Interstellar is a time-bending, brain-scrambling, eye-boggling, ribcage-rattling treat. Director/writer Christopher Nolan’s science fiction rollercoaster takes us down a black hole and back on a thrilling cinematic ride. Things get a bit shaky towards the end, but Nolan and his actors make us care about the human story as well the cosmic ideas and special effects.
In the near future mankind is facing a crisis: the Earth is running out of food and prone to violent dust storms. Mid-West farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) used to be a NASA pilot and is out of step with the ‘caretaker’ times, yearning instead for the old pioneering days, when ‘we used to look up in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars.’
Feisty daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is a chip off the old block. She has recently been visited by a ‘ghost’ that knocks over books and leaves a curious sand pattern on her bedroom floor. A budding scientist, Murph decides this ghost is really gravity – a message she and her dad decipher as binary map co-ordinates, which lead them to a secret NASA site. Here, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are planning to save the human race by colonising space.
NASA have discovered a new wormhole outside Saturn, which has resulted in gravitational anomalies and disturbances in space and time. Professor Brand explains that an unknown ‘they’ have placed it there for mankind to use, putting a new solar system with three possible worlds within their reach.
Cooper is asked to be part of a mankind-saving mission, an offer he can’t refuse, despite Murph’s anguish. ‘By the time I get back,’ he tells her, ‘we might be the same age’. The affecting scenes between father and daughter are the film’s touchstone. McConaughey has something of Paul Newman’s rugged coolness and integrity and he does a fine job as an Everyman spaceman; he is the calm centre of Interstellar’s storm.
Once the crew are in space, there are echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gravity in the beauty of the photography and total soundtrack silence. The monolith shapes of their two robots, CASE and TARS are also a nod to Kubrick’s 1968 classic, though unlike HAL, these possess warm human voices, and change shape when necessary, like Rubik Cube transformers.
Interstellar was co-written by Nolan with his younger brother Jonathan and inspired by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who also acted as scientific consultant. For all its quantum physics and ‘hard’ science fiction content, however, there is a point at which the film’s rollercoaster reaches its summit and accelerates towards Fantasy, through shock twists and revelations, shrieking with glee. The brilliantly-sustained finale is like a different film, one in which Nolan tries to cram in so much he leaves us breathless.
This exhilarating, visceral experience is enhanced by eardrum-buffeting sound effects and a score by veteran Hollywood composer, Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator), which features the church organ as you’ve never heard it before, like a heavy metal Tubular Bells.