In talking to friends and family, it has become quite clear that Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar is rather divisive. Some find the film to be too far-reaching, with plot holes they cannot forgive. Others are willing to connect the dots and have been drawn into Nolan’s bleak, sci-fi future.
As for me, here’s where I stand: Interstellar is necessary.
Nolan’s latest is one of the few original, non-franchise science fiction films to make headway at the box office. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Star Trek movies and The Guardians of the Galaxy too, but there is something to be said for a stand alone sci-fi flick that is its own story, not based on one in another medium. And these days, American sci-fi desperately needs an injection of originality.
Interstellar is a film rooted in enough science for you to accept the premise but with enough fiction to make you believe in infinite possibilities. In fact, the film was largely inspired by the work of physicist Kip Thorne, who also acted as a consultant for the film.
When the film opens, former fighter pilot turned farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is struggling to make a living as a corn farmer in a future where Earth’s sustenance is drying up and dust storms can bring life to a standstill. Cooper is clearly dissatisfied and longs for the days of American exploration, but he finds solace in his kids Tom and Murph.
Murph is inquisitive, with a budding mind for science; in an era that no longer teaches the moon landing, she stands out. Murph’s insistence that there is a ghost sending messages in her room leads Cooper to discover an underground NASA facility headed up by his former boss, Professor Brand (Michael Caine). A team of scientists, including the Professor’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), insist that Murph’s “ghost” are mysterious beings guiding them to find other worlds for humanity’s survival.
When Cooper is offered the chance to fly the spaceship, he cannot get off Earth fast enough, though he is constantly thinking about getting back in time to save his children. Through the time-lapse in space, Cooper is forced to watch his children grow older through the ship’s video screen as humanity continues to struggle. Embittered by her father’s abandonment, Murph (Jessica Chastain) throws herself into the tutelage of Professor Brand, equally desperate to save humanity from the ground. Both father and daughter must race against time and fate to save the people left on Earth.
I find it’s hard to properly summarize this film without giving too much away. But the tension-laden relationship between Cooper and Murph definitely drives the film in a major way. With every peril that Cooper, Amelia, and the team encounter on their journey there is the faint presence of the people left behind on Earth, a reminder of Murph.
There are a definite set of clues about the ending that carry through the film, but Nolan muddies the waters and spirals you off on another leg of the adventure in order to make you forget. It is only after the movie is finished and you’ve had some time to breathe that the clues might come off as heavy-handed; we trick ourselves into thinking we knew it all along.
Much of the story’s strength can be attributed to writer, Jonathan Nolan. Whenever the Nolan brothers collaborate they create stronger films than when they’re apart. Some of the best parts of the film are the feather-light touches of humor that allow you to care about the characters just a few inches more. In particular the robot characters TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart) allow for moments of odd humor and wit that lighten the mood just enough for you to be ready to plunge back into the mystery.
As for the director, Christopher Nolan surely must be one of the greatest of our generation, in large part because he makes a 169 minute (2 hours 49 minutes) movie riveting. He manages to critique our present by presenting a desolate future. It’s a future that isn’t slick. In fact, it’s rather dingy. But the tech for this film feels tangible. All of these factors combine to create a world that might hit a little close to home, but that is also what makes it a good, relevant piece of science fiction.
The acting is strong from all fronts. McConaughey fits the role of reluctant explorer well, looking equal parts rugged and gaunt. Anne Hathaway provides one of the better speeches in the film about the importance of love that will bring tears to the eye. Jessica Chastain continues to be the go-to in Hollywood for strong, emotionally aggressive performances. And if Michael Caine could release an audio-book of him reading classic poetry, that would be fantastic. The only person whom I feel wasn’t fully utilized was Casey Affleck as the adult Tom. Though Affleck is undeniably skilled, his character wasn’t given enough of a chance to do anything more than look resigned or angry.
There are some undeniable comparisons to Gravity (2013)–themes of rebirth, a dark-haired woman of science facing her fears, and the increasing isolation of space to name a few–but for my money, Interstellar is the more satisfying film. For one thing, though there are CGI effects in Interstellar, Nolan blatantly tries to do as much as possible with sets and does not solely rely on computer animation for world building. In the long run, I think Interstellar will age better than Gravity.
It’s equally easy to compare Interstellar to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Nolan clearly created this film as a tip of the hat to one of his favorite films, though he may have tipped his hat a bit too far in some places: I was initially afraid upon meeting TARS and CASE that we would have a HAL situation on our hands. Thankfully, Nolan is able to distinguish himself from his influences overall.
Though critics have given mixed reviews on Interstellar, it is a film undeniably worth seeing if for no other reason that to form your own opinion. For me, Interstellar earns 4 movie bubbles–A Poppable Product.
I get most excited about movies when I get inspired to teach them in a classroom, and I would love to one day teach a class on science fiction that would include Interstellar because it’s a film that forces you to think.
Thanks for popping in!