Interstellar’s bleak future imagines a world much like the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties that forced middle Americans off their land in search of better lives.
An unstoppable blight has begun to consume Earth’s vegetation and crops, forcing much of the planet’s population into farming corn while only the highest achievers are chosen for college. Dust covers everything, especially in the aftermath of immense storms shaving their way in and around homes.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former pilot, makes a living growing corn with his two children and his deceased wife’s father Donald (John Lithgow). While his oldest, Tom (Timothée Chalamet), follows in his footsteps to become a farmer, it’s his precocious and brash daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) who follows his heart.
When Murph’s supposed ghost lays binary code on her floor after a particularly harsh dust storm, Cooper deciphers the coordinates to a top secret base where his former professor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), has been working on solutions to save the world.
With humanity on the brink, two options are left for us as a species — finding a home and getting people off-planet or starting a new civilization with frozen embryos. Cooper, believing he was chosen — by a being supernatural, alien, or divine — takes on a last-ditch effort that will make him part of a crew responsible for the fate of humankind.
The journey won’t be made without sacrifices, and they’ll be measured in time and space as Cooper leaves behind his family.
It will take two years to travel to the wormhole located near Saturn that will transport them to another galaxy with three possible planets suitable for habitat. Two of the planets are located near a singularity — Gargantua — a black hole with gravity so strong, it forms massive waves on the first planet they land on.
Gargantua’s gravity also has other effects — a working knowledge of the theory of relativity and gravitational time dilation helps — and when things go wrong, the consequences are felt with the loss of the one resource humans can’t ever find enough of: time.
When the crew loses an hour after Brand (Anne Hathaway) risks the landing crew’s safety, they return to base where 23 years have gone by. Their mission closer to failing, and their loved ones at home moving on because of the decades of radio silence, the crew scrambles to save what fuel they have left to finish their mission as quickly as possible.
Interstellar is this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with a more human slant that channels a torrential storm of emotions — something Nolan’s other movies have been criticized for lacking.
It still includes Nolan’s trademark reasoning and logic — as cold as space and just as expansive in its desire to question and understand — with plenty of science to throw over our heads. The film’s conflict puts these two sides — could it be Nolan’s own unstoppable force of his heart meeting the immovable object of his mind — into a collision course.
It’s plain and simple to see that for all we know, theorize, and postulate, when it comes to the universe, we really don’t know what we don’t really know. There are plenty of things we can’t explain with words, formulas, or certain predictability.
In that way, Interstellar doesn’t try to explain in solid terms something as innate, abstract, and unlimited as love because it knows it cannot. Rather, it rends us through one heartbreaking scene after another as Cooper, played so perfectly by McConaughey, travels a tortured spectrum of loss that physically keeps him from family but not so far he can’t watch their lives — and the growing influence that his absence has on them — flash in front of his eyes.
In a way, it’s Nolan’s version of hell for Cooper — a state of separation from the ones he loves — and something anyone who’s missed home can relate to.
Interstellar is unapologetic and stubborn in its pacing and storytelling, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s honest and, more importantly, sincere in its affectations that come naturally, whether it’s watching Cooper trying to hold it together as he’s told he’s a grandfather or the incredible loss felt in the core when he expresses his regret.
“Tell me to stay!” he cries, and we weep with him.
Interstellar, like sci-fi stories in the classic sense, is a story examining humanity through the lens of technology and science, and like the giant black hole in the middle of the room, it cannot escape the basic elements we exhibit in humans that we still cannot define or explain away — faith, hope, and the greatest of all, love.