Humankind has always defined itself through overcoming the impossible — the first species to learn how to utilize fire, invent wheel, build vessels that can take us over vast areas of water, devise impressive pieces of technology such as steam and combustion engines (and machines that run on them), conceive computers and wireless technology, tackle diseases and other health conditions, initiate space exploration, and much more. These are the moments which are our proudest achievements.
Knowing the unknown is what life hangs on beyond survival, and there’s still a lot out there to explore.
Christopher Nolan’s latest space-epic Interstellar plays on the same theme, where humans have suppressed their pioneering spirit. When survival is at stake, being the leaders in ‘knowing the unknown’ doesn’t matter as much. The film’s visuals are stunning to say the least, especially in the IMAX 70mm format. I traveled from Bangalore to Hyderabad just to experience the same; the journey was totally worth the gargantuan effort.
“Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.“
The title of the movie portrays the magnitude which Nolan is aiming for here. Interstellar travel has always been a much debated topic in both the science and sci-fi community. Originally written as a script for Steven Spielberg by Jonathan Nolan, and later picked up by his brother after infusing his own ideas with the script, Interstellar is as ambitious, astronomical and awe-inspiring as it is confusing. While most of the confusing parts can be explained by concentrating on the dialogues and having a basic understanding of space jargon, some parts are better left open to our imagination; that’s where the fiction part in science-fiction comes from I guess.
The film’s astronomical scope was guaranteed to generate a lot of buzz, and subsequently pull a lot of box-office returns. It is after all Nolan’s first movie after he completed his The Dark Knight trilogy. While not on the same wavelength as some of Nolan’s previous works (Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Inception), Interstellar is visually his richest film yet. There is science and sentiments involved like with every other Nolan project, but this is the first film where he’s tried to fuse in some silliness to drive an emotional point. I found the movie to be equal parts amazing, enthralling and infuriating.
Interstellar follows many of the traditional sci-fi stories in its setting. Earth’s blight-infested food supplies are dwindling day-by-day. The planet is dying and will soon be inhabitable, and what’s worse is that there is no foreseeable way to stop that. The dust-filled dystopian Earth has been captured beautifully by Nolan and his new cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. I have to iterate, it has to be experienced in IMAX 70mm format to really get a feeling of being there, viewing it as the director intended us to.
Humans have adapted to the new Earth, but with food in limited supply, the government has suppressed all of mankind’s previous extravagant accomplishments like space exploration, moon landings, and many other inventions. Everyone has concentrated their efforts to be farmers, and those who don’t want to be farmers are still urged to be one, even the engineers.
Cooper, played by Matthew McCounaghey, is an ex-pilot who has shifted towards farming like everyone else. Cooper is molded after a character of the same name from the 1983 movie The Right Stuff. By sheer chance or a supernatural occurrence (you’ll have to watch the movie to find that out), he and his 10-year-old daughter Murph (played brilliantly by McKenzie Foy) stumble upon map co-ordinates of NASA, which is still operating away from the public’s glaring eyes. They are the only ones who have the faintest idea of what’s wrong with the Earth. Professor Brand (played by Nolan movie regular Michael Caine) has devised an elaborate idea to save humanity, or at least a part of it if everything else fails.
The idea involves a team of brave astronauts visiting planets in another galaxy thousands of light years away through a wormhole, which is placed right beside Saturn’s rings. What follows is a mish-mash of multiple space movies, especially Contact, for which noted theoretical physicist Kip Thorne was a consultant just like with Interstellar.
Interstellar is the first movie to portray the curvature of space and time near black holes as accurately as possible (or at least the makers hope us to believe so). The sudden relative shift in time (one hour on a planet near black hole is equivalent to seven years on Earth) also adds to the emotional depth. Matthew McCounaghey really shines through in portraying Cooper, who’s caught up between saving humanity and the love for his daughter.
The dialogue in the movie can be termed as clunky as best; same applies for the plot. Does a trained pilot really need to know how wormhole travel works, and that too just before he is entering one? It’s obvious that it is a simple cop out to explain the concept to the audience. The last part of the movie is better left to the audience’s imagination. It can either be viewed as deeply philosophical or entirely nonsensical; maybe both.
The “giant-sarcastic-robot” TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) is the only source of humour in the movie. The design of the robots is undoubtedly a nod towards the giant obelisk we see towards the end in 2001: A Space Odyssey. While a giant moving rectangle is not the best possible design for a robot, I liked them in this movie. The design is unique and unlike what we’ve seen in other sci-fi movies.
Just like most sci-fi stories which involve interstellar travel, it is not space, time, wormholes, equations, or even gravity that is at the crux of the plot, but love. The love between Cooper and his daughter Murph is the main takeaway from the story, at least for me.
The score composed by Hans Zimmer, another Nolan regular, is eerie, cheerful and uncanny. It’s unlike his previous efforts, but yet matches with them so wonderfully. The soundtrack is one of the main highlights of this movie apart from its visuals.
While Interstellar may not be considered as Nolan’s best work till date, it does deserve a viewing; if not for the plot, at least for its impressive visuals and the haunting soundtrack. Nolan has mastered the art of producing blockbuster films with his own singular vision, something not many directors have mastered as of yet. When the credits start rolling, you’re left wondering whether you’re watching someone else’s dream, and that dream is indeed Nolan’s.