Interstellar is one of those space movies that reminds us how human we are. No matter how far away from home we wander, no matter how celestial is our reach, we still cling to the clay of our origins. We still lie and cheat; we tempt fate and make terrible mistakes. Often life seems hopeless. And then we remember love.
In the near future, a blight has wiped out all crops except corn and turned the entire planet into a dust bowl. Medicine is in short supply and the country’s infrastructure is in tatters. Most people don’t plan for the future — they don’t believe there will be one.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a wind-burned Kansas farmer trying to keep his family together, despite the loss of his wife and the end of his beloved career as an astronaut. A “ghost” in the farmhouse library is sending “messages” to his young daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), which leads the two to a secret NASA facility. Old Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his grown daughter, also Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), plus a handful of other scientists, are the remnants of the once-proud American space program.
They are tracking the signals transmitted by spaceships from a covert, decade-old expedition that tried to find habitable planets in a distant galaxy. “Human beings were born on Earth,” they say, “but that doesn’t mean they have to die on Earth.”
Cooper decides he will risk everything to try to save the human race by piloting the rescue ship Endurance. But to do this he must leave behind the person who makes his life worthwhile — Murphy. He promises he will return to his daughter, but she is too heart-broken to wave him goodbye.
With great skill and lots of luck, Cooper leads the new crew, which includes the young Dr. Brand, on its dangerous journey. Of course, all kinds of scary things happen. This is space, after all, and poor Sandra Bullock in last year’s Gravity showed us how terrifying interstellar travel can be.
Through black holes and wormholes, trying to put scientific principles to work where no human has gone before, the crew pushes forward. Making every inch of space more intense is the spectacular imagery of Swiss-born cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, 2013) and Hans Zimmer’s cosmic soundtrack (12 Years a Slave, 2013).
Their first landfall is on no land at all — the planet is all ocean. An enormous — I mean IMAX enormous — wave comes barreling out of the sky and slams into the ship. Dr. Brand learns that no matter how intelligent she is, Cooper betters her in survival skills. There’s no parity here. The caveman brain is what will keep them alive.
On the second planet, another one that also offers no life support (since it looks just like glacier-swept Iceland), they discover Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). When they wake him from deep-sleep, Dr. Mann is so happy to see another human being he goes nuts.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, time has passed. Murphy is now a famous scientist (Jessica Chastain), the assistant to old Dr. Brand at the NASA hide-out. Regardless of three-dimensional reality, Murphy believes that her father will return home, and she uses her science — and her soul — to find him.
I didn’t understand everything that happened in Interstellar … how can people living in a world-wide dust bowl still have big breakfasts? Why does the theory of relativity work except when it doesn’t? Where are the aliens?
For answers, I had to remember one thing — Interstellar was made by London-born writer/director Christopher Nolan, and this masterful artist doesn’t wear the reality hat. For him, time doesn’t go forward. Gravity doesn’t pull down. Point A never goes through Point B to get to Point C — it has to zigzag all through the alphabet, in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards and then, maybe, Mr. Nolan might drop you some place recognizable.
Don’t count on it, though. Just go with it. The enchantment of a Christopher Nolan film, the sheer majesty of it, if you will, is surrendering to it.