Interstellar

November 22, 2014
Matthew McConaughey in 'Interstella' (2014)
Matthew McConaughey in 'Interstella' (2014)

After the intense, inward-looking focus of a film such as Winter Sleep, it’s almost disconcerting to turn to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, a genre-scrambling science fiction blockbuster that poses the usual big questions about the future of our planet and the species.

It is also an old-fashioned Hollywood drama about a hero torn between the love of his family and his responsibility to mankind; and an eco-catastrophe movie that posits an exhausted, blighted world no longer able to feed its inhabitants.

The last aspect need not concern us too much as Tony Abbott has established that Australia is the only country in the world immune from the effects of climate change. But on Nolan’s fictional earth the crops are failing, one after another, leaving farmers to endure massive dust storms that make America’s ‘dust bowl’ tempests of the 1930s seem benign.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA pilot who has become a farmer. Cooper is a widower who is bringing up a son and daughter, with the help of his father-in-law. As if the dust storms weren’t enough, Cooper’s 10 year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) believes she has a poltergeist in her room that keeps throwing books from shelves. In investigating this phenomenon Cooper discovers unusual patterns in the dust on the floor that point to a remote location.

When Cooper drives to this spot to investigate, accompanied by Murphy, who has hidden herself in his car, he discovers a fully-fledged NASA base. It is top secret because space travel has been discredited with a public who demand that all funds should be directed to the production of food. The base is run by his old mentor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who explains that the world is doomed, with the only hope being to find a new planet that can sustain human life.

It won’t be found in our solar system, but fortuitously a ‘worm hole’ has opened up alongside Saturn that allows access to another galaxy where preliminary intelligence suggests there are inhabitable planets. Cooper is soon signed up to pilot a space craft with three other astronauts, including the professor’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). That’s enough to get us into outer space, I’ll say no more about the plot which like so many science fiction films requires a good deal of figuring-out as it gets progressively more complicated.

Interstellar tries harder than most sci-fi flicks to explain the science behind the the story and to make it seem vaguely credible. Nolan used theoretical physicist Kip Thorne as advisor and executive producer, but all the speculations about ‘worm holes’ and black holes still seem utterly fantastic.

The movie defers to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the cosmic overtones of the ending and perhaps in Hans Zimmer’s noisy, organ-heavy score that pays a lumpen homage to the music of György Ligeti. It might have been better to forgo the quotations from Dylan Thomas, which related to the poet’s dying father not the conquest of the universe.

The astronauts may escape gravity but they can’t transcend Hollywood sentimentality, which sees little Murph grow up into big Murph (Jessica Chastain), a physicist who searches for the equation that will save homo sapiens from slow starvation on a dead planet. While she’s doing this, Dad is going where no man has gone before, having a hair-raising time beneath his space helmet. Interstellar is an amazing spectacle, and packed with big ideas, but I couldn’t help feeling that the drama was more intense this week at the Hotel Othello in old Anatolia.

Interstellar
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan & Christopher Nolan
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Wes Bentley, Matt Damon, David Gyasi, Ellen Burstyn
USA/UK, rated M, 169 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 22nd November, 2014.

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