Behind all the hardcore quantum physics and rocket science lies a big, beating heart at the centre of Interstellar.
‘Normal’ isn’t a word you’d use for Christopher Nolan. Oh no sir, normalcy was never part of his grand plan. Especially not for what I consider his magnum opus, Interstellar.
Is this the greatest space exploration film of our generation? Most certainly, in my opinion. Is it the greatest of all time? Definitely not, that honour still (and probably always will) remain with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Safe to say though that Kubrick will probably be smiling in heaven, given the number of nods Nolan has given to his masterpiece.
And it’s not just Kubrick. Nolan has generously sprinkled the film with references to Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. There’s a very obvious connect to Rob Zemeckis’ ‘Contact’ (and no, it’s not the fact that McConaughey stars in both films). And the background score (possibly Zimmer’s best work till date) smartly takes undertones of the Western Classical-laden 2001 and a smidgen of Vangelis’ electronic wizardry in Blade Runner.
Even with all these little hooks and references, Interstellar remains Nolan’s (and Zimmer’s) most original, personal and thought-provoking film.
Set in an apocalyptic earth, where crops are dying, Cooper (McConaughey) is a widower, a retired engineer who now works as a farmer. Almost everyone on earth is being forced to take up farming because there’s no food. Space exploration is now considered a ‘sham’, a propagandist tool that reeks of wastefulness and excess. That irks Cooper.
Cooper gets one final shot at space glory, thanks to Professor Brand (Michael Caine). He is tasked with finding a new home for humans, but that has to come at a terrible cost – Cooper has to leave behind his daughter Murph (the brilliant Mackenzie Foy, and later Jessica Chastain), his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet, followed by Casey Affleck) and father-in-law (the terrific John Lithgow) – he faces the prospect of never seeing them again.
And so, he sets off on a (possibly) one-way journey with acerbic NASA scientist Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), two wise-cracking monolith-like robots (TARS, voiced by Bill Irwin and CASE, voiced by Josh Stewart) and two other NASA scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi).
‘Love is the one thing that transcends time and space’
Here is where we get to see the storytelling genius of Nolan. Normally, you’d expect a director to hold your hand and take you through all the quantum physics and space science. He doesn’t do that though – he keeps it conversational and scientific, even while dealing with five dimensions. And he wows us with enough vistas of space to make us want to put a space suit on (thank you Hoyte Van Hoytema).
Where he does hold the hand of the audience is through the sixth dimension – LOVE. That’s Interstellar’s message, really – it doesn’t matter if you’re stuck in a black hole or marvelling at the beauty of a wormhole, the effect of love isn’t relative, it doesn’t slow down or speed up with time. And that’s the beauty of Interstellar (as was the case with Gravity) – in space, you’re never really alone. The ones who love you will always be with you. And that’s why no matter what anyone says around you – always follow your heart.
Nolan has once again shown his complete mastery over the use of time. It’s a treat to watch how he’s edited the film – magical intercuts between Cooper’s time in space and the desolation back on earth remind us almost instantly of Inception – but what this has over Inception is that the emotion holds the science together, rather than being just a by-line of the complex scientific tropes. The pace of the film varies over time – exactly like the theory of relativity – and for me, this is what makes the film a masterpiece. What has to be admired about Nolan is his ambition and vision from a storytelling point of view. And oh yes, do watch it in all its glory on IMAX. It will make you want to put on a space suit and head off straight into space!
This isn’t a perfect movie – far from it, actually. He stretches science fiction to the point that some scenes feel a little incredulous (it makes for heady cinema though). There are complaints of ‘not enough space’ that are emanating from certain quarters (although I disagree). It lacks the – what should I say – ‘vagueness’ that made 2001 such a compelling watch. Almost everything is spelled out in no uncertain terms, so although there are questions at the end (believe me, you will have many) it’s not quite the ‘enigma’ that 2001 was.
But hey, why even compare? Interstellar is today what 2001 was back then. A magnificent spectacle. You may or may not like it, but you cannot ignore it. Watch it. Heck, even take your kids for it. They’ll enjoy the ride!
As it’s said often by Brand during the movie, I’d like to end with a stanza from Dylan Thomas’ poem. It holds true when you’re going to watch Interstellar.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.