Interstellar

Science Fiction is hit or miss for me. I enjoy the imagery and special effects associated with the genre, but if the plot is mired in the technicalities or minutiae of science, it tends to go over my head. When it came to Interstellar, it was director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) that got my attention. I’m a big fan of his work, so the mere attachment of his name to a project is enough for me to consider checking it out. Moreover, star Matthew McCounaghey (Dallas Buyers Club) made quite the case for the film while making the rounds on its press junket.

The film opens in an unspecified future time, when the world has been ravaged by famine. The entire globe is struggling for resources, and in America corn is the only remaining crop after what appears to be a devastating drought. McCounaghey stars as Cooper, a former pilot and father to a teenaged boy and adolescent daughter. They live in America’s heartland, where an omnipresent layer of thick dust serves as a reminder of lost vegetation. Cooper is a loving, doting father and he staunchly defends his children, particularly his daughter Murphy. “Murph,” as she is affectionately known, has a fiercely independent spirit and idolizes her father. She is curious, and believes their home is being visited by a supernatural force with which she communicates via Morse code. Their future is uncertain, but Cooper has carved out a life for his family, including his late wife’s father Donald (John Lithgow, This Is 40).

One day after communicating with the apparition, Murphy reveals a “message” from the otherworldly visitor. The message leads them to a hidden NASA location, where they are made privy to a master plan for the population’s survival. A scientist named Brand (Michael Caine, Now You See Me) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables) explain the options to Cooper, whose expertise as a former pilot proves valuable to the scientists and astronauts. Cooper determines that he will execute their mission, traveling to the outer reaches of space in hopes of finding a planet that can sustain human life after Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Well folks, we’ve just about reached the limits of my comprehension, because I couldn’t recount the finer points of the plot if you paid me. I had a very basic understanding, but for me the film’s strength lay in its emotional portrayal of a father who is faced with an unbelievable moral dilemma. Cooper’s decision to travel in space has mammoth repercussions, not the least of which is the temporary abandonment of his family for the greater good of humanity. He has every intention of returning, but the mission is risky and time elapses quite differently in space than it does on Earth.

McCounaghey proves once again that he has the emotional depth to convey the most vulnerable aspects of the human condition. Cooper was courageous, yet frightened, self-interested, but capable of immense sacrifice. My only negative observation of his body of work is that he has yet to ditch his omnipresent Southern twang, though it was not out of place here. He has turned his career around, and there are no discernible signs of regression. Although this was ostensibly a big budget movie, he still chose a vehicle that allowed him to sink his teeth into the emotional elements of his character. Hathaway was also effective, and she too was successful at evoking empathy in the viewer. Finally, Jessica Chastain’s (Mama) performance was worth mentioning. She portrayed Murphy as an adult, and the casting was superb. Although it wavered momentarily, the bond that she shared with her father held the film together, especially when I felt bogged down by the science.

This is another movie that may not be for everyone. The film’s first act focuses on Cooper’s family, and the middle act markedly shifts to another realm. At just under three hours, I had to make an effort to focus on what was happening, particularly when the more nebulous aspects of the storyline emerged. Fortunately, the movie’s emotionality and the talented cast kept me invested. Grade: B+

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