This article was written for the November 21, 2014, issue of the Pioneer Log. It was originally published online here.
There are very few austere science fiction and space travel films made in the last 20 years that “Interstellar” doesn’t evoke. A man drives a truck through a cornfield in some unidentified part of the midwestern United States; he is asked to risk his life on a mission he may never return from, and his daughter tearfully begs him not to go. Even after Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), our fearless hero, is launched into space, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the film is just one long exercise in evoking déjà vu. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the screenplay, don’t give the audience much to distract them from that feeling.
The United States turns into a wasteland reminiscent of the Dust Bowl, in a world where no crops survive and small communities become isolated. This has some intriguing implications, but the Nolans barely touch on them. A solar-powered drone appears with no explanation; hints at the state of government serve only to explain why Cooper has to save the world in secret. Earth is merely a desolate backdrop, making it easy for Cooper to leave.
“Interstellar” relies heavily on exposition, which is frustrating in a visually stimulating film. Despite Theoretical Physicist Kip Thorne acting as consultant, many of the characters use jargon that leaves important plot points opaque. “The equation,” which supposedly plays a vital role in the fate of humanity, does not have any clear purpose and is described mainly with the words “gravity” and “unsolvable.” The characters stumble when they try to explain the concept of relativity to each other. While I can’t speak for the film’s scientific accuracy, I’m not convinced any of the characters or actors could, either.
The characters are hard to like and harder to care about. Cooper is sympathetic, but he doesn’t deviate much from the mold of the emotionally-torn hero. The Nolans do an excellent job of alienating the only female astronaut, Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), from the other characters and the audience by discrediting a major decision she makes by basing it on romantic interest, and then giving her the cheesiest line in the film. Murph (Machenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain), Cooper’s daughter, is written more thoughtfully, but her fragmented storyline makes it hard to gain more than a superficial insight into her motivations.
The heart of “Interstellar,” and where much of its newness lies, is the black hole the plot revolves around. Even then, there isn’t much to hold onto; the black hole, as beautiful as it is, is only on the screen for a few minutes. In a film that is filled with so much empty space, it would have been nice for the few unique pieces of it to be treated like more than gimmicks.
If you don’t mind spending three hours watching scenery, “Interstellar” is worth seeing. If you’re just curious about how McConaughey handles the science fiction genre, you’re better off watching “Contact” (1997). At least in that film, the twist is worth it.