Typically, Christopher Nolan films are known for their twist endings and non-linear timelines. At first, Nolan’s new film Interstellar appears to be of the same ilk, but a second viewing reveals the true nature of this film. This is not another mind-bender from the director of Inception and Memento. Interstellar is an emotional story about mankind’s struggle for a greater existence.
Interstellar opens in a world where human existence has been reduced to a mere struggle to survive. Dust covers the ground, and high winds frequently cause dust storms. Food is hard to find. Corn is the last crop that is still viable. There are no animals, making the procurement of meat impossible.
The main character, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is a former-pilot and engineer who, like everyone else in the world, has become a farmer. Both he and his 10-year old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) have seemingly been born into the wrong era. The farming lifestyle is abhorrent to them.
A gravity-related anomaly leads them to discover the secret headquarters of NASA. Cooper is recognized as a pilot, and NASA’s lead scientist, Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine), talks him into piloting a mission to find a new home for mankind.
The essence of the story is the idea that mankind is not meant to merely survive. As he is explaining why he is leaving his family behind to go on a decades-long journey, Cooper tells his father-in-law (John Lithgow) that “[w]e used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” He describes the senseless state to which the world has succumbed. Like his daughter, he dreams not of farming, but of exploring and discovering new frontiers. Screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan highlight this theme by juxtaposing the space travel scenes with scenes depicting what life is like back on Earth. As time progresses slowly in space, time moves rapidly back on the astronauts’ home planet. The tension builds as they race to improve the lives of all those they left behind before it is too late.
Beyond a life of adventure, Interstellar depicts mankind’s need for love. As Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) states, “[l]ove is the one thing we can perceive that transcends time and space.” At the heart of the story is the bond between Cooper and Murph. Cooper’s goal throughout the film is to get back home to see as much of his daughter’s life as possible. The tension of the film is built upon this struggle. The younger Dr. Brand’s monologue on love poses a unique view of love, one that equalizes it to science.
In short, Interstellar is not a save-the-ecosystem movie. Nor is it a movie that attempts to fool you with a twist ending. It is, however, a film that depicts the beauty of life lived to the fullest. The beauty of humanity lies not in work or how the environment is treated. Humanity is beautiful when the mind and the heart are used in union to do great things.
This Christopher Nolan film is different from his previous films in that it is not a story-driven movie. Instead, the focus is on ideas and a presentation of authentic beauty.