Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan (helmer of the Batman trilogy and Inception for those of you who like to aggressively ignore all of the less pretty, non-acting types) is a spiritual successor to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, not just in terms of its setting in the deep, dark loneliness of space, but in its ability to confound as much as it entertains.
Like Kubrick, Nolan doesn’t seem too concerned that his big abstract ideas may leave part of his audience behind. In fact, he appears to embrace the malleability of it. Interstellar is a blank canvas – you can paint most any interpretation over it. That should lure a few people in, though it could just the same turn a few off.
The film’s comfort with ambiguity is evident right from its beginning. Earth is on its last legs. The reason for its demise seems to be a combination of things – starvation chief among them – but there’s no one underwriting event to point to as the catalyst. In the end, the why doesn’t matter anyway.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives on a farm with his young daughter Murph, his son Tom, and his father-in-law Donald. A former astronaut, he’s asked – through an intricate series of events – to fly a mission to another galaxy through a wormhole recently opened up by a mysterious extra-dimensional force.
Despite apprehensions about leaving his family—the consequences described in the theory of relativity state that even if he were to return home his children could be long dead—Cooper joins the expedition in hopes that he can save his kids from Earth’s inevitable decline.
Nolan then proceeds to journey Cooper and his crew through every flashy physics theory he can think of, knowing full well that if the science ever becomes too dense there’s enough there visually to keep most anyone enticed.
Indeed, there’s something about the scale of Interstellar that makes it feel, for lack of a better term, incredibly awe inspiring. It’s amazing how a tiny dot of light against the backdrop of some epic set piece in space can summon so much raw emotion.
But it’s the exploration of time on the lives of these characters that makes Interstellar truly compelling. For all the movies that have explored time as a theme over the years—and I don’t even mean in science fiction, the passage of time is a surefire way to tug at the heartstrings—none of them have been able to play with the big ideas the way this film has.
Given the real life implications of relativistic physics, it’s amazing more movies haven’t explored the concept before. Imagine if every hour in one place were equal to years in another. Children who are older than their parents. Essentially a means to time travel into the future. There’s a lot of material there, and while it would be easy to lose the characters in all of it, Nolan (along with his screenwriter brother Jonathan) are masters at finding the pathos underlying each scenario they tackle.
For their part, the cast delivers quite well. McConaughey continues his long tradition of delivering existential dialogue with added gravitas (see his Lincoln commercial for proof). Anne Hathaway, playing Cooper’s traveling companion Amelia, gives a pretty well rounded depiction (with a little help from the script) to a character that in lesser movies would have amounted to little more than the stock scientist.
In fact, one of the great things about Interstellar is that despite its focus on a multitude of scientific theories, its characters are distinctly human. They know their stuff, but they speak and act like real people, willing to forgo logic for what feels right. Ideals aren’t always the easiest things to live out, and Interstellar’s nuanced understanding of that is nice to see.
The film does have its flaws. There are countless plot holes, some perhaps explainable by a misunderstanding of the science (I’m pretty well-versed in this stuff, but figuring it all out would probably send me down a month long Wikipedia click-hole) though others seem less forgivable.
Likewise, Nolan, doing his best show-don’t-tell, tends to have his characters jump just so we can see what plays out in spite of the fact that a lot of the consequences should have been figured out by these people beforehand.
As in most instances where science meets entertainment, there’s bound to be at least a few complaints about accuracy. Nothing brings the scientists and the laymen together like dissecting the merit of a popular movie. Despite the credentials of the film’s technical advisor, noted physicist Kip Thorne, some of the methodology just seems far-fetched, and distractingly so.
In fact, my gut tells me a lot of people in the scientific community won’t like this film at all. Interstellar seems to want it both ways, to explore the implications of relativity while ignoring a dozen other physical concepts.
But that’s missing the point a bit too. A few minor points aside, Nolan has done something else here. He’s dared to dream of science yet undiscovered, that there may be things out there we’ve yet to comprehend. Is that convenient for a filmmaker trying to make something that entertains? Sure it is. But it doesn’t make it any less of a possibility either.
What I do know is that Interstellar is a full 170 minutes I spent glued to my seat. And despite the surface comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was nothing I’d ever seen before. It may divide, but it demands to be seen.
Final Score: 4.5/5