Interstellar is director Christopher Nolan’s tenth movie. His films have gradually grown in scale and ambition. He’s come a long way from his first film Following – which despite its small budget is still very well done. Like most great directors; The Cohen Brothers, Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock, Nolan makes each movie uniquely his. Despite each film’s striking uniqueness, he maintains certain themes, and Interstellar is no exception. Themes like revenge, deception, obsession, good vs. evil. He is also known for placing scenes in a very nonlinear order. Memento, for example, begins with the last scene and ends with the first.
Interstellar is slightly different though. This may be due partly to the fact that Stephen Spielberg was initially planned as director. It was then handed to Nolan’s brother Jonathan, who in turn gave it to him.
Nonetheless, all the differences are merely on a surface level. The order of Interstellar pretty linear compared to his other movies. But time also shifts drastically due to its relativity in space. It is also far less “gritty” than others, which are often located in bleak cityscapes, and harsh wilderness. But as the film goes on, all this can be seen clearly in the rough landscapes of other planets, and even earth’s barrenness.
The film begins in an earth that is deteriorating. Food is scarce, and to combat starvation, most children are taught to be farmers. It is all very reminiscent of America’s Dust Bowl. Matthew McConaughey plays ex-astronaut turned farmer “Cooper.” He’s a widower who lives with his father in law and two children. From the beginning he’s shown as a rebel. Tired of the current state of things, and ready to make change his own way.
He soon gets his wish, when he discovers a secret NASA base with the mission to find other habitable planets. Being the best man for the job, he accepts it, and after a tearful goodbye to his family, launches out into the great beyond. His daughter Murphy is devastated by the decision, and remains bitter for most of the movie. His departure sequence is especially well done, and emphasizes both his firm resolve to save humanity, and his agony at leaving his family behind – whom he may never see again.
Once in space, things really speed up. Despite his only being in space a few months, time on earth is quickly accelerating. Through video messages sent from earth, he sees his children grow up, get married, have children. And it’s agonizing to not be there. But he has no recourse but to journey on.
The rest of the film deals with the conflict of individual, personal love, with the collective “greater good” of saving humanity. The eventual answer is that it’s better to love people, than the abstract concept of “the human species”, as it is coldly referred to by some scientists.
The problem of evil is also addressed. Early in to their departure, Professor Brand (Anne Hathaway) makes an interesting statement – that despite the immense danger of the journey that lies ahead of them, it is strangely comforting that they will not encounter evil – Because nature is amoral, and it is only people who can cause evil. This turns out to be foreshadowing. The irony is that even in the farthest corners of the universe, evil can be found. And good must win out.
So like many of Nolan’s movies, Interstellar uses its epic visuals and music, along with great acting to not only tell a story, but a greater message. It seeks to inspire. Whether it does is up to the viewer.
But not everything is perfect. The dialogue is very quick, and Cooper often mumbles his lines. And the story goes by so fast that a second of inattention could leave viewers lost. It’s also a bit too “dense.” There’s a bit too much to unpack. In this respect it can seem at times to be trying too hard to be clever and deep. So if you like simple, easy to understand movies, Interstellar is not for you.
But overall, it is a brilliant film, another masterpiece from Christopher Nolan. And like all his films, it will take many more viewings to truly appreciate everything that’s in it.