With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars, making use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.
Christopher Nolan is in a unique position in Hollywood these days: he has the financial success to make any film he wants, and the imagination to make films unlike anything being produced. On the one hand, it’s a great feat, and it’s something he’s used to his advantage for years now. On the other, though…well, the final product this time around may be an overreach for Nolan.
Interstellar opens on Earth in the not-too-distant future, where the food supply is being eliminated by the planet one crop at a time. That’s left many of the planet’s residents – including Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot and widowed father of two – in a position where farming is a requirement. That is, until Cooper and his daughter, Murph, are mysteriously directed to a secret base for the remnants of NASA, where a small group led by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) is preparing to send a team through a wormhole to find a new home for humanity.
A dozen scientists have already traveled through the wormhole, taking one-way missions in search of habitable planets. Three of them have sent back promising data, so the team plans to go and see which of the planets is most suitable for resettling, a.k.a. Plan A. Because there’s a limited supply of fuel and finite resources, though, a Plan B is also required. In short: if the team finds a planet, but can’t return, they must settle it themselves by using thousands of frozen zygotes stored onboard, leaving Earth to die.
One more note: because of time relativity, decades will pass on Earth while Cooper, Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and the other members of the crew are on their mission.
From the film’s onset, the idea of exploration looms large; Cooper’s line, “Mankind was born on Earth, but it was never meant to die here,” sums up this message that’s repeated constantly throughout the movie. Even with the film’s lengthy running time, though, Nolan largely chooses expository dialogue to convey the film’s thoughts, rather than showing and trusting that the audience will go with it. Nolan’s excitement over the material, I think, gets the better of him in this area. But it does work in other areas of exploring space. Its silence, for example – an area where most films fill in with noise, Nolan chooses to stay true to reality.
The easiest way to approach the film is to think of it less as one long movie, and more as a segmented film. Because of the time relativity that frequently comes into play, what seems like mere minutes in one scene are quickly revealed to be years in the next. The common thread throughout the segments, whether they’re space-bound or Earth-bound, is the relationship between Cooper and Murph over the span of years. Nolan historically is not one for a lot of sentiment, but thankfully, he nails the emotional core here. The relationship between Cooper and Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a girl, Jessica Chastain as an adult) is fleshed out enough in the film’s opening to let it register over the span of decades, and produces quite a few tear-jerking moments.
There’s plenty more to say about the film, but the film works best beyond what’s mentioned here by watching in person. In short, though, Interstellar has loftier ambitions than it’s able to reach in many areas, which hampers the film. There are elements that Nolan nails, though, and the fact that he worked to explore something unique on this scale, even if not totally successful, is commendable. It’s a flawed but occasionally mesmerizing film.