By Eoin Molloy
Earth is dying a dusty death in Christopher Nolan’s space epic, Interstellar. Her landscape is no-longer capable of sustaining life. Nothing grows anymore except for corn and even that is on its way out.
Interstellar’s hero, Coop (McConaughey) is a pilot-turned-farmer who has become somewhat disillusioned with humanity, what with the seemingly-imminent collapse of civilisation and the untimely death of his wife. The fact that he has to contend with a smart-ass father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), doesn’t help things either.
Coop’s daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) believes that there is a ghost living in her room trying to communicate with her via Morse code. Following a sandstorm, dust aligns itself into a binary messag3 on Murph’s bedroom floor. The writing seems to be communicating co-ordinates.
Coop and Murph follow these co-ordinates. They stumble upon NASA, which was hiding in a supposedly-secret location following the collapse of the US government.
Here is where things start to feel a bit easy. Michael Caine reprises his role as the advisory-older gentleman in the form of senior physicist, Dr Brand. Brand convinces Coop that he is the best pilot they (NASA) ever had and that he must lead a mission to find a new home planet for humanity.
Coop, who has long become discontented with his place ‘down in the dirt’ on Earth, finally has his chance to be ‘among the stars.’ We know that this was his ambition from an early conversation in the film over beers with Donald. Coop has to choose between his family and ‘saving humanity’, and the latter prevails.
The performances are strong, especially that of the leads and Bill Irwin voicing the mandatory android side-kick, TARS. The other actors and actresses don’t get a whole lot to do, which is a major problem of the film which we will get to later.
Staying with the positives, the science of the film is quite cool. Nolan attempts to boil down the interrelation between gravity, relativity and time for those of us who don’t have a PHD in physics, and the results are pretty damn cool.
For example, they visit a planet that sits at the edge of a black hole. Therefore, the planet has a very string gravitational pull and experiences serious tidal waves. For this reason, every hour they spend on that planet equals a decade back on Earth. When these effects are played out on screen, they’re pretty touching.
Dialogue is one of the film’s major problems. It mainly consists of chunky sections of scientific jargon and self-contained philosophical phrases. The characters rarely talk about anything human at all. Nolan’s characters are so pre-occupied with either explaining wormholes or waxing lyrical about the transcending power of love that we don’t really come to care about them as people.
When one of the characters dies, for example, the others do not so much as bat an eyelid. This stands out on screen, but perhaps the harsh nature of the future Earth as Nolan sees it has de-sensitised people towards death. A lot of the film feels very impersonal. In fact, TARS the robot seems to be the most human of the lot.
The Dark Knight Rises taught us that Nolan is susceptible to logic wormholes. In the ‘pit-prison’ sequence, Bruce Wayne breaks his back and recovers almost instantly. He also gets from a prison that was seemingly somewhere in the Middle-East to Gotham in no time at all, without any explanation.
These types of errors recur again in Interstellar, but they are infinitely more forgiving because the landscape Nolan creates is so utterly fantastical in and of itself.
Nolan is so concerned with big ideas and grand, sweeping visions that he often overlooks nitty-gritty, humdrum details. He is a director who would rather ask ‘why?’ than ‘how?’, and this works wonders when it comes to the ‘big reveal’ towards the films denouement.
When the twist occurs, all logic is thrown out the window. Fortunately for Nolan, the twist is so incredibly satisfying and mind-shattering that we just don’t care about the logic. With their curiosity satisfied, the audience pardons all mistakes.
The film is admittedly overlong, but it somehow manages to be emotionally affecting throughout, particularly when it comes to Coop’s relationship with his daughter. Interstellar is a coded message sent by Nolan to his own daughter.
In the film, Coop abandons his family to go and pursue his ambitions, and save humanity at the same time. He wants to reach out and take his place amongst the stars, even though that means abandoning his daughter (the only one in the family he seems to care about). Making films is Nolan’s space travel, and it obviously involves spending time away from his daughter.
This is why Interstellar is so emotional. We feel the love of the father for his daughter from the outset. The only difference is that he is sending a message to his daughter through the medium of film, rather than dust binary.
Interstellar is a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.