Originally published at Let There Be Movies.
In 1968 Roger Ebert characterized 2001: A Space Odyssey as a film that “fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale.” I imagine this was due to the thorny task of blending an epic tale of space travel with the kind of intimacy necessary for a human connection. Almost five decades later, Christopher Nolan has thrown his hat in the ring to create his own space odyssey. This time around he tries to solve the problem of the missing human element while retaining the grandiose, special effects. But does it all work? To answer that, I think this movie should be considered in two ways. On the one hand, we should review the film in light of its science fiction, i.e. the galaxy, planet, and wormhole exploration. On the other, we should review the love story between a father and his children (as well as a potential romantic interest). Generally, I think the movie succeeds with regard to both aspects; but not without some turbulence along the way.
Climate change has caused a worldwide dustbowl. Resources are scarce and what’s left of the food will soon disappear. Ex-NASA-genius-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) strives to provide for his family during a (near?) future where space exploration is considered a reflection of the excess of the 20th century. During a particularly nasty dust storm Cooper discovers a gravitational anomaly that leads him and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) to a secret NORAD facility where he quickly discovers that NASA still exists. Led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) the organization is on the verge of sending an expedition into space to find habitable planets for humanity to live.
At this point you know as much as the film’s trailers revealed. Beyond that there are several twists and turns and a very interesting ending that will not be specifically disclosed in this review. However, I will discuss certain plot elements that you may want revealed to you in the theater. I will handle the next part of the review carefully; but you have been warned.
The visual aesthetic of Interstellar hits the right balance between the darker, richer colors of Earth and the brighter, washed out tones of outer space. Even the aural aesthetic succeeds when contrasting the bellicose noises of the windstorms and shuttle takeoff on Earth and the tranquil silence of space. Nolan gets this right every single time. Even Hans Zimmer’s use of organs in the orchestral theme injects a cathedral-style majesty to some of the film’s dramatic moments.
The most fascinating aspects of the space sequences are when Cooper, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and crew travel through the wormhole and black hole. They could have spent an hour in the wormhole and that would have been fine by me! (Perhaps that says more about me than anything else.) The way Nolan visually expresses bending space and time is something that definitely should be appreciated in IMAX.
Nolan’s space odyssey has a heart. This is expressed in a couple of ways, particularly between Cooper and his son and daughter. Murph (Mckenzie Foy) does not want her father to leave, and in a sad moment she refuses to say goodbye to him before he boards his ship. This proves to be a problem later as one of the consequences of wormhole travel is that time is relativized; that is, for Cooper and his crew, time is moving slower relative to everyone else on Earth. This means that Cooper must watch Murph and Tom, his son, grow into adults (via video messages) while hardly any time elapses for him. This is expressed in a truly heart-wrenching scene that leaves Cooper sobbing uncontrollably. In this particular moment and others McConaughey really shines as a father longing to be reunited with his family.
Unfortunately in other moments the family dynamic falls slightly flat. This is probably due to the fact that too much time is spent talking about how much Cooper loves his family and not enough time showing it. But there are moments where we really feel for the break-up of his family, specifically when his children grow up and the adult versions of themselves (adult Tom is played by Casey Affleck and adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain) convey their angst towards their missing father.
Another problem with the movie is that it flirts (pardon the pun) with the idea that Amelia could be a potential love interest for Cooper. The problem with that is Hathaway has almost zero chemistry with McConaughey; so any allusion to a potential romance is more unbelievable than traveling through a wormhole. This strikes me as reminiscent of the awful casting of Katie Holmes as Rachel Daws in Batman Begins and then the equally awful recasting of Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel in The Dark Knight. No disrespect to Nolan but I’m not sure John Papsidera, his casting director, can be trusted with female leads.
As I watched Interstellar I was struck by an interesting aspect that (inadvertently?) reflects a Christian worldview. First, the wormhole that Cooper, Amelia, and crew eventually travel through appears seemingly out of nowhere at a time when the world is dying. Also, on the other side of the wormhole are several, possibly habitable planets. This encourages Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and other NASA scientists to refer to a ubiquitous “they” who “placed” the wormhole in our solar system at the right time. That sounds silly at the outset except the probability of a wormhole leading straight to several habitable planets at the moment that humanity is forced to leave Earth is rather improbable. Due to this improbability NASA infers that the wormhole was put there by some designer(s), what Amelia and Doyle call a “they”.
This is exactly what Christians do when they infer a Creator of the universe. Take, for example, the Kalam Cosmological Argument: 1) everything that begins to exist has a cause; 2) the universe began to exist; 3) therefore the universe has a cause. Given the KCA it is more likely that God (i.e. the first cause) created the universe than the universe came into existence out of nothing. Take, for example, the appearance of consistency or patterns in the universe. Since consistency and patterns are marks of design, Christians infer a telos or order such that there must be a Designer in order for there to be a design. This is principally the same thing that NASA is doing with regard to the wormhole in Interstellar, and I think they are justified in drawing their conclusion.
Certainly we are told by Scripture that the design in nature is a reflection of God. David said that, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). Paul said that, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1:20). If it were the case that Scripture accurately reveals what is true about the world then reality should affirm what Scripture says; and that’s exactly what we see, especially with regard to the KCA and teleological argument (as well as others). This is just a long way of saying that it is reasonable to infer that something is designed if the evidence suggests it. That’s what Christians have always done and I’m happy to see that Interstellar follows the same principle.
As I mentioned the ending is pretty interesting. I really don’t want to spoil anything so all I will say about it is that I’m not entirely sure it goes all the way through; and we’ll leave it at that. If anyone wants a further explanation, click here for a separate rant about the ending.
Interstellar is well worth a viewing (or two or three), particularly in IMAX. The interesting story, twists and turns, and special effects are mostly able to outshine the film’s particular shortcomings. Interstellar is rated PG-13 for violence and language.