Cooper: We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dirt.
Cooper: We’re still pioneers, we’ve barely begun. Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, cause our destiny lies above us.
Somewhere between those two quotes lies the film Interstellar. Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Mr Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan – this is movie making on a grand scale. Not all of it works, and not all of it is smart, but there’s no denying that this is one helluva entertaining film. With a running length of 169 minutes, it still clocks in at less time than your average Sunday NFL game. But there’s a difference, in this film, there’s no halftime, or intermission, and there’s enough going on that you won’t want to miss a minute of it.
Now Nolan is no stranger to high concepts or deeply layered film making – and so, this is not a film for anyone expecting alien beings or George Lucas Star Wars styled humor. No, most definitely, this film is more in the style of the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece 2001.
In fact, Interstellar borrows quite a lot from 2001. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the film up first. The film opens in the not too distant future. The kids have laptops, and dad drives a truck, and people dress in recognizable clothing. Kids still get into fights at school, parents have to meet with teachers, and there’s something else.
For reasons unexplained, the earth has become quite similar to the dust bowl era of the 1930’s. In fact, there’s a world-wide food shortage because of the climate issues and more (again not explained), crops no longer grow, except one – corn. Countries no longer have armies as every cent once spent on military endeavors now must be spent on science to keep the corn crop going.
Matthew McGonaughey plays Cooper, once a test pilot for NASA (one of their best we are told) but now he’s struggling to keep his corn crop growing. He’s a widower, and has a teenage son Tom, and a 10-year-old daughter Murphy (most of the time he calls her Murph). The dust storms come in ever-increasing strength, and ever-increasing regularity. The earth is dying. while there are sunny days, no one is having what could be called fun.
We watch uncomfortably as a minor league baseball game is interrupted because of a massive dust cloud rapidly approaching. There’s no panic as this is not the first dust storm cloud these folks have experienced. But still, they know enough to head home immediately/ I’m guessing that the baseball game is in the film as a reminder that despite the dire circumstances, we remain human.
Back at the Coopers – there’s a regular occurrence. Murph’s bedroom has a massive floor to ceiling, one end of the room to the other shelving all holding books. And every once in a while, for no discernible reason, a book or two falls from the shelves. Now Murph calls it ‘ghosts’, and Coop tells her there are no ghosts, and this goes on and eventually Coop says that the books are falling from the shelves because of gravity.
Well they don’t make a big deal of why the books are falling but Murph is troubled by it. She’s a smart kid and she applies herself to thinking of possible scenarios or explanations. Coop gets a thinking about it too. They search and search – then finally there’s a break through. Murph had suggested the books falling might be some sort of code for something. Morse code maybe.
Coop eventually says it’s not morse code – it’s binaries – 1’s and 0’s. Of course these turn out to be coordinates, or a location of something. So Coop goes off to reach the place of the coordinates. Of course, Murph is a stowaway in his truck. Eventually they come to the end of the road, or rather an ominous fence which prevents them from going any further.
But Coop has a bolt cutter in the bed of the pickup truck. Here’s where we get our first Kubrick reference. When Coop cuts a link in the fence, sirens and armed men suddenly and shockingly appear. This was a tremendous reminder from 2001, of the black monolith which suddenly and shockingly let out an electronic shriek when touched.
This is a secret NASA facility. In fact it is the only NASA facility left because the money is needed for things more earth-bound than space exploration. Coop and Murph are escorted in and Coop is interrogated. Soon Michael Caine appears as Dr. Brand, who was once Cooper’s NASA professor.
They’ve stumbled upon NASA’s secret station, and Dr. Brand has an idea that there is a distant planet in a distant galaxy that could support human life. About a decade ago, a worm hole was discovered out near the planet Saturn. Now as we know, from TV and film, that a worm hole is some sort of trap door in space, and some where out there, through that worm hole there might be habitable planets. In fact Dr. Brand had already sent a dozen missions out there.
