Ambitious, breathtaking and moving, Interstellar goes beyond its genre and touches the ephemeral notion of being human.
At first glance, director Christopher Nolan's latest release, Interstellar, may seem like it is simply the typical Sci-Fi flick that panders to audiences with catchy visuals but empty plot and flat characters. Upon experiencing - not watching - it firsthand, one realizes that this film offers far more than the average blockbuster movies populating theaters. Ambitious, breathtaking and moving, Interstellar goes beyond its supposed genre and touches the ephemeral notion of what it is to be human.
In the future, a crop blight has destroyed much of the world's supply of food. The basic need for survival has taken over, and the world has reverted to an agrarian society, one that is gradually failing. Because of this, widowed pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has reluctantly taken up his societal duty and runs a farm together with his father-in-law and children. While his teenage son, ten-year-old Tom (Timothee Chalamet), enjoys the agricultural work expected of him, Cooper's ten-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is incredibly attached to him and is thus like him: curious, intellectual and filled with a sense of wonder for science and the world around.
As such, it's no surprise that Murph is not scared, but rather amazed at the supposed ghost haunting her room. Cooper investigates with her and realizes that the "ghost" is actually communicating with her. Using gravitational waves in the dust, it transmits coordinates in binary. Cooper decides to follow the coordinates but tells Murph to stay behind. Of course, she sneaks into his truck and tags along. They discover that the coordinates lead to a secret government facility: the supposedly defunct NASA. There, Cooper meets Professor Brand (Michael Caine) again, with whom he worked in the past, and learns that humanity's chances of survival with this blight were bleak.
Brand reveals that the scientists at NASA, including Brand's daughter biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), have discovered a wormhole near Saturn that gives them access to other parts of the universe and thus, the possibility of finding other habitable planets. Of the twelve Lazarus missions on which astronauts were sent, three resulted in promising data for a new home for humanity. Brand asks Cooper to pilot the mission to these planets to verify which is the best choice. The rest of the world will follow on space stations. In the case that this "Plan A" fails, the Endurance space holds "Plan B": fertilized embryos to colonize a new human race. However, this means that Cooper may never return to earth to see his family.
With little other choice, Cooper accepts the request and returns home to say his goodbyes. While Tom seems accepting of the decision, Murph is devastated. She cries and screams, even noting that the "ghost" has left a message for him to stay. Cooper tries to remedy the situation by giving her a watch to keep track of time since it runs differently in outer space, but she realizes that he doesn't know when or if he'll even return. Cooper cries as he drives away, leaving on bad terms.
That love and fierce emotional attachment is what makes Interstellar such an evocative and moving film. Somehow, this Science Fiction film manages to put love and the lengths to which we go for it front and center. The movie occasionally toes the line of melodrama territory but never crosses it. It pulls at the heartstrings without using cheap ploys and sappy tropes. Instead, it uses time and distance - albeit across space - to exemplify love, and thus what it means to be human.
That humanity is only possible because of the performances by the star-studded cast. While Jessica Chastain is powerful, fearless and nuanced as the grown-up Murph, it's Matthew McConaughey's performance that takes center stage. He is astonishing and moving, almost painfully so. He speaks and weeps, gets angry and frustrated, is desperate and joyous, and so much more in the most layered and human of ways. Together with all of the other exceptional performances, it makes the film emotional and thought-provoking.
Perhaps most difficult of this film, though, is the intellectual subject matter. Relying heavily on complex theoretical physics for its concept, Interstellar's subject is not what one might imagine to be easily digestible or even comprehensible. With renowned physicist Kip Thorne at his side as scientific consultant and executive producer, Nolan works wonders to make these extraordinary concepts more accessible. Nevertheless, the film occasionally reaches beyond his grasp, possibly making it difficult for some viewers to truly embrace. Still, at the end of the day, this masterpiece stands strong, an incomparable and poignant reminder of humanity.
Images courtesy of Paramount.