What are the limits of mankind’s ingenuity? Can we understand the forces that exist in the universe? Is our capacity to feel love quantifiable in the vastness of space and time?
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar examines not only our role in the cosmos, but how our emotions influence science and vice versa. It tells the story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former astronaut who has been forced to become a farmer like everyone else since the world’s problems (climate change, overpopulation) have rendered the globe a wasteland. He has to leave his home and his daughter, Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn as time fluctuates), to go on a last-chance-for-mankind space mission to discover another planet for humanity to live on. Organized by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), the crew consists of his daughter (Anne Hathaway) as well as a couple of others.
The film is really an exploration into the bond of parent-child and how much that bond can be tested over the course a lifetime. Through wormholes and gravity-induced time suppressing, Cooper tests his own limits and must decide which is more important: the immediate love of his family or the future of the human race. It is an interesting dilemma (even if it is just an expanded episode of Lost in Space), but one that is unnecessarily hammered into the viewer rather than allowed to develop naturally. The story is also bogged down by unnecessary explanation of scientific theory (similar to Nolan’s issue in Inception (2010)), slowing the pace of the story and expanding the runtime (the film clocking in at almost three hours). Rather than try to explain every little detail of fifth-dimension travel and time-space continuum, the film should just let the actions of the characters and the environment speak for themselves. A common problem across cinema today is filmmakers not trusting the audience to just go along with the ride, thinking that everything needs to be explained in order for the viewer to appreciate the story. Just showing the action and letting the audience come to their own conclusions rewards our ingenuity and keeps the plot moving.
Though clunky at times and confusing at others, the film is emotionally resonant and never lacks in dramatic tension after a ponderous opening act. One of the criticisms often levied against Nolan’s films is that they are cold and detached, a critique often hurled at Kubrick as well, neither of them true. Nolan counters those naysayers with his latest offering, with McConaughey letting the tears flow and showing his agonizing struggle, perhaps too much at times.
The emotional core relationship between him and Murphy keeps all the other elements in check, providing the audience with something to hold onto. Even though it becomes somewhat overdone and soap opera-ish at times, without it, the stunning visuals would go nowhere. This is the same structure that Nolan has used throughout his career, firmly establishing a core emotional struggle (giving hope to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight (2008), rectifying Cobb’s guilt in Inception, figuring out the identity of the killer in Memento (2001)) that grounds the film even as elements of the story become incoherent and confusing.
Though one of his weakest entries in some years, for those audience members who appreciate Nolan’s efforts, the film will be a satisfying space journey about a man trying to save the human race and his family. For those who can not get past the gaps in logic and somewhat pedestrian dialogue that have become common in his work, this is an adventure best left unexplored. For this viewer, the good outweighs the hokey.