In Christopher Nolan’s ambitious, eagerly awaited, and extremely flawed sci-fi epic Interstellar, Earth is on borrowed time and it’s Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway to the rescue. If that isn’t enough to send your hopes hurtling through the cosmos, let me whet your appetite a little more.
In the not-so-specified near-future, natural resources are running low and every once in a while, massive dust storms kick up to damage whatever little where was left to produce. In the midst of this relatively benign dystopian vision of the future (heck, at least we’re not hunting and killing each other as in The Hunger Games–this time nature itself is turning against us), our intrepid hero Cooper (McConaughey) a former NASA (now thought to be defunct) test pilot turned farmer is raising his son Tom and daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), aided by his wise old father-in-law (John Lithgow). Father and daughter discover that NASA is indeed still up and running, albeit secretly; more than that, some scientists have been previously sent into space on the “Lazarus Mission” to discover some possible new inhabitable planets for the rest of mankind. Furthermore, Cooper’s mentor Brand (Michael Caine, a fixture in Nolan’s movies) is planning to send up a spacecraft to locate the astronauts and/or their data, thus providing mankind with a fighting chance by enabling them to move to these planets via space stations.
Nolan makes a game attempt to meld the convoluted science of the story with the human element at the core. In order to save humanity, Cooper (as well as his space mates) must sacrifice himself with regard to being with his own family: in the movie’s scientifically inspired vision, an hour spent on a planet near that wormhole Gargantua is equivalent to seven years’ earth time. As Cooper’s kids are young, they find it difficult to accept that dad might not return…or that his probable sacrifice is for the greater good. These early scenes, especially with Foy excelling as the intelligent, inquisitive, passionate Murph, are among the more effective sections in the film. Once Nolan takes Cooper and company into space, the effects are indeed impressive, as the astronauts (Cooper, Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, and two others who have something resembling death written all over their faces) have to contend with dangers both space-made, as well as man-made—while on earth the grown Murphy’s (Jessica Chastain—trying to find the right note) struggle to make sense of her father’s departure gives way to her desire to help save mankind. However, as much as the movie is trying to make a profound statement about time and space, mankind and the importance of family, this viewer remained unmoved. Perhaps it was the dispiriting sight of McConaughey returning to the McConaughey of old: sincere, virtuous, and virtually one-dimensional; maybe it was a certain unnamed star materializing in a barely credible role; perhaps the elements didn’t coalesce as well as intended—but even they did, all of it would have been drowned out by an irritatingly incessant Hans Zimmer score that overwhelms humans, time, and space in all its dimensions.