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FILM REVIEW: "Interstellar"

Paramount / Warner Bros.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) in "Interstellar" (Paramount / Warner Bros.)
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FILM REVIEW: Interstellar (Paramount/Warner Bros.) 2014

At one point in the exceptional new sci-fi adventure film Interstellar, scientist/astronaut Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) admits to her space-faring colleague Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) that she preferred the crew of their ship, Endurance, go to a planet that was colonized by a man she loved back on Earth named Edmunds.

“Love transcends the dimensions of time and space,” she tells Cooper.

And ultimately, that is the message that Christopher Nolan’s exceedingly important film is trying to convey: that it is love that is the most powerful and transcendent force in the universe.

And over the course of 169 exciting minutes, Nolan takes us from an environmentally-ravaged Earth (in the near future) to the farthest reaches of interstellar space via both a wormhole and a black hole. To icy planets and to sterile planets where tsunami waves are the order of the day – and not much else.

And this is in order to save humanity from a ecologically-fractured future where death will be the only way out. Or is there another option? 

Fortunately, remnants of NASA exist in this stateless future, where wars are no longer fought, at least wars against other humans. Rather, nature has turned on man in the form of blights and dust storms that rival those seen in the Great Plains of the Depression 1930’s. The war to fend of Mother Nature is a battle that has brought humanity together – but the struggle is clear and man is losing.

Cooper, a former NASA test pilot and farmer, is instructed – via seemingly supernatural means – to go to a secret NASA site, along with his precocious, 10-year-old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), to learn that NASA has discovered a wormhole near Saturn (placed their by beings unknown) that allows spacecraft to transcend space and time in hopes of finding new worlds to colonize and hopefully give humanity a new chance at surviving, at least that is how mission director Prof. Brand (Michael Caine) pitches it.

“We’re not meant to save the world,” says Prof. Brand. “We’re meant to leave it.”

Cooper reluctantly agrees to join the “Lazarus” mission. So he, Amelia Brand, Prof. Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) head towards Saturn (not unlike the voyage the Discovery took in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, switched to Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick’s spectacular cinematic version from 1968).

Oh, and yes, there are Kubrickian comparisons here. Just as the mysterious “monolith” was a gateway for humanity to be reborn, the mysterious wormhole, acts in a similar fashion. And the special effects are remarkable. (And for those who are interested in seeing a mash-up of both 2001 and Interstellar – visuals from the former and audio from the latter – go here.)

And not only Kubrick. There is a spirit here that is reminiscent of some of M. Night Shyamalan’s work (Signs, The Sixth Sense), Danny Boyle (Sunshine), Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain).

I mention the above because with the science, there is a real soul to Interstellar. It is also interesting to see how Nolan kept the feel of the near future as it will likely be – dually pick-up trucks, dusty houses and conspiracy theories actually embraced as fact, where a teacher says new textbooks admit the Apollo Moon landings were faked in hopes of bankrupting the Soviet Union during the Space Race of the 1960’s.  Of course it is now believed that Kubrick himself was the visual master involved in that process and that he explained his role via a vehicle known as The Shining. Surprised to see that in there.

A character I didn’t expect to like, but really liked towards the end, was the multi-purpose robot TARS, a more "dude-bro" robot than the sinister Maximilian in The Black Hole from 35 years ago, or the cold and sterile-voiced HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey - a film, I should add, that absolutely changed my life.

The story Nolan tells in Interstellar is an important one. It’s one that I think about daily. What are we, as a species, really working towards? Where is that hunger to explore and discover, as men like Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton did over 100 years ago, both men serving aboard the Antarctic expeditionary ship Discovery (Shackleton later led the Endurance, interestingly enough, on a later Antarctic expedition)?

Well, it is there and it is growing. Two years ago, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to town, my one media question for him, were he elected, was what he intended to do about helping NASA improve its capacity to explore. Romney gave a vague reply. But now that both 2001 and 2010 (both years and movies) have come and gone and Gen Xers, such as myself feel somewhat betrayed by the older Romney generation that more seriousness isn’t being given to exploring the stars.

Will Interstellar, with its science and soul and desire to go well beyond low-Earth orbit, inspire the new, younger generation to kickstart a serious interest in exploring the galaxy? Elon Musk and others seem to be picking up where NASA seemed to leave off. Hopefully, the next administration really embraces space exploration and colonizing the Moon and Mars.

Yes, one can only hope. In the meantime, Interstellar is a wonderful movie and one that asks a lot of questions; about the nature of time and space and reality. And also about who we are and where we are going. Let's hope - and pray - it is to the stars.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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