Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan is a huge ambitious blockbuster full of ideas about climate change, the spirit of discovery, the relativity of time and the power of dimensions. The problem that undercuts the ambition is the silly dialogue, and the constant exposition of what is happening on screen. Largely delivered by Michael ‘Mr Exposition’ Caine.
We are informed that in this near future world, the wheat has died, corn is still grown, “but mostly we had dust, a steady flow of dirt, you never expected this dirt that was giving you this food to turn on you and destroy you.” One of the elderly interviewees details in a salute to Reds, Warren Beatty 1981 film. The world to put it simply has run out of food, and corn is the only crop that has shown signs of growth, however soon their will be nothing left. This could be thirties America however the presence of computers amidst the plates speaks to a more recent time.
Coop played by McConaughey on a career resurgence like no other, has a son Tom who will make an excellent farmer, and a daughter, Murph (MacKenzie Foy terrific) who shares her father’s intellect and curiosity. Murphy’s school teacher informs Coop the ex pilot, the Apollo missions were faked to bankrupt the soviet union and the 20th century was full of waste and useless expenditure. He does not take this perspective well. Later reflecting on the porch, sharing a beer amidst the dirt wind with his no nonsense father in law (John Lithgow), Coop prothesis's “We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” This is arguably the best line of dialogue in the film.
Shortly thereafter the dirt communicates to Coop and Murph, not by morse code it is a binary communication, leading them to the discovery of the best kept secret in the world, NASA working covertly in an underground facility. Headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), his daughter Anne Hathaway, and William Devane in a one line role. NASA is leaAnding the charge to find new worlds to live on before our species becomes extinct. There is a plan A and Plan B. Brand sells the mission to Coop, “You are the best pilot we ever had, find us a new home and by the time you return I will have solved the problem of gravity.” An equation written in chalk on the blackboard in the Professors office points to the solution to gravity, the blackboard motif is continued when Murph grows up to be Jessica Chastain. Clearly a technology that can transport a space crew to orbit Saturn, can replace blackboards with something less cliched and prosaic as a blackboard.
Dylan Thomas poem is quoted regularly, “Do not go gentle into that good night old age should rage against the dying of the light,” is repeated in regular intervals throughout the film, primarily by the Professor who is closer to death that most of the other characters. The ‘raging’ is in limited supply in the films first hour, Nolan employs his expansive energies focusing on exposition and the characterisation of Cooper who is a cross between Chuck Yeager and John Glenn from Phillip Kaufman’s masterful adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.
At the half way mark the action picks up pace with a brilliantly staged set-piece. Time is relative is executed to devastating effect. A simple plot devise superbly creates tension, recalling the sheer exhilaration of the Batman trilogy at their best. The editing and music ramped up to eleven aspire to generate excitement and thrills, however amidst the spectacle the film regularly slips into silliness, and lumbers when it should be soaring. A guest cameo plot line resorts to explanation by the protagonist for what is playing out in the scene. Why? Interstellar explains everything through words and has a Hans Zimmer score that never lets up. The production elements are superb and the visual effects on display will be rewarded come award season. Newcomer MacKenzie Foy delivers the best performance in the film in my opinion, it is raw and natural.