“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,”—opening lines of The Odyssey.
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”
Christopher Nolan has done it again! Once again he has provided us with a movie that was both thrilling, engaging and thought provoking in a way we were afraid Hollywood had forgotten how to be. Interstellar is an A+ film that at its core is about human nature at its highest and lowest points (although I fear with all the discussion of relativistic time dilation, event horizons, and tesseracts it might go above the heads of a lot of people).
As with all Nolan films, Interstellar may exist in a world of its own, but it is thematically tied to a classic work of literature*. In this case Interstellar is The Odyssey (with a few traces of Heart of Darkness). As with The Odyssey there are two main themes running through the work. The first is the struggle of a man on a journey to find his way home; the second is the powerful relationship between parent and child. But both are tied to Nolan’s deeper theme about the nature of humanity.
The story starts out sometime in the future (an elderly John Lithgow seems to remember the present as his childhood, so this puts it somewhere in the latter portion of the 21st century). The world has been overcome with “blight” a disease that has ravished wheat and other mainstays of food production leaving only corn alive–for now (a lesser director would have used global warming as a reason the Earth was dying, but Christopher Nolan is not a liberal hack). Humanity and innovation have come to a complete standstill and as farm land goes barren it leaves only dust storms to ravish the land. The parallels to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression are unmistakable. And just as in the previous depression we see the progressive mentality to rewrite history to convince people that their lives are only there to serve the greater good (the invention of the 4 freedom in the Great Depression, the malaise speech telling us that collectivism is the only way to survive, the attitude of “you didn’t build that’…all lies designed to make people give up on the nobility of the human individual and their soul)…in Interstellar it is:
“And if we don’t want to repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this Planet, not tales of leaving it.”
But, as with all previous times you have characters, who, even in the depths of the world being in the despair have shorn the fragments of the greatness of human history against the ruins of the world around them. In this case it’s Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper:
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
Cooper and his daughter Murphy (Murph) seem to be the only people who still have hope left that the future will be better than the present.
Of course as they soon discover through some fortuitous moments that the world is doomed. There will be no cure for blight and that all food supplies will run out. What follows are two diverging stories. The first is Cooper’s journey to find a new world for humanity to live on. Like Odysseus it is filled with giant storms, tidal waves and all, betrayal by his crew, and even a journey to the underworld. The second story is of Murph, who like Odysseus’ son Telemachus, is out to find the truth of where her father is and if he can ever make it home. And beyond the fact that this is one of the most scientifically accurate movies I have ever seen, it is the theme of love and its power that pulls these two stories back together. Honestly I would love to go into more detail, but that would require just an enourmous amount of spoliers so I won’t get too into depth on this.
“Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.”
And in amongst all of this is the repeated theme that humanity is a force that cannot be stopped. That all the lies, all the excuses, all the depression and giving up out there…humanity will always be the ones whose goal it is to “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” We see it repeated as Murph looks for an answer to save the planet back on Earth, and as Cooper goes from one planet to the next looking for a new home for humanity.
Acting, writing, visuals are all top notch. There is nothing wrong with this film…although you’re probably want to see it several times to make sure you catch everything.
This is a great movie. One worth seeing more than once. Six out of five.
“We’ll find a way. We always have.”
*Batman Begins is The Aeneid, The Prestige is Faust, The Dark Knight is Othello, Inception is the story of Theseus and Ariadne in the Labyrinth, The Dark Knight Rises is A Tale of Two Cities. Even Man of Steel which was written and produced by Nolan is at its core an attack on Plato’s Republic.