Interstellar is a monumental cinematic experience. It is a film which explores the power of anchoring; between past and future, humanity and the Earth, and (most crucially) parent and child. Chronicling humanity’s faults and frailties, but ultimately filled with optimism, the film places faith in our species’ ability to determine its own trajectory. The narrative of the film and its characters achieve this through a fusion of rigorous scientific method and a dedication to essential human relationships.
The less known about the plot before viewing, the better, but a rough outline won’t spoil much. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), former astronaut, is now a farmer of an infertile Earth. The planet has turned against humanity, and Cooper is forced to choose between protecting his family and saving the human race. His utilitarianism wins out (propelled by his explorative bravado), and Professor Brand (Michael Caine) of NASA sends him into space. His mission is to target a wormhole on the fringes of Saturn through which humanity can search for new, habitable worlds. This is heavy stuff, but the audience is rewarded for keeping up with the film’s breathless pace and dense dialogue. What follows is an inter-dimensional essay on humanity, a love-letter to the species. This is a realistic portrayal: humanity’s darker sides are allowed to dominate what is at times a tense and harrowing tale, but which also showcases our infinite capacity for innovation and emotion.
Sci-fi of this scale sometimes suffers from an inhuman coldness, an estrangement which Nolan strives to refute. He roots the futuristic world in images of the pastoral, in corn fields and combines; alluding to the American ‘Dustbowl’ aesthetic which followed the Great Depression. References are made by older characters to previous generations including our own: Cooper’s father-in-law (John Lithgow) speaks of his childhood as‘the excess of the 20th century’, where ‘everyday was like Christmas’. These audio-visual cues provide the audience with an anchor in this barren future, defamiliarising our generation, forcing us to look at ourselves in terms of future’s history.
The spectacle of the film’s foray into deep space repeatedly takes one’s breath away. The film demands to be seen on the biggest screen and heard with the loudest speakers possible. What is most remarkable, however, is the resonant relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph (played at different ages by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn.) This relationship becomes the true spectacle of Nolan’s space opera. Murph’s inability to forgive her father for leaving is a constant thorn in Cooper’s side, and the Nolan and McConaughey combination ensures we feel his pain.
The film estranges the relationship between parent and child in much the same way as it divorces humanity from its eternal parent, the Earth. Nolan asserts that parents can be individuals, as well as fulfilling the usually all-consuming role of parenthood. This is a father/daughter relationship rendered strange, perverted by relativity, but one which still bears meaning.
Interstellar’s narrative celebrates scientific achievement on equal grounds with emotional connection, the latter a warmth that genre classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Interstellar pays extended homage, typically lack. The resultant fusion may prove controversial by the film’s third act, where fiction starts to overpower science, but it is worth remembering that Interstellar is a film, first and foremost, and therefore places artistic concerns above the practical. Despite its inter-dimensional scope, Nolan’s narrative anchors itself to human history. It foregrounds our essential need for grounding, in both the planetary, generative sense and the emotional, genealogical sense. It is unquestionably one of the smartest blockbusters ever constructed, providing an admirable squaring of scientific and artistic meaning.