Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ full of ‘wonder, regret and hope’

Let me make one thing clear: I am not a physics major. I am in no way qualified to assess “Interstellar’s” scientific plausibility or accuracy — I’ll leave that to Neil de Grasse Tyson. I can’t say I understood the explanations behind most of what I saw, and boy, were there a lot of them. Yes, “Interstellar” is quite absurd and at times incomprehensible, but its emotional and visual power make it compulsively watchable and immensely satisfying.

In “Interstellar’s” vision of the future, a global dustbowl has reduced humanity’s priorities to food and literally nothing else. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a single father of two and a former NASA engineer and pilot who resents his society’s marginalization of science and exploration. He lives in a world where his child’s astronomy textbook claims the Moon landing was a hoax. He also lives in a world that can no longer grow okra, and so he must be a farmer. His ten-year-old daughter, Murphy, shares his discontent. She is curious, rebellious and most importantly, a child. The bookshelf in her bedroom haunts her, dropping its contents at random and leaving her messages. I will not say more.

The bond between Cooper and Murphy is what holds this three-hour epic together. They share the belief that there is something else beyond their slowly-dying planet. Cooper knows the world has no place for him and his daughter, all the same. When an underground NASA professor and former friend, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), convinces him that the Earth will become uninhabitable in a few generations, and that the only chance for humanity’s survival lies beyond a recently opened wormhole, Cooper embarks on a quest which forces him to leave his daughter behind. Their final scene together is devastating.

Director Christopher Nolan imbues the film with a sense of wonder, regret and hope. Perhaps, for some, there will be too much philosophizing and long-winded speeches about the power of love and the triumph of the human spirit. I know that over-explaining is a common criticism of Nolan, and it is often warranted, but here, it didn’t bother me. Cooper and his cohorts’ search for meaning and connection felt real. And hearing Michael Caine recite “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” will never get old.

That said, the film is so busy that I was sometimes lost and confused. This problem is most apparent in the film’s second hour, when the viewer is treated to enough techno-babble to rival Star Trek. The irony is that, even with all the exposition, I often felt “Interstellar” needed more explanation. Once the astronauts pass through the wormhole, they can only receive transmissions, and on one of the planets they visit, one hour is seven earth years. Maybe I should have paid more attention in astronomy. I resisted the urge to check Wikipedia to figure out what was happening.

Yet, the film’s structure and pacing kept me engaged. “Interstellar” may be three hours long, but time flew by. Switching back and forth between Cooper and Earth, we feel the toll his absence takes on him and his aging family. And Cooper’s adventures through space-time never feel boring.

The film’s visual effects are extraordinarily beautiful and harsh, as dust storms ravage Earth and the astronauts travel through a wormhole to desolate planets with colossal tidal waves and punishing blizzards. Hans Zimmer’s score is typically loud and booming, but adds more emotion and mystery than in his previous films.

While the film presents some interesting ideas about survival and exploration, it leads with its heart. This may annoy those looking for a more intellectual experience, but as pure emotional spectacle, “Interstellar” is phenomenal.


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