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Interstellar travels between science and science fiction

Photo provided by IMDB
Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar, is his love letter to space and the science-fiction genre.

Humanity was born on Earth. It was not meant to die here.” This ponderable quote from the film Interstellar is one of many we are introduced to throughout the movie. It serves as one of the greatest underlying questions presented in this 21st Century world: if other planets are habitable, and if they can be colonized.
Interstellar gives little to no indication of its time setting; from the looks of the clothing and technology it is left to the viewer’s interpretation on whether we are in a current day climate or a future one. Both are possible, which gives the film an added emotional weight in that this scenario could happen even in today’s age. Either way, Earth has become an unstable environment. Dust clouds similar to the Dust Bowl of the late 1920s run through everyday life as if the wind is a viewable figure. While this has the effect on human lungs of slowly bringing them to collapse, the worse side effect is on our food source. Most crops have become unsustainable, as blight eats at the seeds of humanity’s food from beneath and withers it away in unfit conditions above. The archetypal post-apocalyptic scenario is played out here; there are no militaries, taxation has stopped, and N.A.S.A. has been shut down (though, it is revealed through the needs of the plot to still be going about in secret). None of this is coerced by a lack of human antagonists to fight; instead, the true enemy here is nature itself.
Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer’s Club) is tasked by a Dr. Brand, played by famous Christopher Nolan alum Michael Caine, with piloting a small spacecraft through a wormhole in order to find habitable worlds light years away to become the new Earth. The stakes of it all say that the current generation of children, Cooper’s own included, will be the last to survive on the planet if Cooper fails this mission. This is what generates the film’s conflict, emotion, and story. Particularly, we see Cooper’s own conflict in whether to stay or go through his daughter Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult). The choice of deciding to leave his family, with consequence of possibly never seeing them again, is weighed against the somber reality that if he does not take part in the mission, he will ensure the planet she grows up on is a doomed one.
The Cooper-Murph family dynamic is the emotional counterbalance to the heavy doses of science fact and fiction. There are heavy scenes, particularly those played by McConaughey, where the tears flow effusively throughout his performance. The film’s most touching moments are those between Cooper and his family. Returning to the space ship after a twenty year planet-hunting absence, Cooper breaks down at the sight of his family through delayed relay videos.
McConaughey does excellent work throughout portraying the motivated but distraught Cooper. Scenes of importance are sold well. Subtle changes in facial expression and his changing inflections make his scenes memorable. When he is asked to cry, the pain he feels radiated through the screen and we are given a more endearing character.
Child actors are typically poisonous to a film, but here Mackenzie Foy plays well opposite McConaughey. There is a definitive connection between the two, which produces the film’s most heartwarming and heart-wrenching dynamic. The other actors, such as Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, perform well as usual, but do play second to McConaughey and his family.

Photo provided by IMDB

Director Christopher Nolan, known for his Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, once again helms an intelligent and endearing film. Based off the works of physicist Kip Thorne, who served as a producer for the film as well, a great amount of science fact and science theory is taught, from such ideas as time relativity to gravity and the study of black holes.
Interstellar is, however, Nolan’s declaration of love towards space. Love itself is an important theme throughout, but that feeling extends beyond the pages of a script or reels of a film. As with any love, the real passion comes from the intricate details and design of any relationship. Space is rendered as vast and empty, and in those scenes the complete noiselessness plays louder than the most resounding of scores. An explosion in space stands out even more when the booming flares and trumped up music are absent, and what is left is our imagination and the spinning of debris on the screen.
The empty beauty of space is a scene Nolan juxtaposes through drastic shifts of what is actually contained in the realms beyond the Earth. Space is not desolate, and those scenes where a planetary figure is mapped against sparkling white stars show breathtaking design. Every square-inch of the screen is filled with the majestic displays of what may lie hidden in the far reaches of the cosmos. It is truly spectacular, and indeed breathtaking, to watch a sizable ship become dwarfed as it drifts across a background consumed in the face of a planet. Whether it is the enormity of Saturn and its rings, or the sight of a rotating black hole, light captured at its center and rings curling off it like the fumes of liquid fire in its own orbit, the visual aesthetic of the film is enough for the price of admission.
That is to say, the special effects are out of this world (yes, shameless pun intended). Scenes are rendered as if Nolan traveled to space and shot the scene from the window of a spacecraft himself. Last year’s space epic Gravity, which won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, presented the same care for visuals as Interstellar does, but while Gravity worked on the plane of zero-gravity and constantly moving debris, this film shows the beauty, depth, and variety of space.
Though much of this movie is rendered by C.G.I., when possible, Nolan still prefers a more practical approach to effects. Scenes on Earth in particular have a more genuine feel to them as they are composed of objects that actually exist. Actual dust and debris was blown around and at the actors to create a more realistic scene for them to walk through. Acres of corn were planted, and then driven through by actors in trucks.
The music here is noteworthy, as well, as Nolan collaborates with long-time composer Hans Zimmer. His deep, organ-based score levels up to great measure, especially in scenes of emotion. As Cooper leaves his family for what may be the final time, the music blares up and is framed against a lasting image of Cooper weeping. The score is not relegated to those emotional scenes, either. It is pounding and fierce during the action, and mellow and sometimes barely audible at times of exploration. When the idea of time relativity is announced (that theory being that time can differ between one planet to the next, in simple terms) Zimmer’s score emulates the rhythmic ticking’s of a clock. The effect not only serves the purpose of representing the lost time for these characters, but also creates the anticipation for the threats that are only seconds away.
The ending is somewhat foreshadowed, but still the end result felt unintelligent when compared to the script, as the audience is taken from science theories to pure science fiction. Logic seeps from the film, as if the writers were boxed in by the conundrum of how to finish the film. Characters flip seemingly without motivation and events transpire bring about more questions than resolutions. Despite the entire movie telling us of his placed importance on family, Casey Affleck’s character Tom reverses his stance towards the end of the film, refusing to leave his home even as he knows staying will kills his wife and son. It is one of the logical breaks that lessens the film’s impact towards the end.
There is true love put into the making of this film, however, and enough so to make it recommendable and re-watchable. As Anne Hathaway’s character says, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” This may not be Nolan’s inclusion into the ranks of such highly-regarded films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but there is an evident and admirable love that strings this film into a whole piece.

  • Rated: PG-13 for some intense, perilous action and brief, strong language.
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, and Mackenzie Foy.
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan
  • Written by: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan