Interstellar is a science fiction thriller–now a classic–incorporating real science in the quest for new worlds and the fate of humanity.
One does not necessarily need to understand the science behind the film to find it entertaining. Having an understanding would probably help. In any event, it is very much a Christopher Nolan thriller. His films have a way of getting bigger in terms of scale through the years. Dunkirk brought things back down to Earth just a bit but Interstellar is epic in terms of what it achieves. It’s one thing to make a sci-fi thriller but another to actually find ways to incorporate real science into the film. Back in 2019, we saw images of a black hole in real life and it looked just like what we saw in the film. The film holds up in many ways although one can’t help but joke about Matt Damon being left behind after 2015’s The Martian.
The film’s initial setting is a throwback to the 1930s: The Dust Bowl. A new Dust Bowl forms the basis for the dystopian future on Earth at the beginning of the film. This is why there is a need to find a new planet to replace Earth in the film. With the planet running out of resources, humankind must find somewhere else to live. Watch The End Is Nye if you need to learn more but there is no shortage of extinction-level events that could happen. Otherwise, the film is dealing with the possibilities of the spacetime continuum.
While part of the setting is on Earth, the film follows astronauts as they go through a wormhole to find a new planet in 2067. Time works differently for them as they don’t age much if at all. Meanwhile, their families continue getting older with ex-NASA pilot Joseph Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) children becoming adults. Cooper had resorted to farming after NASA shuttered. His son, Tom (Casey Affleck), takes over. Cooper’s daughter, Murph (Jessica Chastain), follows in his footsteps by working for NASA. An anomaly in Murph’s bedroom as a child is what sets Cooper in motion to visit his mentor, Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine), and join Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), on the Endurance. It’s humanity’s last chance to find a new home and cannot fail under any circumstance.
The first planet they travel to one of three planets orbiting a supermassive black hole, Gargantua. Unfortunately, its time dilation means that some 23 years will pass on Earth while they’re venturing onto the ocean planet for a single hour. The second planet is where they find Mann (Matt Damon) and wake him up from cryogenic sleep. Mann has his own agenda, which dooms everyone else. He ends up losing his life after not safely docking the Ranger with the Endurance. This forces Cooper and Amelia to somehow dock the Lander with a now damaged Endurance. During the process, the two get separated and Cooper finds himself trapped in a five-dimensional tesseract and being able to communicate with Murph (Mackenzie Foy) during her childhood.
Originally based on a premise formed by producer Lynda Obst and physicist Kip Thorne, there is also a universe where Steven Spielberg directs the film. But after Spielberg took DreamWorks elsewhere, it meant bringing someone else on board. The natural choice was none other than Christopher Nolan especially since his brother, Jonathan, was already working on the screenplay. Christopher Nolan had his own ideas for the script, which he combined with his brother’s script. Interstellar is the end result of the best ideas in both scripts along with some of Thorne’s ideas. As such, the film gives the filmmaker a big playground in terms of science: wormholes, black holes, gravity, etc.
We think of wormholes as being a concept in sci-fi movies. However, the concept is a real idea in science. How big they are in reality is a different story. The film asks the audience to buy into these theoretical questions. Can one really be large enough to hold a spaceship? Only with the right amount of negative energy. This is one of those films where it’s worth having on physical media because the bonus features expand on the questions that the film is asking. Space exploration is no different than any other exploration on the planet except it’s vast and infinite.
I certainly should not be surprised at this point about Nolan opting for practicality over CGI. That’s not to say that there isn’t CGI here because it’s practically impossible to make any kind of a sci-fi film without CGI. He is an old school filmmaker and it also shows in his choices. Most filmmakers would probably opt for making a sci-fi thriller by utilizing digital filmmaking. Not Nolan! The filmmaker, working with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, goes with 35mm (Panavision anamorphic format) and IMAX 70mm. Interstellar‘s production design work is phenomenal–there were miniatures for the ships on top of a life-size Ranger. Anyway, the film’s visual effects would win an Oscar and rightfully so. The thriller also received nominations for Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.
One quick note about the sound mixing: this was my first rewatch since 2014 and it’s not fun having to keep turning the volume up and down because the sound effects and score make it harder to hear the dialogue. The volume issues are frustrating for a number of Nolan movies at home. I don’t know if it’s the 4K UHD Blu-ray player, the TV, or the sound mix on the disc itself as supervised by Nolan. When you have to keep turning the audio up and down, it makes for rather frustrated viewing. How the film plays in an IMAX theater is not how it’s going to play on home video and this was a 4K UHD disc! The film’s emotions would be conveyed better if I could actually hear what the actors are saying over the score and sound effects.
Hans Zimmer’s work is very different from his previous work with the filmmaker. Nolan didn’t give him much to work with so all the composer had was just a small amount of dialogue. As a result, Zimmer’s work utilizes an organ while focusing in on the relationship between Cooper and Murph.
Interstellar utilizes science in a way that strives for authenticity in a science-fiction thriller and it’s why we’re still discussing the Christopher Nolan film today.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
SCREENWRITERS: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Matt Damon, and Michael Caine
Paramount and Warner Bros. released Interstellar in theaters on November 5, 2014. Grade: 4.5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.