None has returned but there are signals still arriving from three planets. Coop is asked to head up a mission into deep space, to find the worm hole, and navigate through it. It is the last chance for mankind as humanity cannot continue to survive on the dying planet Earth.
Coop is torn between taking a crew into space as asked, and finding a place for the future of humankind, because doing so would mean he’d have to leave his family. He’s torn and has difficulty with the decision, but he ultimately decides to leave. Murph is distraught.
Whe Coop finally gets up and goes through Murph’s bedroom door, we get our second 2001 reference. This time it is not an ape tossing a bone into the air and there’s a jump cut to a space ship. This time it is a jump cut from that bedroom to the mission’s rocket taking off. Not quite the same, but the reference was unmistakable.
So they head into space.
And that constitutes maybe the film’s first half hour, and it is as far as I’ll go in setting up the film.
I found the film riveting, thrilling, and some of what we see is downright magnificent film making. Now last year’s Gravity was also awe-inspiring but the difference between Gravity and Interstellar is that the latter has a complex story beneath it.
It is a far more provocative film, and it calls for we viewers to pay attention and think about what we see. If any thing this dissimilarity between Gravity and Interstellar is easy to pick up on. But there’s one thing that the Nolans went for – they made this into a few more stories than what we thought or expected. This is a family drama, and we are asked to consider love, and loss, grief. As well as the fact that all of this is compounded by the elemental differences between the space-time continuum in standard space, as well as Earth and that of what lies beyond after they’ve passed through the worm hole. Time passes, as time can only go forward, but what is different is how fast time travels.
While we presently live in a three dimensional world, and we most often watch 2 dimensional films, the Nolans are going to ask us to consider a five dimensional world. They are going to ask us to toss out everything we thought we knew about the space-time continuum and everything we thought we knew about gravity.
What we are left with is a thrilling adventure in outer space that is joined at the hip with a couple of family love stories of the father-daughter variety. There’s also an unexpected villain. All of this is surrounded by breathtaking visuals and a strong and sometimes intrusive musical score by Hans Zimmer.
For sure, you won’t hear everything that is said – that because of the volume of the music at times, or their rockets at full throttle, and even the sounds of a huge wave, in a scene that looks like something from The Perfect Storm. Or at other times. Matthew, as Cooper, plays his role as a low-talker. All of the above, plus the audio design of the film all contribute to the fact that words do drop out. But in this film, hearing every word is only a part of the film experience. And is less important than you might have considered. I saw the film in an IMAX theater and despite the above, I was glad I did.
I expected to be bored by some of the techno-jargon but I wasn’t. I didn’t expect to tear up and cry at least three times, but I did. But most importantly I went in hoping for a great film experience, and a well-written script made all the better by the performances of the cast; and I got exactly that.
McGonaughey was great, as was Jessica Chastain as the grown up version of Murph. But the real acting kudos have to go to young Mackenzie Foy as the young Murph. Despite the travel to the deepest reaches of space – Murph is at the center of the film. Let’s also mention John Lithgow as Cooper’s father-in-law, and Michael Caine as Dr. Brand.
Now Anne Hathaway is on board as Dr. Brand. She’s the co-pilot of the mission and she’s also the daughter of Dr. Brand (Michael Caine). While I thought her performance was fine, I can say she was easily behind the brilliance of both the young and old Murph’s.
Now if you go back a few paragraphs you will recall that I mentioned something about a five dimensional world. May I also say, that while I have never spent a lot of time thinking about the space-time continuum, or dimensions beyond the 3 we are most familiar with, this film will make you appreciate that there’s so much that we didn’t know before seeing Interstellar, that we can now think about.
I’ll rate the film at four point five zero out of five. I’ll call it a sure-fire hit, and a sure-fire Oscar contender. Despite some mixed reviews, and some folks who will surely find more faults with the film than I did, I’m going with group that calls the film Highly Recommended.