A Movie Review
of Interstellar (2014)
(Heavy Spoiler Alert)
By Lance Zedric
Ever since the iconic Captain James T. Kirk uttered, “Space—the final frontier…to explore strange new worlds—to seek out new life and new civilizations—to boldly go where no man has gone before,” on the intro to the original Star Trek in 1966 (and reiterated by Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1989), I have been a space movie/space travel junkie. But on a deeper level, what did I and millions of others want and need from such fantasy? Was it to advance a nascent Don Quixote-esque explorer’s spirit? To satisfy an on-again, off-again attraction to beautiful, green, alien women—except Klingons (too needy)? To indulge in wondrous fascination through cheesy Hollywood special effects? Or did it inspire the restorative, romantic notion that sometime in the not-too-distant future, somewhere in the infinite expanse of space—that somehow, despite how badly we’ve screwed up our planet and ourselves, there is hope for a future? Eh, maybe. But getting the chance to slip the surly bonds of my basement to review Interstellar in an empty theater with my teenage daughter on a Saturday morning was itself an enchanting, celestial, win-win opportunity that could not be ignored. That, and it seemed like it would be a good movie. But little did I know, it would be so much more.
Like many space flicks, Interstellar (Paramount - 2014), directed by Christopher Nolan, had a simple premise—an impending apocalyptic Earth that, pardon the metaphor, is about to go to shit, and humans are standing downhill. In short, Earth is dying. Man is running out of food. Technology is diminished. The spirit of exploration and wonder has been overshadowed by the reality of hunger, dust storms, and immediate needs. At the center of the story is former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)—the only living man who has been into outer space. Like so many brilliant ex-astronauts turned corn farmer (uh huh), he is haunted by dreams of a crash that he does not remember nor understand. To add a little stardust to the mix, Cooper is also a widower raising two children with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow). The dutiful 15-year-old son, Tom (Timothee Chalamet), wants to be a farmer, while the brilliant and inquisitive 10-year-old daughter, Murph (remarkably portrayed by MacKenzie Foy), aspires to be a scientist in a society where few universities exist and farming is the top rung of the professional silo.
Early on, weird things begin happening; combines come in from the fields on their own, and in one of the film’s enjoyable scenes, Cooper and Murph spot a drone flying low and tear through a cornfield in their pickup truck in an “ear busting” chase. Cooper brings down the drone and deciphers coordinates to an abandoned NORAD facility, which he and Murph investigate and learn that NASA is secretly operating under the direction of creepy Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), who claims to have a formula for solving gravity, and his daughter, beautiful Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), who convince Cooper to return to space and to pilot the spaceship, Endurance, to explore a wormhole that might lead to the discovery of an inhabitable planet. Twelve similar missions had been launched, but no contact had been made with any of them. Even worse, Cooper would be gone for at least two years and would have to abandon the already mother-less Murph prompting a hotline call to the galactic DCFS and ensuring years of abandonment issues and misandry.
But Cooper is compelled to go, and along with the beautiful Dr. Brand, scientist Romilly, and TARS, the updated, edgier, smartass version of B-9 Robot in Lost in Space from the 1960’s, they eventually pass through the wormhole and land on a wet planet where each hour is 7 earth years. There, they lose a crewmember and expend 23 earth years trying to escape. Cooper realizes that his daughter is now in her 30s.
Back on Earth, Murph (now played by Jessica Chastain), has become a scientist and is the same age as her father. And she is highly pissed at him for abandoning her. She and her adult brother (played by weirdo Casey Affleck), continue to send taped messages in hopes that Cooper will receive them, but anger and despair grow.
Meanwhile, the crew finds another planet and discovers Dr. Mann (Matt Damon), Dr. Brand’s previous love interest who was presumed to be lost. In an odd twist, he tries to kill Cooper so he can steal his ship, but he dies while trying to dock with the mother ship. Cooper and Brand reconnect to the mother ship but are separated—Cooper sacrifices himself for Brand, but arrives in a 5th dimension and tries to contact his daughter in a classic and intricate time paradox where he warns her—all her life she believed she had a friendly ghost in her library because books were moved and anomalies appeared. The daughter realizes what is happening and lets NASA know.
Before dying, the old Dr. Brand reveals to his daughter that his formula was a farce. Cooper then wakes in a hospital. He is over 140 years old, but still appears young, and is on a ship headed for Cooper Station on Saturn—named in honor of his even older daughter (Ellen Burstyn). They enjoy a touching reunion as she dies. Cooper steals a craft back to the wormhole to find Dr. Brand, who is still young living having established a base on a planet with the DNA of hundreds of humans. Again, the human race is preserved.
McCanaughey’s performance was intense and relaxed. Emotional and logical. Serious and funny. And it was easy to see why he’s an Academy Award winning actor. Clearly, he had gained weight since Dallas Buyer’s Club, but a few more Moon Pies and Milky Ways wouldn’t hurt him a bit. Hathaway and Damon were solid, and Lithgow, Caine, and Burstyn well cast. But Foy and Chastain were superb as the child and adult Murph. Chastain brought the same on-screen angst as she did in Zero Dark Thirty, and seems to be a rising star.
Interstellar is a thinker’s movie and had more disconnected twists than a bag of cosmic pig tails. I had a nosebleed about a half dozen times trying to connect the confusing plot-dots, but the pace was like a Croatian polka player’s accordion; in and out, up and down, fast and slow, always moving. Intellectual and emotional intercourse without the sweat and heavy breathing—well, maybe a little, especially during scenes involving interdimensional galactic time travel. Occasional over simplistic dialogue was but one glaring flaw, but was understandable given that the typical audience (myself included) was probably a little light in intellectual ass to understand theoretical quantum physics while trying to digest 3000 calories of real popcorn. This reinforced the unrealized wish that I had paid more attention in science class and gave me a greater appreciation of the maxim that one "can’t have guns and butter!”
Eventually, my daughter and I splashed down from our 169-minute cinematic orbit thoroughly entertained, hopeful for the future, and smiling. The movie was worthwhile, but not equal to the billing and Hollywood hyperbole it received, mostly because its reach exceeded its grasp and the director tried to do too much. Interstellar will not be remembered neither as a blockbuster nor a bomb. It was simply another example of stuffing too many stars in one tiny sky obscuring the view.
As we left the theater, Cooper’s poignant truism, “We’re just memories for our kids,” crisscrossed my brain like the Enterprise at warp speed, and I had to wonder if that was the film’s central message or if was I reading too much into it. Almost on queue, my daughter grabbed my arm and walked with me to the car. Message received. Two to beam up.
Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey as Cooper
Mackenzie Foy as Murph (10yrs ) w/ McConaughey