Movie Review: Interstellar
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Star cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck
THE height of dramatic tension in ‘Interstellar’ involves two spaceships competing to dock onto the same space station. That’s how cerebral Christopher Nolan’s latest film is. That’s after he has taken a swirl through a twister of a wormhole, but before he rolls into the unfathomed depths of a blackhole. And while other filmmakers would be content imagining just one other world, he gives us three — with own skies, gravity, surfaces, and climates.
‘Gravity’, the last film to thus explore the out there, was about the vast emptiness of space and the miracle of an Earth in it. Interstellar is about all the possibilities that inhabit it, as well as all the impossibilities.
Since few can match Nolan in ambition, that means ‘Interstellar’ has everything — an Earth-bound story of loss and longing, a space-bound story of endeavour and enterprise, and even an audience-bound message of preserving our planet. All that doesn’t always fit in very smoothly, or very compactly, but whenever he gets the juggle right, the director and co-writer satisfies both your heart and brain — clearly what he is aiming at.
We begin with telecasts of people talking about an Earth many years ago with little left, but lots of corn and swirling dust. Armies have been disbanded, gadgets junked, power sources are limited, and food and oxygenated air are fast depleting. As a character puts it, those left are the “caretaker generation”, striving to somehow keep the spent planet going. The highest honour, therefore, is to be a farmer.
Cooper (McConaughey) is one such farmer growing corn, now that all other crops are on their last legs, literally. A former astronaut, he barely hides his contempt for what his life has come to be. His father-in-law and son have reconciled, but not his daughter Murph (an excellent Mackenzie Foy), who hero worships Cooper and fuels his dreams as well as hopes to follow him.
After one dust-storm afternoon, Cooper and Murph find themselves strangely directed to a NASA facility that has continued to exist in secret. There his former boss, Professor Brand (Caine), tells him about a plan to find life on other planets as this one is dying. He asks Cooper to pilot that mission.
Cooper leaves after a heart-rending partition, realising that he can’t promise when he will be back. Also, with him on the mission are Brand’s daughter Amelie (Hathaway), two others and a talking robot, TARS, that initially appears as a giant metal screen with arms but quickly reveals its uses. Given the amount of screen and spoken time TARS gets, there is no doubt its inspiration is clearly that other famous robot of the acronym in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A wormhole has appeared somewhere close to Saturn, and so the crew must head through it to another galaxy, where a previous mission has hinted at the possibility of three habitable planets. The first planet they head to has gravity so much higher than Earth’s that every minute there is seven years back home. The crew returns from that trip to realise 23 years have passed. In a moving scene, Cooper stumbles to the video screen to see messages recorded by his children, and finds them grown, beaten and angry.
As doubts grow, and as does fear, Nolan does his first uneasy fox-trot around the topic of love. Amelie gives a small, very Anne Hathwayish talk about it being the one unexplained emotion that may finally make sense, and later another character calls it the basis of a survival instinct that makes humans go further than they can. Chastain, as the grown-up Murph, also keeps butting into Cooper’s conscience as the voice of rebuke of an abandoned mankind. There is a Plan B of Cooper’s mission that involves populating another planet with a varied genepool being carried from Earth — just in case they can’t find a way to take the 6 billion people on it to a new home. You do the math.
McConaughey tries hard to enthuse his character with emotion while projecting stern command control, and the effort shows. Hathaway and Chastain are teary-eyed for the length of their role, leaving TARS as the coolest guy on what could be the most important journey in mankind’s history.
Generations and their legacies, fathers and daughters, daughters and fathers evidently weighed heavy on Nolan’s mind. However, his heart lies clearly in nothing as mundane. But then, as he presses further into where few men have gone before, you may find yourself counting the leaps and not the missed steps.
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