|Average Fan Rating:||
Rating from TwistedSciFi
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi
-‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light’
These lines from the poem by Dylan Thomas are repeated over and over in Interstellar, as if to emphasise the theme that as a species, we humans can be recalcitrant, resourceful and valiant – but chiefly when desperate – when our very survival is threatened.
Interstellar opens in America’s farm belt at an unspecified future date. The world has succumbed to famine caused by overpopulation and a blight that is killing all crops and creating huge, damaging dust storms. Nitrogen is increasing in the atmosphere, feeding the mould on the crops but decreasing the oxygen on which we depend. Slow asphyxiation or starvation is our inevitable fate. The situation is deemed irreversible – Earth as the home of humanity is doomed.
Former NASA engineer and test-pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) farms acres of corn along with his family: son Tom, (Timothee Chalamet) daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) and struggles to cope as crops fail and dust storms rage. He’s puzzled by odd magnetic anomalies affecting his equipment and by the ‘poltergeist’ that knocks books off his daughter’s shelves.
NASA (whose massive real-life budget cuts lend realism to the movie’s premise) can exist in this agrarian dystopia only as a secret, underground ‘think-tank’. The respected physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine – inevitably the repository of avuncular wisdom in Nolan’s films) and his team have devised two scenarios for saving mankind. Both plans involve abandoning Earth and starting again on a new, habitable planet, but only plan A involves taking Earth’s 6-billion population along for the ride. (Interestingly, the more likely scenario in which only the privileged few could escape is never considered or discussed). Plan B involves taking along hundreds of frozen embryos to colonize an alternative world. There is a huge problem with Plan A – namely, overcoming our gravity to launch a massive home-ship into space – but Brand is convinced he can solve the necessary equations that will make this possible. He informs Cooper that a wormhole appeared near Saturn ten years ago, conveniently arriving just when needed and fueling speculation that it may have intentionally been placed there by ‘other’ entities intent upon giving humanity a means of survival. Several years ago, astronauts were sent through to survey the potentially habitable planets on the other side. Now, armed with data from these initial scouts, another craft must make the journey to determine which world is most likely to be humankind’s final destination.
Conscious that his children, and all future generations, are at stake, Cooper agrees to pilot the craft. He is accompanied by a crew of four: Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway); scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley – nice to see this actor back) and Romilly (David Gyasi) and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) who is reminiscent of 2001’s HAL 9000. Cooper’s beloved daughter Murph is unforgiving of her father for abandoning her – a resentment which continues into her adulthood, when (now played by Jessica Chastain) oddly, some might say, she continues the same work that took her father away by becoming Brand’s second-in-command.
Visually and conceptually audacious, Nolan’s ninth feature also manages to be more emotionally intense than his coolly cerebral thrillers, and touches on such personal themes as inter-relationships between family, the sacrifices parents make for their children (and vice versa) the repercussions of our decisions, and the effects of our irresponsibility regarding the environment which will decide what kind of world the next generation may inherit from us. Nolan’s movie is as much about the bonds of love and friendship which hold us together and inform our decisions, rational or otherwise, as the science behind such a venture into uncharted space. Interstellar is not so much a space-adventure as a space drama, presenting us with a more realistic future in which space travel, while possible, is dangerous and unpredictable. It acknowledges our current understanding of science, and the gaps in our knowledge. The effect of time dilation in the presence of a black hole is explained and there is even a little about the relationship between quantum mechanics and relativity. Luckily, Interstellar maintains the science at a level still accessible to laymen, and credit for this is owed to the veteran CalTech physicist Kip Thorne, who consulted with the Nolans and the actors on the script (and rightly receives an executive producer credit).
Nolan’s homages and influences are often evident. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Oddysey is referenced as is Kaufman’sThe Right Stuff , Shyamalan’s Signs and Zemeckis’s Contact. Interstellar’s warmer tone and parent-child relationships are reminiscent of Spielberg. Limiting the use of CGI, Nolan relies on practical effects to create a movie that must feel more real than a Marvel-style space romp. There are some exciting action set pieces and the narrative is reasonably unpredictable, plus a surprise cameo appearance by an A-list actor. The movie takes some risks with its finale, which must depart from the science into speculation to provide the denouement. It will inevitably leave the viewer with some questions.
My personal peeves involve a rather overwhelming score by Hans Zimmer (someone get that man off the organ so we can hear the dialogue!) and Matthew McConaughey’s tendency to subscribe to the ‘Marlon Brando School of Method Mumbling’ which, married with his ‘soft-spoken Southern-gent accent’ makes a listener sometimes strain to hear exactly what he’s whispering about.
Interstellar is a sci-fi movie made by a realist and it indicates that even ‘the best of us’ might not be immune from fear, self-delusion and moral compromise. Here, good people lie to themselves and to their closest confidants, but they all have their reasons. Others compensate for their mistakes by making the most selfless sacrifices. Others find that their love of mankind is the very thing that makes them crack under duress – our strengths and weaknesses are not so easily definable. Perhaps the only thing in the universe more incomprehensible and complex than quantum physics, is the nature of love, fear and all human emotion.
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2014 All rights reserved.
About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.
Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.