made sure that wormholes and relativity were portrayed correctly. It gives the Interstellar the depth and grounding it needs to lift off and take us for a ride. It is an ambitious journey, echoing other influential classics like 2001: A Space Oddyssey, Blade Runner or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it’s presented in Nolan’s twisting maze-like presentation, done with justice in IMAX, accompanied with a bombastic pipe-organ-filled score composed by Hanz Zimmer.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot and engineer who is forced to become a farmer and master his crops of corn with his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). A strange phenomena leads Cooper and Murph to an unknown division of NASA run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who Cooper remembers from his glory days.
Brand is convinced that they’ve made contact with other beings who have placed a wormhole on the edge of Saturn’s orbit that will get them to inhabitable worlds in new galaxies. Many underground missions have obtained years of research that a small handful of planets exist that can sustain human life. The latest ship, dubbed the Endurance, has a mission is to confirm which of the planets to inhabit, come back to Earth, while Brand finalizes the technology to take Earth’s remaining survivors to the new planet and colonize.
Cooper leaves his family behind, at the protest of Murph, and pilots the spacecraft to find purpose in his life and do his part to preserve the survival of his children. Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) physicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and two robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) join him. But the real danger in this mission isn’t flying into the wormhole–though, to be honest, it is in its own right, a beautifully terrifying sequence. What’s really scary are the lands Endurance hopes to settle on the other side of the wormhole. Time moves slower due to the gravitational pull of a spiraling black hole nearby. One prolonged event in space could equal many Earth years marched closer towards oblivion. Once out there, the loneliness can be deafening and makes a character reconsider his or her motivations to exercise such bravery and risk. To re-coin one of Jesse Pinkman’s phrases, ‘Science, it’s a bitch!’
One could argue that there a few too many conveniences and a fourth act (yes, I said fourth) that’s too obtuse for mainstream audiences hoping to see a continuation of Gravity, but that kind of nitpicking is missing the beauty of the sum. This film has ambition, a singular vision, to cross-stitch Nolan’s dreams of exploration and survival with all of his cinematic influences, so vividly and powerful with the common thread of love.
With Inception, we watched a heist film in a shared dreaming experience. There, the manipulation of time in the dream world was important to understanding the events of the story. They were made more complex once the concept of dreams within a dream were conveyed, and it was seemingly infinite time that made the impossible possible. In Memento, a black and white story moves forward while we are given 10 minute segments of another story, in color, running in the reverse order of how they played out. Eventually the two stories converge and shows how fragile the truth is. Even in the Dark Knight trilogy, Batman was constantly racing against clock. Time is one of Nolan’s favorite villains and plot devices.
In Interstellar, we are asked to understand how time dilation and at least a surface level understanding of Einstein’s general theory of relativity works as the last bastion of the human race hurtles into one gorgeous-looking black hole. No matter who we are, what it is we can or can’t do, we are all prisoners of time and love, and are up against it. We are all subject to run away while it chases us, even if it’s across the universe.