Interstellar is an important film. It is a film that champions the proposition that humankind’s place is among the stars, and such films are rare. It is also a film that emphasizes scientific fidelity, and such films, too, are few and far between. In this sense, it operates in stark contrast to Alfonso Cuaron’s magisterial Gravity, which portrayed space as a yawning, inhospitable void and Earth as sanctuary, the culmination and dramatic reward of one woman’s will to live. While Interstellar does not shy away from the dangers of exploration, the hazards of the cosmos are not something to be feared but embraced as necessary risks to ensure humanity’s continued survival. This mode is unique among Hollywood science fiction, in which space, the yawning blackness, is the womb of unimaginable horrors a la Alien or Event Horizon.
In Interstellar, space is given a more balanced portrayal. It is a place of stark and deadly beauty, of almost unimaginable majesty and mystery. And that is precisely the right cornucopia of ingredients that serves to whet the appetites of the explorers in us. The majesty of space is enhanced by Hans Zimmer’s excellent score, which is particularly commendable as a polyphony of mythic and portentous arrangements that fills the silent void of the endless cosmic night with a creditable impression of the melodies of superstrings.
It’s an important film, but also a flawed one. The central theme of love transcending time and space was hackneyed (for a better interpretation of that particular trope, see Contact). The decisions and actions of certain characters are at times illogical in order to drive the three-hour narrative forward. Some of the film’s setpieces, such as the Indian Air Force drone chase and the misadventure on the giant-wave planet, were, while visually arresting in and of themselves, out of place with the main narrative. And for all of Kip Thorne’s pains to ensure scientific fidelity, not least by spending tremendous amounts of time and effort simulating what a supermassive black hole might look like, the plot was resolved by the distressingly unscientific phlebotinum of “quantum data” needed to plug into an equation to solve the disjoint between relativity and quantum theory – a scientific problem that has plagued physicists for decades and led to the invention of new forms of mathematics – solved in fifteen minutes with a Morse code sequence communicated through the fifth dimension by gravity waves influencing the ticking of a pocket watch (don’t ask).
I was also troubled by how the journey to escape Earth seemed so America-centric. The giant space station orbiting Saturn at the end was just a floating piece of American farmland – where are the Chinese, the Arabs, the Canadians (I guess Prof. Brand was British)? Did they leave them on Earth to get suffocated by the blight? A critical piece of the vision of space is the dissolution of petty national boundaries – and this film is distressingly parochial by modern cinematic standards. At least the black guy wasn’t the first to die.
But it’s a creditable successor to the kinds of films that serve, to some extent, as space-exploration propaganda, like Contact before it. I would say it is perhaps the spiritual sequel to Contact, in its message, themes, and undertones. And Matthew McConaughey is in both movies, which makes the connection even more uncannily apt (is McConaughey our new Space Prophet?)
Anyway, here goes:
I give this movie: 4 Rotating Spaceships
+ Important piece of pro-exploration propaganda
+ Viscerally beautiful, majestic
+ Sublime score
– Odd plot inconsistencies
– A flawed emotional core
– Minor bloat issues