If you would have told me 10 years ago that someday, the guy who directed a bunch of Batman movies would throw together an entertaining film combining family dysfunction, the time-space continuum, and various iterations of quantum and theoretical physics – well, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, I still might. Only now it would not be due to my assumption that you are borderline insane, it would be from the sheer madness of the simultaneously brilliant and completely bonkers conversations that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar has now brought into my life.
In the very near future, humans have effectively destroyed this planet. Oxygen levels are depleting, dust storms that make the 1930’s look like a trial phase are now commonplace, and we have ceased even attempting to find anything more out there in the blackness of space. An almost operatic version of our future ensures that if mankind does not find an alternative to life on Earth, our fate is preordained.
When Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widowed former pilot and now full-time farmer, discovers a gravitational anomaly in his daughter Murph’s bedroom, he is summoned to pilot mankind’s last hope: a ship that will venture into a wormhole to another galaxy in order to identify another home. A planet that could sustain our current populous and possibly be the salvation of mankind. To do so, Cooper will have to also leave both his daughter and son behind. To explain much more about the story would do a disservice to the film, as Interstellar is a film that should be experienced as blindly as possible.
The father-daughter relationship between Cooper and Murph is beautiful throughout the film. Even as it morphs due to Cooper’s own personal choices, this is the heart of the film and there were definite moments when Hans Zimmer’s almost ridiculously swelling score and the actors onscreen brought more than a few tears to this hardened reviewer. On the flip side, it seems as though Cooper almost completely forgets he also has a son for large portions of the film. I get that his relationship with Murph is paramount to the plot, but poor ol’ Tom could have used a daddy too, Coop. As the story plays out, Tom’s arc serves as more of a distraction than anything propelling the plot forward, which ultimately hurts the otherwise strong relationship at play with Cooper and Murph.
The other ‘family’ dynamic occurs within the ship itself. As his mission takes on the infinite reaches of space in search for their new home, Cooper must work within a team consisting of explorers with varying ideologies. Brand (Anne Hathaway), in particular, often works within a more scientific mindset versus Cooper’s increasingly desperate goal to either save or return to his family. Hathaway is a gifted actress, unfortunately her role here is more perfunctory as the ‘scientific alternative to familial need’ than a deeply fleshed out character. While McConaughey is given ample opportunities to shine and he excels at doing so, Hathaway’s character is simply not given enough to do.
In regards to the film as a whole, the first hour of Interstellar is preachy. Like ‘one step shy of a minister on a pulpit scolding us for all of our transgressions’ preachy. While we are waiting to be blasted into the beauties of the outer limits of space, we are treated with a few too many monologues on how Earth is going for broke, and we put it here. While this story element is necessary for us to understand why Cooper would abandon his family (or Murph anyway, as I’m still not 100% sure that he remembers he has a son until he’s already in space), the repeated mentions of our own impactful doom were far too heavy-handed and it ultimately over-burdens the story before it really has a chance to get going. Then we get blasted into orbit and, thankfully, the sermons take a breather.
The science of wormholes, black holes, etc. remains theoretical at best and Nolan utilizes this to interesting effect throughout the film. The script (from brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan) crafts a clever blending of these real and fictional sciences that allow Nolan to morph his tale into one that offers multiple interpretations and discussions. It also attempts to create a more cerebral story using basic storytelling archetypes. There is no doubt that some audiences may find the film, particularly the final act, either nonsensical or overreaching, while others will find it rich in wonder and creativity. The beauty of the narrative here is that the film constructs itself to remain open to these differing opinions and philosophies.
Make no mistake about it, for all attempts and purposes, Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s shot at crafting his own variation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is a film with a myriad of fairly original ideas and concepts (real science and movie science unite!), infused with a more modern take on how these theories would directly affect the family dynamic. Is it a family film or a space opus, or can it work as both for you? Most importantly, does Nolan achieve his lofty goal?
Nolan hits shy of the mark for cinematic brilliance but still manages to land a visually stunning entertainment in its own right. Interstellar could have benefitted from a little less preaching, a more fleshed out Tom and Brand, and a fairly generous amount of editing to tighten up the plotting, but overall this is an entertaining film worth exploring for yourself. Not as polarizing as ‘The Top’ from Inception, yet Interstellar does offer a similar after-effect in the sense that when you leave the theater you will NEED to talk to someone. To discuss your ideas about what it all means, and to hear theirs. Not everything works flawlessly in the film, but what does will make you believe that maybe, just maybe, there is a little bit of hope for all of us…out there.
3.5 out of 5 stars.