The McConaissance reaches into deep space

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, an astronaut who commands a space exploration to ensure humanity’s future survival, despite the fear that he will never see his children again. (credit: Courtesy of deepskyobject via Flickr) Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, an astronaut who commands a space exploration to ensure humanity’s future survival, despite the fear that he will never see his children again. (credit: Courtesy of deepskyobject via Flickr)

Whenever we sit in a movie theater, whether we are eagerly waiting to watch the new superhero movie or the highly anticipated foreign arthouse flick, there are only a select few whose names, when floating in the trailers section on the big screen, immediately grasp the attention of a diverse array of audiences. Christopher Nolan happens to be one of the figureheads of filmmakers whose style and ideas are so compelling that his name simultaneously attracts both critical and mass audiences. With powerhouse films like the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception under his belt, Nolan again pushed film further along the edge with his space-age sci-fi epic Interstellar. The film is his largest in terms of scope and ambition, with a cast comprised of Oscar nominated-winning heavyweights. Matthew McConaughey, currently in the gilded age of his career aptly named the McConaissance, stars as the film’s reluctant hero (why all heroes in film nowadays have to be “reluctant” heroes is beyond perplexing. but moving on).

The film opens with outside commentary of elderly people reminiscing about their youth, which takes place in our own future. During their time, the world is dying. Civilization has regressed into a heavily agrarian society, with crops going extinct every year and further threatening the state of mankind. The elderly men and women talk about the storms of dust that smother their way of living.

Farmers are desperately trying to sustain crops, but to no avail. The final year of growing okra is soon followed by a sudden dependence on growing corn, which too is about to die out. In the midst of this rural crisis is the widowed Cooper (McConaughy), a former NASA pilot turned farmer struggling to raise crops, along with his two young children. While the cause of this environmental apocalypse is unknown, the situation soon becomes clear as Cooper coincidentally stumbles upon the NASA headquarters: Save the world by abandoning Earth and finding a new planet.

This is where the story takes its expected Nolan twist and gets tricky. After Cooper magically finds NASA and his former mentor Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), Cooper makes the terrifying journey with fellow astronauts by venturing through a wormhole orbiting the planet Saturn, thus giving entryway to a whole galaxy of potential worlds for the humans to inhabit. What ensues is a perplexing exploration of time relativity in space and the attempt to portray universes in multiple dimensions. It’s mind-bending, yes. But Nolan takes storytelling literally out of the stratosphere with his ability to compel the audience into immersing themselves into the journey. The adventure through the solar system is nothing short of breathtaking with resplendent shots of planets overlaid by sounds of rainstorms, heightening the idea of being displaced from our physical Earth and really experiencing what could possibly be beyond it.

Many critics will inevitably call Interstellar the Millennials’ 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it would be unfair and reductive to slap that label on the film. 2001 is the ultimate sci-fi epic with an influence so powerful that it will impact any future film made within the same genre, consciously or not. Nolan, however, is careful to steer away from such comparisons by heavily imbuing the narrative with emotion and empathy. While the film provides framework built upon complex and confounding ideas, the narrative is driven by themes of connection between love and survival, or at least tries very hard to do so. Is love a construct that’s built through years of evolution, and is it necessarily efficient? Familial love incentivizes people to protect their children and, by extension, their children’s generation.

Cooper’s one and only motivation to even commandeer a space exploration is to ensure survival for his children’s generation. It’s a utilitarian concept, so can it be quantified? The film makes a halfhearted attempt to question the validity of romantic love. Films usually like to use children as vehicles for planting unearned sentimentality, but tend to fall short by a lack of development in the characters. The films’ relationships with children end up as contrived copouts that add unnecessary melodrama. But the characters in
Interstellar are so humanly flawed that the desire to abandon the Earth, and everything humans know, is a terrifying one.

Throughout the journey, there is still that gut-wrenching hope that Cooper gets to see his children again one last time. The idea of love in this film is solidified and thoroughly visceral enough to make the motivations of Cooper’s journey all the more powerful. Love provides intuition that traverses time and space, and the possibility that love and empathy are forces powerful enough to drive the narrative is what makes the film so fascinating. It is nearly a metaphorical exploration of existential themes of life and death, loving and letting go.

Interstellar is complex and not meant to provide answers, but rather pose very big questions. Science is what advances the human race, but how much good will it do without an endless capacity for love and empathy? Nolan’s film is an exquisite odyssey that creates appreciation for the beauty in our world and what’s beyond it.