Near the end of the first act of the film, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) sits down on the deck of his house with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) and the two discuss Coop’s career and the trajectory it took. Donald reminds Coop of the stability he has back home with his farm and the fact that he is now here to be there for his two children while the great beyond and idea of exploration still sits on the tip of Coop’s tongue as he speaks of what could’ve been.
This battle between those who feel like finding your place and living life is the key to humanity and those who want to go out and explore is the essential struggle in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and this idea of humans striving to go father and deeper into the beyond is what pushes the boundaries of this film from good to great.
Interstellar follows Coop, a farmer who was once a pilot and engineer, who is living in what seems to be a futuristic dust bowl with Donald and his two kids, Murph and Tom. But a chance encounter, due to some anomalies in Murph’s room, put Coop in contact again with NASA and Professor Brand (Michael Caine) who has an idea to save the planet but needs a pilot.
Coop agrees to pilot the expedition that includes Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and the robot TARS (Bill Irwin). Their plan is to go through a wormhole that has opened in our galaxy and travel to three distant planets that previous scientists have visited and found to be possible places for the human race to move to. They hope to be able to bring their families there, but also have specimens of humanity that will allow them to repopulate without people actually coming.
After establishing the relationship between Coop and Murph at home, which leaves on bad terms, the film moves into the gorgeous second half that puts truth to Nolan’s claims that the film is akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The shots, coupled with one of Hans Zimmer’s most spirited scores in a long time, create an epic environment that engulfs the audience in the definition of the “cinematic experience.”
The scenes that take place as the crew soars through the universe are an almost religious experience as space flies by the windows as the crew looks out into this great beyond that they have journeyed to. As they reach closer to the wormhole that will take them on the real journey and enter its galaxy, the music continues to ascend with the ship as if helping to guide us into the world with the crew.
Overall this experience is what makes the film. Yes, there are plot holes. Yes, there is a 20 minute portion of the third act that drags and doesn’t make much sense. Yes, Nolan takes a lot of liberties with the science. But in the end, the truly beautiful thing that comes from the film is the ideas that it enacts within the audience and the aspiration to do something bigger in this world.
Much like the conversation between Donald and Coop, I can see this distinction between staying put and living life and finding an adventure to follow. In that sense, this film worked to grab this idea and thrust it into the cosmos and while my situation isn’t the same as Coop’s, I related to the yearning for more and the fact that once he obtained this adventure he was able to relax and find some inner piece within the vast glow of this nothingness that surrounded him.
And as the film dove deeper and deeper into the darkness and the ideas began to strain reality even more, I was forgiving because of how far Nolan was willing to take this film, a $165 million budget blockbuster, with both the visuals and ideas that were presented. Yes, the ending began to feel like 2001, but how insane is it that a blockbuster film in 2014 was able to do that? Between the rush of sequels, comic books movies, and young adult adaptations there is something inspiring just about that.
Interstellar is a film about ideas and those who want to take those ideas farther than others and doesn’t that seem to be the focus of Nolan, who amidst this collection of re-done plots and regurgitated franchises, is able to capture the spirit of intuitiveness and ask the questions that most big budget filmmaker is afraid to ask. Yes, it wasn’t perfect, but nothing really is. In this regard, I have to agree with Donald and be happy with what we have.