Published Nov 05, 2014Upon its arrival in the winter of 1968, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey captivated moviegoers with its ingenuity and thematically rich imagery. Critics may have been divided when it came to evaluating the film on the first go, but time was certainly on its side; nearly half a century later, many films have tried to emulate its success and scope, but few have come close.
Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Interstellar may change that.
Set in a future presumably not much further away from our own time, the world's population has been decimated by an inhospitable landscape caused by our own self-destructive tendencies. The world's crops have been conquered by blight, the New York Yankees suck, dirt storms are a daily occurrence and the majority of the earth's people fall into predetermined roles as farmers, subsisting primarily on corn, and lots of it.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one such person. A former pilot for a now-defunct version of NASA, his life consists of taking care of his two children in an exaggerated version of the American dustbowl. But when he and his daughter recognize a weird gravitational pull in her bedroom charting out coordinates to a secret government organization, Cooper investigates and discovers that his long-lost employers have been working away in hiding, trying to find a way to jettison the earth's inhabitants to a more hospitable homeland. As one of the few experienced pilots and aeronautical engineers left in the world, Cooper is tasked with taking control of an intergalactic spaceship and a fleet of scientists hoping to investigate the outer reaches of the cosmos and find a new home.
Embarking on an exploration of an unknown galaxy, the crew discover a host of possible planets for colonization. The catch: a giant black hole is changing the gravitational pull on some of them, altering the perception of space and time for all those who visit the planets. If Cooper and his cohorts don't pull off their mission fast enough, civilization may cease to exist by the time (and if) they get back.
Modern-day moviegoers may find similarities between Interstellar's subject matter and that of Danny Boyle's underrated sci-fi masterpiece Sunshine, what with its crew seemingly sent on a suicide mission out into the depths of space, but its execution — all highly-detailed miniatures, cinematic experimentation and oversentimentality — is classic sci-fi. (Apparently Close Encounters of the Third Kind mastermind Steven Spielberg showed a brief interest in directing the picture, which will surprise no one watching this film.)
Nolan has always been concerned with creating a realistic experience (i.e. natural lighting obtained through shots near windows and normal light sources) even when his movies are at their most unrealistic (i.e. the Batman trilogy, introspective blockbuster Inception). Interstellar succeeds on both fronts, with scenes of astronauts witnessing the effects of wormholes firsthand feeling as realistic as if you were in their spacesuits right alongside them (one scene is clearly inspired by shots from Felix Baumgartner's recent space jump). That's the strength of Interstellar; while it may not feel as flashy as more experimental sci-fi films, it's still an enthralling experience made all the more special by its divine depictions of space travel and cerebral cinematic flourishes.
With space operas like Guardians of the Galaxy dominating the box office this year and Gravity the year before that, it may be hard to believe, but Interstellar is by far one of the most memorable, long-lasting and gratifying big-budget experiences found in theaters this new decade.