Starring Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a NASA trained astronaut and engineer who lives in a near future world of poverty, food shortages, and urban deterioration. His daughter (Jennifer Chastain is her as an adult) has the makings of a top scientist. Cooper lives with his family and grandfather John Lithgow. Educational priorities are about survival so Cooper’s son is to be a farmer not an engineer. Cooper and his daughter come upon the NASA base where Cooper is asked to pioneer through a worm hole in Saturn’s orbit. He and his crew must reach habitable planets in other star systems with a view to their colonnnization. He travels in space with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) daughter of NASA scientist Michael Caine. They visit a planet where Matt Damon is marooned. Does Cooper get beyond the black hole back to Saturn’s orbit, what then?
One thinks of Kubrick’s 2001, the eco concerns of Silent Running, and Contact. The links with Contact are that McConaughey played the priest, not the astronaut, in that film by Carl Sagan who originated the fictional idea of travel by wormhole. The visionary optimism of 2001 is replaced here with a sombre desperation, space exploration is no longer about wisdom and knowledge but about survival. Indeed, on Earth the authorities do not even acknowledge the reality of the moon landings, preferring to dismiss them as Cold War fakes. NASA must act clandestinely. Interstellar has lost hope in humanity’s ability to save its ravaged planet, so running away seems the best option. Hi-tech interiors at NASA, and in space, are not gloomy but dirty and shabby. There is marvellous visual poetry in the scenes over Earth and around Saturn (in the book of 2001 the stargate is in one of Saturn’s moons, in the film it’s from Jupiter). Nolan here shows his fascination with the turning upside down of urbanscapes, in the space station the streets whirl in a vast merry-go-round like in Inception. From his Batman film Nolan has brought in Michael Caine, now a professor. Jessica Chastain as Cooper’s genius daughter does a lot of emotional gurning. She’s a bright scientist who leap frogs over blackboard theory with messianic intuitions. Running around in maize fields she must have felt she was stranded again in Terence Mallick’s Tree of Life. Whenever a film shows us a lot of maize fields we know this is an American dream land, here is the pioneering spirit, great truths revealed by Mum and Dad, the heart of American enterprise. Family crisis means scenes of universal significance.
The dialogue often tells us what the film should show. We get lots of junior school science with all the explanatory power of Superman comics when people tell each other things they must already know. They talk about extra dimensions like earnest and easily confused hippies. The robot is a dark glass box going for a walk. Its manner is agreeably witty (unlike the precious Hal of 2001 or the cute R2D2 of Star Wars). The scenes on the planets show a giant oceanic wave on one, and frozen clouds and mountains on another, complete with a pissed-off Matt Damon trying to get back to earth. The music is of a metronomically mesmeric kind we’ve come to expect of space dockings and so on. Always watchable but the script needed sharpening.