Interstellar Trades Honest Emotion for Special Effects

Fiona Deane-Grundman, Staff Writer

 Interstellar, an epic sci-fi adventure, directed and written by Christopher Nolan, whose previous work includes the hugely popular Batman trilogy and 2010’s nuanced Inception. is a whopping 165 minute run. The film poses many questions about physics, relativity, and the future of humanity, but the most prominent is how the efforts of such a talented director and cast could culminate in such a headache.

Unlike its space epic predecessors, Interstellar is a cinematic avalanche of far-reaching disconnected plot, sentimental cliche, incomprehensible pseudo-scientific babble, and pounding action. It’s redeemable points are all but buried in the wake.

This overambitious film follows a group of astronauts, lead by Matthew McConaughey, as they attempt to find a habitable interplanetary haven on which to escape ruined earth. While the tortuous story is nonlinear, it is altogether predictable as time and time again, McConaughey and friends face galactic disaster and take drastic measures to preempt the extinction of the human race and be reunited with their loved ones on earth.

The premise is typical enough. Inevitable demise threatens earth in the form of a massive Dust-bowl like phenomenon called “the blight.” McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed farmer under a stereotypically censoring government that has shut down NASA, his former employer, for reasons the filmmakers decline to explain. With his precocious daughter Murphy, he stumbles conveniently upon the (gasp!) NASA headquarters.

Oops.

Faster than you can say, “Wait, what happened to earth again?” Coop is hurtling towards outer space at the speed of light, much to the chagrin of Murphy, who doubts he will ever return. With a bland cast of astronauts, featuring a banal Anne Hathaway as Professor Brand, the journey begins.

For a fair 60 minutes the players discuss physics as if they were getting paid extra for every time they uttered the word “relativity” or “gravity.” This is evenly dispersed with snarky quips by Hathaway and mild humor by TARS, who despite his residence as a robot, is one of the most empathetic characters. Go figure. This is appropriate in a movie that articulates how selfish and disconnected human nature can be.

Hathaway is a triumphant voice in some parts, especially during a revelatory speech about love, but she is mostly predictable and there are too many shots of her monochromatically troubled face as the crew faces near-death again and again.

As Nolan finally exhausts his  stock of baffling scientific banter that no one without an advanced physics degree can come close to understanding, the action finally kicks in. It proves to be more systematic than TARS the robot. A magnificent shot of the whirling galaxy is shown for thirty seconds, which begins to get tedious after about 20, and then the crew faces a drastic crisis.

Nolan does not intend for the viewer to think about it’s logical fallacies, and the numbing action sequences almost forbid it.

The stakes are certainly high, because Cooper is required to navigate into a wormhole in which every hour he spends is 7 years back on earth. This means that when he escapes it, his beloved Murphy is a brilliant young scientist who equals him in age, played fiercely by the stunning Jessica Chastain. She is, to put it mildly, displeased that her father missed her entire childhood, her older brother’s marriage, and the birth of his grandchild.

Chastain is a magnetic actress and one of the film’s few true gems. Chastain redeems the film with her brusque but pure emotion. A major theme of the movie is the indomitable familial bond, and Chastain’s admirable work enunciates this.

Matt Damon makes a brief appearance as the hackneyed but necessary sadist. Portraying an astronaut who went almost 25 years without human contact, his presence is captivating and his violent encounter with Coop is far more interesting than yet another sequence of a hurtling space ship.

The resolution of the film verges on surreal. If the flashing lights and spinning rockets haven’t already made you sick, attempting to understand the ending will. The movie tries to reconcile nothingness with science. The former is a concept the human mind cannot grasp, and if the plot is unrealistic so far, it is now clear why the genre is called science-fiction. The hasty explanation of the extraterrestrial events is too convenient to be plausibly accepted.

Nolan’s film, despite its strengths, is generally overkill. I found Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Gravity, much more engaging. At one point, I sighed as McConaughey’s character mimicked George Clooney’s, sacrificing himself for the benefit of his female counterpart. Nolan should have borrowed emotional truth, not overused plot, from Cuaron.

Interstellar remarks on the importance of love, and yet the film trades honest emotion for trite sentiment. No amount of stunning galactic landscape can make up for this fundamental necessity. At the end of Interstellar I felt relief, and not because the future of humanity had been predictably saved.