Interstellar is a science-fiction adventure film directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.
In a documentary style, several older citizens discuss the state of the world. A group of sandstorms and a crop epidemic called The Blight tear through the farm belt of America (the rest of the world is not portrayed, but assumed to be in a similar position). Engineer and former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) now works as a farmer to maintain crops for his family and community. He lives with his two kids, son Tom and daughter “Murph,” as well as his father in law Donald (John Lithgow). He laments that few technological steps are being taken to address the Blight to the point of denying past technological advances. He spends his days programming combines to be operational while unmanned and reappropriating other technologies to do some good.
Murph, experiencing strange phenomena in her bedroom, claims that ghosts are haunting her. Cooper does his best to be supportive while realistic by telling her to approach the topic scientifically, taking notes on her observations. On a strange occurrence after a sandstorm, Cooper investigates some coordinates left in a pattern in the sand. It leads him (and Murph, who hid in the truck) to the new secret base of NASA, operated by Dr. Brand (Hathaway) and her father (Caine). NASA proposes a plan to leave Earth rather than attempt to save it. Two plans are proposed upon finding a hospitable planet: gather the remaining citizens of Earth and take them to the new planet (the overwhelmingly preferred outcome) or taking a large cache of frozen, fertilized eggs and effectively restart the human race. Murph is infuriated that her father take on the long-term trip despite the potential benefits. He promises he’ll come back and gives her a watch synchronized to his, intended to compare the passage of time on his return.
Cooper, Dr. Brand, and a handful of other scientists/astronauts approach an anomalous black hole close to Saturn, taking them to an unfamiliar galaxy.
Cooper is the focal character of the movie. Presented as an every-man, he represents several facets that should resonate with members of the audience. Dr. Brand is the female lead and has a great deal of screen time, but her rooting interests are not as clear as Cooper’s. She believes very much in the cause on an analytical level as opposed to an emotional level. A.I. helpers TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart) are programmed with a level of personality to make them interesting.
A majority of other characters have a typical sense of optimism if they are in the know about the habitable planet program, and pessimism if they aren’t involved.
Interestingly enough, characters are introduced throughout the movie. Each of them has a level of conflict and closure with the space mission.
Unfamiliar concepts involving complex ideas such as black holes, quantum mechanics, and agriculture are all explained to an understandable level. During Murph’s investigation of the Ghosts, she learns and makes use of Morse Code, and to a lesser extent, binary.
There are a lot of thematic elements in Interstellar. The most obvious are the ideas of adventure and sense of advancement, but the more subtle elements pop up from time to time. Bravery contrasting with cowardice are introduced at the end of the first act of the movie and reintroduced at the start of the third act, portrayed through the astronauts risking their lives for a future not guaranteed to them or the ones they care for. At several moments a poem is recited; “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night,” expressing the power of conviction for something you believe in.
Hans Zimmer returns to orchestrate the score for the film. The music is still dramatic and sweeping, but it strays away from the repetitive two-note “the hero is here” sound bites used throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy. I won’t go back and retroactively regrade my review for The Dark Knight Rises, but the more I’ve watched it the more I’ve realized that Zimmer seemed to be phoning in his performance. But in this film, the music complements the action on the screen instead of driving it.
This film is visually stunning to the point of inspiring awe. The locations were well-chosen for the search of hospitable planets in-film. The imagery of a black hole used prominently throughout the film was actually studied and theorized by Nolan in collaboration with NASA and the SpaceX program to ensure the most authentic representation possible. The A.I. programs were also very imaginative, appearing as moving monoliths not unlike the structure in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
To say that this film is star-studded is a significant understatement. Almost all of the actors in this movie are recognized with Golden Globe awards or Oscars. Matthew McConaughey is at the forefront, being in almost every scene. Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain get their fair share of screen time in the second and third acts of the movie. Michael Caine is a regular for Christopher Nolan, starring in six out of Nolan’s nine feature films. Several other great actors will also be on the screen, but for the sake of preserving the surprise I won’t divulge it here.
People who enjoy fantastical movies will initially be drawn to this movie. Nolan has made a name for himself by placing deep, thought-provoking messages into his movies. This will turn off some people who much prefer to use film to escape for a bit instead of critical analysis. I can say for certain that if science-fiction is of any interest, Interstellar is worth a watch.
Post Movie Thought
Oh man, where to start? The movie is pretty well paced for how long it is, clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes. There’s a lot of stuff to take in, both visually and intellectually. There are a handful of twists, turns, and interrupted speeches. The antagonist of the film isn’t as clear cut as a typical movie. Admittedly, there is one moment that is touched on in the first act that isn’t addressed in the next, in relation to traveling though the black hole. The moment may not even be recognized or acknowledged to an escapist movie-goer, but for others it’s likely to catch a train of thought. Looking past it, though, the film is mostly consistent and beautiful.
Shown His Work
It’s been noted that Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to understand astrophysics and the study of black holes. He went so far as to collaborate with one or more astrophysicists on what a black hole would look like, creating the visual template for the movie. While not exactly an original idea, the film is not an adaptation of a short novel and that’s a breath of fresh air in my book. With no adaptation, the work is allowed to be more flexible, and it was brilliantly pulled off.