Rating: ★★★★¼ 

Things are not looking good for planet Earth in Christopher Nolan’s latest science fiction film, Interstellar. Mother Nature has turned on us, making the planet hostile to almost every crop but corn. It’s a futuristic dustbowl, and those who have survived struggle to get by as farmers. No one needs engineers or pilots any longer. Dust covers everything. People are starving, including Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot who never had a chance to truly pursue his dream. He is now a widower, living with his two children – a teenage son (Timothée Chalamet) and 10-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) – and his wife’s father (John Lithgow). Though he now makes a living as a farmer, Cooper still dreams of piloting a spaceship. Murph is also a dreamer. She gets in trouble at school for bringing in a book about the Apollo missions, now seen as fabrications according to revisionist historians. They will get a chance to prove those new historians wrong.

Co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, Interstellar possesses a manifest destiny that recalls some of the greatest science fiction films. The pure joy of exploration, the mystery of worlds beyond our own propels Nolan’s nearly three-hour film, taking us to Saturn and beyond. Unlike his Batman films and Inception, Nolan adds emotion to the mix. At its heart, Interstellar is a family drama about a father separated from his kids as he pursues a way to save them and generations to follow. But can Nolan successfully balance the cool-eyed science of films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey with soliloquies about the power of love? There are a few howlers here, but for the most part Interstellar is a resounding and exciting film.

After receiving strange clues in Murph’s bedroom, Cooper finds his way to the place where NASA is secretly planning a mission to save the human race, one that involves relocating to another world. Led by Cooper’s old teacher, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), NASA has discovered a wormhole near Saturn that leads to potentially habitable planets. They have sent 12 scientists into the hole to explore the planets and now need a pilot such as Cooper to go out and find them. Cooper, ready to escape the doldrums of his life, takes the chance to fulfill his dreams. Murph wants him to stay. Because it is impossible to reconcile the relativity of time, there is a chance her father won’t be back for decades, but while she grows old, he won’t age. She refuses to say goodbye.

Backed by Hans Zimmer’s haunting score (just a touch reminiscent of the music for 2001) and told in an elliptical style, Interstellar literally takes off when Cooper, Amelia and two other scientists leave Earth for the wormhole. Just as magnificent to watch as Gravity, Nolan’s film benefits from a very strong script. While the dream world of Inception lacked any sort of wonder, Interstellar is full of jaw-dropping sequences. While some of the rhapsodizing about the nature of time may seem like empty philosophy, and most of Hathaway’s lines are leaden, Interstellar gives you plenty to think about. It’s a very talky film, even if there are plenty of beautiful, silent space shots. But even if the science is fraught with holes, Interstellar still manages to convince, especially when Cooper and his friends find the alien worlds, each filled with danger.

McConaughey continues his career renaissance here with another strong performance as a cocky pilot who abandons his kids to chase a dream and then immediately regrets the decision. There’s the rub. He may never see his family again, yet the reaches of space call to him. McConaughey gives a strongly emotional turn, one that shatters his typical tough guy shtick. When he weeps, you believe it, anchoring a beautifully ambitious movie that may not completely accomplish its goals. Interstellar is Nolan at his most humane. It’s a good look for him.

Leave a Comment