Interstellar: Long, Complicated but Impressive


– Jacob Foxx –

Hollywood usually places actual science secondary to entertainment. When Hollywood decides to be ambitious and create a thoughtful sci-fi film, fans should take notice. Interstellar offers an intellectually-stimulating story along with its amazing visual effects and solid acting. The writers and producers should be applauded for taking on such an ambitious project in a year of superheroes, talking raccoons, and robots. It isn’t perfect, but it is a step in the right direction for Hollywood.

The easiest way to describe Interstellar is 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Inception. Earth’s crops are dying rapidly from blight, causing mass die offs leading to dust storms. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is recruited to pilot a NASA mission through a mysterious wormhole that leads to a new galaxy and a handful of potentially habitable planets. He is part of “Plan A”, which involves moving humanity from Earth through the wormhole to the new world on a vast space station. For it to work, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) must solve the physics equations needed to move such an enormous station.

“Plan B” is in case Professor Brand fails to solve the equations. Cooper, astronaut Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), and the rest of the mission team are to bring hundreds of fertilized embryos and repopulate the species on the new home world, leaving Earth to die. Cooper must find the new world and get back in time to give NASA all the data. More important to Coop, he promised his daughter he’d come back eventually. The problem time dilation. To Cooper the mission may be a couple years but on Earth decades will pass.

As you can see, the plot is pretty complex. It is the trademark of Christopher Nolan, the writer behind the mind-bending Inception. This time his brother Jonathan helped write the script. They are living proof that you don’t need to dumb down movies to appeal to American audiences. The insanely complicated Inception received rave reviews and grossed over $290 million in the US. Given the fascinating plot and high-profile cast, I expect Interstellar will do just as well.

What impressed me was the strong science in the movie, specifically the use of Einstein’s theory of relativity and theories involving five-dimensional space. During the mission, Cooper and Amelia experience time dilation. While only an hour passes for them, seven years passes for everyone else. Cooper watches his children grow up rapidly via recorded video messages. His ten year old daughter inevitably reaches the same age as him. The movie tries to keep the audience grounded in the human drama between Coop and his daughter. For the most part they succeed but there were moments that left me scratching my head.

Interstellar Wormhole

One of the more fascinating visuals was the black hole. Nolan worked with physicists and artists to render a realistic conception of what a black hole might look like. The stunning visual effects and dramatic musical score betray the heavy influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is clear Nolan doesn’t want you to take space travel lightly in this movie. The fact that they managed to get so far in theoretical physics is impressive. Most movies portray wormholes are tunnels of light or a black hole as light circling a floating drain.

The movie examines the survival instinct, including the evolutionary role of love or emotional bonds between people. Plan B required Cooper and the others to leave everyone they know on Earth to die for the sake of the species. However, the survival instinct never extends beyond the individual or tribe. It wasn’t until recently that humanity had any conception of the species as a whole, let alone any feelings on its collective survival.

We love and protect our family and tribe, but would we sacrifice to save a stranger or a foreigner? What about a nameless, faceless embryo with no genetic or ethnic connection to you? Professor Brand didn’t think so. He believed that for the mission to succeed, everyone had to believe there was hope of saving the people on Earth. If you couldn’t save your loved ones, how hard would you work on finding a new home world for humanity?

Interstellar is far from perfect. The beginning was a little awkward. Cooper was not really recruited, so much as he stumbles upon a NASA facility near his farm where they happen to be looking for a pilot. McConaughey did a solid job as Coop but Anne Hathaway was mediocre as Dr. Amelia Brand. The ending was a little unsatisfying as well, a little too neat.

The biggest knock I have on the movie is that it is not very accessible. The powerful themes do not come across clearly. The dialogue is unnecessarily cryptic at times, which doesn’t help when a lot of explanation is needed.

Inevitably, some will punch holes through the science of Interstellar for no purpose other than to demonstrate their own intelligence. The fact is Interstellar possesses a level of scientific sophistication that ought to be lauded rather than criticized. Rather than tear it down, we should encourage Hollywood to produce more ambitious sci-fi movies like Interstellar. Hollywood may not have delivered a classic but I want them to keep trying rather than spending hundreds of millions on another Spiderman movie.

For hard science fiction fans, this is an excellent movie in the tradition of 2001: A Spacy Odyssey. I highly recommend it.