Film Review: Interstellar

Once in a while, one of the many heavily publicised and hyped up films of the year actually lives up to expectation. Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece about the future of mankind, intertwined with an important and eternal message about family and trust. It’s science fiction at its best – believable, explained and political – heartfelt and thought provoking.

What if we can’t save the Earth?

The film opens on an Earth where there are no armies, no war, no wheat and diminishing food supplies. There is only corn, and the pervading dust that is slowly causing people to develop fatal coughs. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, his father-in-law and his two children live in the middle of nowhere, tending their corn fields and looking forward to nothing. We learn that this world doesn’t need more doctors or engineers or scientists – all the children are in training to become farmers. The landscape is bleak, the trucks are old and rusting and everything is covered in a thin film of brown dirt. The only indication that this is a science fiction film are the robot combine harvesters that plough the fields without supervision, and the fact that little Murph, Cooper’s daughter, believes that a ‘ghost’ is talking to her in morse code.

This mysterious figure or being becomes a constant in the film, referred to only as ‘them.’ The coordinates they leave in the dust leads Cooper to a secret base run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, played by Anne Hathaway. They are NASA, the space research organisation Cooper used to belong to, and believed was disbanded for many years. Here, Cooper is faced with the truth – the Earth is dying and soon the dust will wipe out all food sources and most of humanity. Murph’s generation will be the last to survive on Earth.

The crux of the movie rests on the predicament that Cooper is faced with – lead the mission to find a new planet that can support life and save mankind, or stay with his young family and find another way to keep surviving on Earth. On the one hand, he could discover something incredible and life-altering for a whole species. But on the other, is he really just saving himself? The question is certainly a poignant one for our generation, currently spending a huge amount of time and money on making the Earth greener and better, when in fact, it might all be futile. As our hero says, embarking on his mission to find humanity a new home – ‘We’re not meant to save the Earth. We’re meant to leave it.’

The science behind it

The success of this film will surely lie in Nolan’s ability to make science fiction seem like pure reality. There are no aliens and no space monsters, just the complexity of space and its dynamics, which is explained gradually by the various physicists and scientists that helpfully accompany Coop’s mission. Hathaway, in the form of Dr. Brand, is unassumingly intelligent, and takes on her role with dignity and applomb. We believe every word that comes out of her mouth and soak up her explanations about worm holes, another galaxy and the mysterious ‘them’ who appear to be trying to help the human race escape their dusty fate on Earth. Credibility is essential, and Nolan succeeds in almost every way.

The team set out to follow in the foosteps of twelve brave men and women who went ahead of them to explore the alternate galaxy and the twelve possible planets within it. The three planets still transmitting data seem promising, and are visually astounding. In terms of cinematography, Interstellar surpasses Gravity with its attempt to form planets in space by morphing images of our own, well-known Earth. Dimensions are twisted and points of view are skewed to a point where we believe there may be a version of our own planet out there, but it might well kill us. The film showcases Nature in all its force – acres of snow and walls of water are so vast and textured that they leap off the screen. The views in space are breathtaking, quiet and chillingly peaceful.

In contrast, things are deteriorating rapidly on Earth below. Cooper’s son (Casey Affleck) is now a bitter middle-aged farmer, who has already lost one child to a fatal cough, but refuses to move his family somewhere safer. Murph is working for Professor Brand, attempting to solve the problem of gravity and give her father’s space team some chance of success. The outlook is bleak, and the way the film twists time is truly terrifying. In one instance, the team return to their base after several hours of visiting a planet, and find that almost twenty-four years have passed on Earth. People have grown, loved ones have died and they have been assumed dead for a long time. The still youthful McConaughey looks into the eyes of his bearded, angry son and hears the news of his grandson being born and dying all in the space of a few minutes, and every viewer in the cinema’s heart breaks a little.

Insane but possible

The concept is one that completely numbs you. A father leaving Earth to save his children, but missing out on their whole lives without intending to or even realising that he has. Time as something so solid, that can change and twist and exist in more than one realm. Gravity as a medium that can be passed through like an open door. Somehow, in the context of the movie, it all makes sense, and is awe-inspiring.

The ending possibly takes one step too far into the supernatural, and requires some artistic license on Nolan’s part to add up, but still manages to twist time so effectively that we believe it possible. The closing image of Brand, alone on a planet that looks like it can sustain human life, setting up her equipment and preparing to create a new colony, proves that they were right all along, and signs off with a sad yet hopeful note for the future.

You can’t fault the acting, although there are no particular scenes that stand out. Jessica Chastain is brilliant as the older Murph, who battles the loss of her father, the stubborness of her brother, the betrayal by Professor Brand and her knowledge that she can save mankind all in the space of several, very short, very intense and highly emotional scenes. Special mention must go to TARS and CASE, the two funny and selfless robot heroes that keep the mission afloat. If you love Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide then you’ll adore these two giant rectangles. The cast, like the film, is the perfect blend of dry humour, fear, hope and sincerity. Nolan has created a whole new strain of film – unnerving but touching, implausible but believable, science fiction that is inexplicably human.