Interstellar is one of those rare movies that will stick with me years from now. Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, is still vivid in memory. So is the 1997 movieContact.
Interstellar combines elements of both of those movies, but may surpass both.
Writer and director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Dark Knight Rises,Inception) is a master of non-linear storytelling. He does this, in part, by keeping the story tightly focused on the characters, who come across as completely genuine, the kind of people you or I might know. But it’s the relationship between single parent Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter, Murph (MacKenzie Murph at age 10; Jessica Chastain in her 30s) and Ellen Burstyn (old age) that seizes the emotional center of this film and pivots the plot again and again.
In the near future Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing a scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen their lifespan. A group of explorers must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage, into the unknown. Coop, the pilot of the Endurance, must decide between seeing his children again and the future of the human race.
One element of great storytelling is to have a small subplot of some sort that threads throughout the story, often some odd human quality or experience. Then, by the end of the story, you suddenly realize it was never small, that it’s the very thing on which the story hinges. Nolan does this with Murph, the daughter, and Cooper.
Murph is convinced that a ghost is communicating with her, sending her a message of some sort. She keeps a journal filled with lot of weird lines that she’s convinced contain the message. Sometimes in their library, books fall off shelves for no apparent reason. Her dad tells her there’s no such things as ghosts and it’s not a poltergeist or anything else that’s supernatural. It’s science – gravity.
I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, so you’ll have to see it to find out how pivotal this is to the story, the nature of space/time, wormholes, the quest Cooper undertakes, and how it figures into the final moments of the film. I hope McConaughey is nominated for an Oscar for Interstellar. His emotions spill into the theater. When he’s choked up, so are you. When he cries, so do you. You don’t just feel what he feels, you experience it.
Anne Hathaway plays Brand, a scientist who works with her father, Michael Caine, Professor Brand, in a secret NASA facility. Like McConaughey, she’s a Scorpio and her emotions are nearly as intense as his.
The archetypal themes in the movie are classic. The father/daughter relationship is especially powerful and propels the film. The other theme that is so prevalent is that of self-preservation versus personal sacrifice to save humanity. And then there’s the supernatural element, which turns out not to be supernatural in the way we think of it but a product of messing around with space/time.
Rob and I had had two minor irritatants about the film. Food and nearly everything else is scarce in this near-future world. But people are driving trucks and cars. Where does the gas come from? We never see anyone filling up.
The other point is more subtle. Throughout the film, there are references to Murph’s “ghost” and also to “they,” the people or entities who are responsible for the wormhole that has appeared just when humanity is desperate for options. One of the characters refers to they as humanity’s protectors.
Who are they? In the universes on the other side of this wormhole, are there other species? Other beings? Other inhabited planets?
It’s one of two central questions in this intelligent, spectacular movie. And, yes, there’s synchronicity! And a line straight out of one of our recent blog posts about how a parent should never outlive his/her child.