Christopher Nolan is a director whose work traverses stimulating minimalist productions such as Following or Memento to more extravagant, but equally provoking, spectacles like The Dark Knight. Despite the slight misstep with The Dark Knight Rises, he remains one of the true visionaries working in contemporary mainstream cinema; Interstellar is another glorious addition to his film-making canon.
Nolan’s gigantic space opera is one of the only science-fiction films – of the last decade – to portray such a realistic view of a postmodern dystopia. This is a world that didn’t radically change due to some alien invasion, intergalactic dispute or asteroid crash; this is a future where mankind is ultimately to blame. We are the ones that have brought ourselves to our own end with our hostility and carelessness. To add, this is also not a future where we must fight to save Earth;as Professor Brandt puts in in the film: ‘‘we’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.’’ Afternumerous Hollywood films dealt with saving the world in ways that were all bound within the same ideological framework, this is a new angle. Nolan suggests that we must go beyond our own life spans and our home in order to find our salvation. Matthew McConaughey masterfully leads the spectacle as Cooper, an engineer-farmer anda widower with two children, giving a committed and startlingly moving performance. Through Cooper, Interstellar reminds us that we have always been explorers. From a young age, a child feels the need to explore unknown territory, which might often have harmful consequences. Nonetheless, this yearning to go into the uncharted is drilled into our humanity – and furthermore, there is a desire to understand what is inexplicably beyond our own understanding. In a way, this becomes a quest to ‘humanize’ the unknown in a metaphysical sense. Cooper’s love for his children becomes this humanist element that he takes with him into the unknown. This leads him to humanize the strange reality he finds himself in – one that he can’t understand yet.
When discussing science fiction films, it’s often difficult to avoid drawing comparisons with the ‘holy grail’ of space-bound cinema – 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without going into too much detail, I will outline the key similarity – and the substantial difference – between Kubrick’s masterpiece and Interstellar. Essentially, 2001 explored mankind’s yearning to go into the unknown; however, it does so almost on a purely scientific basis. It illustrates that no matter how far we go at whatever cost, mankind will always desire to go further into the abyss. Although some of Interstellar’s themes reflect this idea, its final moments contrarily reveal that no matter how far we go through space and time, we still remain human. This is a very spiritual idea – one that is magnified through the film’s theological depiction of love as the foundation and core of our humanity. It is an ‘artefact’ that transcends boundaries of time and space. Now, this may sound like sentimental trifle to most – and discovering any sort of theological anecdote is arguably implausible, for that matter – but all evidence points to this conclusion. In Cooper’s case, no matter how far he goes, he can never escape the love he has for his children. In fact, it is this perpetual love (particularly that for his daughter) which drives him. Furthermore, this love becomes the key to mankind’s salvation and Cooper’s own spiritual, and physical, liberation – as evidenced in the film’s pivotal bookcase sequence. These elements all cooperate to reinforcethe notion that evolution must come from within. Only mankind collectively can cause a change and bring about bettering development.
The real trouble begins, however, when the darker side of the human element intervenes. Dr Mann (whom they encounter on one of the planets) acts as asymbol for mankind’s cowardice and the element of fear that can cause the downfall of even the bravest heroes. This aspect may seem predictable or clichéd, but his treachery is necessary in order to make the aforementioned points scathingly clear. To paraphrase Brandt (Anne Hathaway’s) character, ‘there is no great evil out there, it’s only what we bring with us.’ Therefore, Mann’s betrayal becomes – in a sense – one of the film’s defining characteristics. He committed all these acts for selfish reasons and self-preservation; this fear and vanity, juxtaposed by Mann’s egoism, is a pervasive element of the human condition. However, the decisive factor lies in our freedom; we can choose to act out of fear or love, separating us from animals and giving us what we call ‘free will.’ The line ‘only what we bring with us’ shows the downfall of man resulting from within, but in the same way, it illustrates that our love for others and selflessness also comes from within. It places love as the driving force of human existence, rather than just an instinct for survival. Love is the element we should choose to act upon; furthermore, it is one we inherently ‘bring with us’ into the vast reaches of space. Behind its dazzling visuals, operatic score and magnificently orchestrated action sequences, Interstellar presents us with an ontological creed and the manifestation of love as an artefact. The core of the film’s innumerable thematic ideas lies in exploring this state of being, especially through the nature of human relationships outside a societal hierarchy. Through a fantastical approach and scientific exploration of space and time, Nolan skillfully manages to carve this humanist and moving tale.
Interstellar has received piles of controversy and criticism, particularly on its over-abundance of ideas; however, I’d argue that this is its point. It constantly challenges the viewer to go further, emotionally and intellectually, as is delivered through crafty storytelling, pioneering visuals and a thundering Strauss-ian score. Although I will admit there are equitable flaws regarding characterization, particularly concerning some of the minor characters, they are forgivable when considering how much the film achieves overall. Interstellar‘s conclusion ultimately shows that mankind’s exploration will never end, further acting as a metaphor for the endearing process of film-making. Méliès took us to the moon over a century ago, and as Kubrick did, Nolan continues his legacy by taking us through a metaphysical exploration of the cosmos.