As has always been his calling card, Christopher Nolan has an eye for grand, expansive, thought-provoking experiences wrapped up in cinema. Perhaps his aims are too ambitious at times, but you can never accuse him of making an everyday film. He always shoots for the moon (or better yet a wormhole) and so his projects are ultimately better than most, even if they miss the target a bit. The reason being, Interstellar is still full of enough questions and concepts to leave us thinking for a good long time after we leave the theater.
Although approximately 2 hours and 49 minutes, hardly anyone could call Interstellar too long, because it is more often than not engaging, as we try and decipher where Nolan is going to take us next. His story starts on a world that is certainly earth but strangely dystopian compared to the planet that we know and love. Reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally or something, old folks speak of the way the world was when the dust first hit and the corn crops had to be burned. Not much explanation is given but it is what it is.
This is the climate that the engineer-turned-farmer Coop (Matthew McConaughey) has to raise his two kids after his wife passed away. They are good kids for the most part. Murph blames a so-called “ghost” for accidents that happen around the house and her brother teases her some. But they hardly complain about this life they have they; just push forward.
However, their father has always been an explorer at heart, a pilot who never got to truly test the vast seas of space or spread out his wings fully. That changes when he and his daughter come across an old relic from the past. No, it’s not a monolith but something far more human. He somewhat reluctantly teams up with his old professor Brandt (Sir Michael Caine) and the professor’s daughter Amelia(Anne Hathaway) in a major undertaking.
They want Coop to pilot a mission to a wormhole which is just out of humanity’s reach. It was seemingly miraculously gifted to the human race by some unknown third person. This is their chance to A: find a new planet for a mass exodus or B: restart a colony on a far away destination. The first option is far less grim. Coop takes the mission in the hopes of saving his kids, but he knows the ramifications. Since time is all relative he does not know when he is coming back. He does not even know what he will find or if he will be successful. He heads off as an angry Murph tearfully watches him fall out of her life.
In a match cut of his own, Nolan transports Coop from his truck to the outer reaches of the galaxy. The real adventure has begun. The mission is clear. Save humanity from most certain extinction. It does not make it easier however that messages are constantly being relayed from earth. Coop and his three colleagues set up a plan of action. Their first target is a water covered environment that looks promising. Not so. Next, Coop overrules Brandt and they head to a desolate world that a previous explorer had labeled as inhabitable. To put it bluntly, he lied and he was not the only one.
Now Murph is older (Jessica Chastain) and she still has a hard time reconciling the departure of her dad. In an especially impactful scene, a still ageless Coop watches tearfully as his older son’s life literally passes before his eyes through the video communications that have been relayed up.
Coop has no way to reply. He can only watch and push forward to try and find a solution. But the answers are few and far between as time continues to move rapidly faster on earth than with the crew of the Endurance. In one final act of selfless valor Coop heads into a black hole and thus begins his own mind-blowing leg of his space odyssey. Some connections are made and when all the pieces are put together all that really matters is his inextinguishable love and family. In the end, Coop spends a nice moment with his daughter under very different circumstances. Together they saved the human race. Together they survived.
For a film that was made for Physic nerds with talk of black holes, worm holes, relativity, quantum mechanics, Newton’s Third Law, gravity and the like, Nolan’s conclusion has a universal ring. As Amelia Brand claims, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” There are still scientific questions left to be debated for years to come, but we know that love is one thing that is forever true.
There are obviously numerous comparisons that can be made between Interstellar and 2001. I would rather focus on the differences very briefly. In Nolan’s film, A.I. is actually useful and more reliable and kind than humanity itself. It is Man who lies, cheats and reverts to animalistic behavior all in the name of survival. Interstellar has a lot of scientific theory behind it (which I will acknowledge I do not know the ins and outs of), however, it also has a very human component. It is grounded on earth with Coop’s kids.
The visuals in Interstellar are often breathtaking but we would probably expect that for such an ambitious space saga. What I really took out of this film was the score and juxtaposition of sound. Hans Zimmer’s compositions were full of pounding organs that somehow fit the mood with their majestic and still austere sound. Furthermore, this film had a lot of dialogue and tense moments of noise, however, when we are outside the spacecraft it is almost completely silent reminding us of the reality of space. It is more often than not a vast, silent unknown.
I am reminded of when Coop explains to his daughter why she was named after Murphy’s Law which seems to be bad. He replies that “Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen.” And that was good enough for Coop and his late wife. In some ways I think these words can be used to describe Interstellar. With Nolan, there is the potential that whatever can happen, will. There is excitement and magic in that, even if it sometimes overshoots its bounds. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and that’s good enough for me.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas