Big Screen Streaming: Interstellar
-Film Review by Roger Market–
Interstellar is a touching and thought-provoking work of art. The film’s visuals are breathtaking, not to mention scientifically accurate. Although a bit long, (169 minutes), the movie paves a clear emotional pathway that will captivate most human beings with a pulse and leave them desiring more. Although the science behind Interstellar can require cosmic leaps to understand fully—a flaw that will frustrate some viewers—audiences can relax and enjoy a thrilling ride. Interstellar is not about science, after all. The epic tale explores the evolutionary capabilities of humans, as well as their role on the planet they inherited.
Cooper is a single father trying to take care of his farm and his children in a dusty, increasingly barren world. He’s also an engineer and a former pilot for NASA. Sadly, the U.S. disbanded the proud space agency in order to focus scarce resources on meeting food supply concerns and other domestic priorities in a post-apocalyptic world. When Cooper’s 10-year-old daughter Murph (short for Murphy) begins to notice objects behaving strangely in her bedroom, she suggests a ghost is present. Cooper doesn’t take her seriously, writing Murph’s strange encounters off as examples of gravity at work. After a powerful storm leaves a binary dust code on Murph’s bedroom floor, however, Cooper can no longer ignore what’s happening. The code turns out to be geographic coordinates pointing him to the underground location of…NASA.
Cooper is stunned to learn that the space agency still exists. However, the revelation that the (now) secret organization is attempting to find a new world for humans evokes complicated emotions. The mission is inspiring yet terrifying; destinies are in question, and the stakes are life or death. A sense of being chosen has led Cooper this far. Professor Brand, (played by Michael Caine), an aging scientist who once mentored Cooper, makes it clear that he believes the younger pilot to be the bravest, best, and last hope for earth. Cooper wants to accept, but something is holding him back. “I’ve got kids, Professor,” he says. Brand’s reply is simple but rousing: “Get out there and save them.”
The mission will take years and trek across an altered time-space continuum. There are no guarantees of a safe return during the lifespan of his beloved children, if at all. Murph strongly opposes the mission and tries to convince her father to stay, but Cooper knows his purpose. He subscribes to a vision of human history that values epochs of tremendous ingenuity and exploration, and hence, he recognizes his responsibility to help save not only his children but also the whole of humanity. With no time for drawn-out goodbyes, engines rumble; thrusters ignite, and the countdown begins. Prepare to go “boldly” where no man has gone before…
Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Cooper is excellent, but this comes as no surprise. Given the seasoned actor’s high-profile, Emmy-nominated turn as Rust Cohle on HBO’s True Detective, consider 2014 an exceptional year for McConaughey. One particularly memorable scene takes place at the midpoint of the film. When Cooper and his team venture down to the surface of a water-covered planet, it is a costly excursion. The planet is subject to the immense gravity of a nearby black hole that warps and distorts time according to principles of the theory of relativity. Disaster soon strikes in the form of an enormous wave that floods their engines and keeps them on the planet’s surface longer than anticipated. In this brief interval, which plays out in minutes on the screen, decades of Earth time slip past.
Back on the mother ship, McConaughey’s reaction is shattering as he wordlessly watches “years of video” from Earth. “Now would be a really good time for you to come back,” an older, heartbroken Murph says, eliciting sobs from Cooper. The midpoint’s emotional power is bolstered by strong performances from co-stars Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, and Jessica Chastain. Now that the lives of the explorers are irrevocably changed, the purpose of the mission is in question.
Viewers who take issue with Interstellar will most likely focus on the last quarter of the movie, specifically the confusing fictional representation of what lurks inside the black hole and the power of this dark space. Without spoiling the ending, it’s convenient to say the film uses science to deepen plot points that viewers might otherwise have thought were closed earlier in the film. Admittedly, the black hole’s abilities are speculative—as scientists still don’t know what’s inside—but they do bring the story to a fitting, powerful, and arguably, shocking conclusion.
Sci-fi has a reputation for being “nerdy,” but don’t believe that stigma, especially in this case. Interstellar is a movie about family and humanity, but it’s also a captivating mystery and, yes, a science fiction opus. The film’s best asset is that it nails the core of the sci-fi experience: a compelling and often devastating representation of humanity’s quest to survive. The science in this work is only a backdrop and shouldn’t stop casual viewers from enjoying the layered scenes and plotlines. Go see Interstellar, and if you can, for best viewing, spring for the IMAX.
Already seen the film, and want to know more about the science behind its making? Check out the Wired feature: “Wrinkles in Spacetime: The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar” by Adam Rogers.
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