Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, Timothée Chalamet, Ellen Burstyn, the voices of Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart
MPAA Rating: (for some intense perilous action and brief strong language)
Running Time: 2:49
Release Date: 11/5/14 (limited); 11/7/14 (wide)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 4, 2014
Interstellar is a workout for the brain, yet the film's foundation is in matters of the heart. This is a film that contains lots and lots of talk about Einstein's theory of relativity, wormholes and black holes, a foreign galaxy and the planets within it, time as a dimension that can manipulated, and the survival of humanity. If it sounds like there's a lot of head-scratching to be had from all this discussion, there is. Characters spend a lot of time explaining a lot of things that we may or may not be able to fully comprehend, but they also debate these ideas in words and in action.
This is an intelligent film overflowing with dense concepts. The film works because it is thoughtful about those concepts. It works as well as it does primarily because its characters have no choice but to be affected by those ideas.
If one character believes the better plan to save humanity is to ignore the human beings currently living on Earth and focus on the continuation of the species, there is at least one character who must take the counterpoint, because he or she has a family back on Earth. Another character argues that the survival instinct is the greatest motivator of humankind, and while the point of that argument is undeniably sound, we witness him go mad in the pursuit of self-preservation taken to ironically self-destructive ends. A father worries that, in agreeing to an intergalactic trek to another galaxy via a wormhole, he may never see his children again. In a way, he turns out to be correct, because time moves differently near a black hole.
How immense are the stakes on a mission to that planet, knowing that an hour is seven years where it matters? Spend less than 10 minutes on the planet, and a year has passed on Earth. Spend a few hours on said planet, and the crewmember left behind may have streaks of gray in his hair and wrinkles that weren't on his face before.
The screenplay by director Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan trusts that the right ideas can be exciting, and more importantly, the brotherly duo knows that ideas must be put into practice for them to have any significant meaning. Theorizing is fun and harmless. Testing those theories is potentially dangerous work.
Testing is necessary, though, in the context of the story, which is set in some unstated time in the future. Earth is on the way to becoming a wasteland. The cause is never explained, because it doesn't matter at this point. The people on Earth are dealing with the fallout, which includes "blights" on certain crops (Corn is the only sustainable crop, and no one knows how long that will last) and massive dust storms that have become routine.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot who is now a farmer and widower, is raising his two children Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet) with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow). Murphy has noticed some strange activity, such as falling books and oddly arranged strands of dirt, in her bedroom. Cooper notices that the dirt forms coordinates in binary. They lead him and Murphy to the remnants of NASA, led by Cooper's old mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine).
Brand explains NASA is working on the Lazarus Project, which is seeking an inhabitable planet in a galaxy accessible by a wormhole that has appeared near Saturn. Astronauts have traveled to each of the 12 planets beyond the wormhole, but the project needs a crew to confirm if one of three best contenders is the real deal.
Plan A—the hopeful one—is to transport the millions of surviving humans on Earth to the new planet, and Plan B—the pragmatic one—is to populate the planet with fertilized human eggs. Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley) have volunteered for the mission (accompanied by a pair of robots voiced by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart), and Brand wants Cooper to serve as the pilot. He accepts, much to Murphy's disapproval.
The film is a marvel of effects, employed mostly for sheer wonder and terror. There's plenty of both: the ship's rocky entry into the wormhole (Nolan holds true to the soundless vacuum of space, but that doesn't mean there's no noise within the interior of a ship in space), a planet that contains only water and skyscraper-tall tidal waves, and another with a surface that is unreachable due to a collection of frozen clouds in the atmosphere.
Each stop on this tour has consequences that are equally wonderful and terrifying—mostly the latter. The turning point comes on the watery planet, where time does indeed move more slowly relative to Earth. In the film's most wrenching scene, Cooper pauses to watch two decades' worth of communications from home, seeing his son age in the instantaneous switch between messages and become more convinced that the messages to his father are just cries into the void. Nolan keeps the camera on Cooper in this scene, and never are we more keenly aware that it's the consequences that matter the most here.
The story does return to Earth to keep up with Brand and an older Murphy (Jessica Chastain) as they try to find a solution to "the problem of gravity," but those scenes are supplementary to the exploration (The scenes on Earth always feel out-of-place because they exist only to get to the ending). The film is patient and methodical in communicating its ideas, although it's never really a problem until the climax, which takes something abstract and tries to impose a rational explanation upon it.
Until then, we're not considering how much the screenplay force-feeds us what it needs/wants to say. We're too overwhelmed by the splendor of the film's ideas and how effortlessly the Nolans imbue them with emotional heft. Interstellar is a bold, daring film that stumbles over more than a few of its bigger ideas (The conclusion, for example, is a bit too tidy for all the story's complications). Those stumbles matter, of course, but they are inevitable. After all, this is a film with the weight of space, time, and humanity on its shoulders. It is unafraid of stumbling and soldiers forward with the conviction of its audacity.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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