Interstellar explores human condition in deep space

By David DiNicola and Clint Ross

“Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same name is repeated a number of times in Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar—and rightfully so. The movie is a spectacle to say the least. With an incredible cast and an intricate and dynamic storyline backed by groundbreaking special effects, Interstellar is hardly “gentle.” Nolan’s epic is a laudable science fiction adventure due to its overwhelming transcendence of genre conventions.

Science fiction is a tricky genre because it incorporates two disparate and often paradoxical elements: science and fiction. Many filmmakers will opt to focus on the first bit, but regardless of immaculate physics or flashy effects, sci-fi without the “fi” is just science.

There is a genre-specific tendency for such films to lose sight of the factors that make for a good story: relationships, character development and the constant push to move the plot forward. Stylistically, Nolan’s film is beautiful; its vividly-imaged alien landscapes and a black hole that recently received Neil deGrasse Tyson’s seal of approval are certainly awe-inspiring, but Nolan clearly placed their aesthetic value below their respective ability to connect and drive the multitude of moving pieces present throughout the film. Rarely, if ever, is anything ever included to simply “entertain.”

With just a few exceptions, every line of dialogue, every shot and every cut is made with efficiency and the conscious goal of building the story. Nolan seems particularly fond of overlaying scenes as to eliminate some of the often tedious throat-clearing that results from filmmakers’ misguided proclivity for adding in more fires and more explosions. One notable example is the rocket’s launch sequence, which seamlessly blended with Cooper, the main astronaut (played by Matthew McConaughey), leaving his family and farm behind. There’s no time wasted before lift-off.

Set roughly two generations after our modern day, human exploitation resulted in the complete devastation of Earth. Working with the remnants of NASA, the basic goal of Cooper’s crew is to find another habitable planet that lies beyond a recently-discovered wormhole. The astronauts, along with a sardonic robot sidekick (who has an uncanny familiarity with the works of Kubrick and Lucas), venture past our galaxy to fulfill this mission.

While this storyline might be engaging enough, the film offers so much more than its basic synopsis. Nolan warns his viewers about the dangers of a consumerist world, within which unsustainable societal practices and heedless waste ultimately result in famine, drought and the deterioration of the planet we call home. At times, it seems like a “man versus nature” story, but ultimately, the film’s central conflict centers on man versus the dark and destructive aspects of human nature.

Human values often conflict with the whole of human survival. The characters are faced with the personal choice of either sticking to their values and potentially dying, or living on but corrupting themselves at the most fundamental level. This is a dilemma posed not just to Cooper, but to the entire human race.

Humanity, however, is also our saving grace. McConaughey’s Cooper is not only a lovable hero, but also a believable one. He’s light-hearted, but not without some serious flaws. Acting as Cooper’s foil, biologist Dr. Brand (played by Anne Hathaway), while somewhat helpless in certain scenes, played a crucial role within both the narrative arc and the film’s greater project.

As a scientist, Dr. Brand’s professional and personal strength derived from her distrust of pure science. In fact, their discussion of love in relation to science is not only important to the trajectory of this film, but it is also one of the most moving and eloquent speeches about the transcendent power of human emotion in our contemporary cannon.

Surprisingly, love is a central theme in this sci-fi blockbuster. This emotional bond is the only intangible force that can transcend time and endure all planes of existence. Love is a common denominator that connects all of humanity.  Humans’ biophilic tendencies are echoed throughout the film. However, this only goes so far as the emotional intimacy between individuals; love of life is regularly vilified and a major point of contention throughout the movie—once again reiterating Nolan’s ability to construct compelling characters.

Nolan poses some heavy questions to his audience; we traditionally are taught to believe in reason over passion, but what happens when reason makes no sense?  What happens when space and time are distorted beyond recognition?

His answer? In this mess of existence, one cosmic force inexplicably persists: love. It is love that enables Cooper and his crew to defy all odds and consequently, our commonly-accepted notions of physics.  Whether familial, romantic or simply professional, relationships play a crucial role in this epic quest.

Most movies with cosmic and apocalyptic themes are about Earth being our home; however, Cooper makes an interesting statement before departing on his mission: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.” Through Interstellar, Nolan asks us to reconsider our conventional preconceptions of what saving humanity actually entails. Does survival of the species mean literally saving our genetic compilation, or rather, preserving the culture and values that define what it means to be human at the very deepest of levels?

With this in mind, it is clear that Nolan made a conscious decision with his inclusion of Thomas’s poem. The verse is not simply embellishment, but instead a necessary reminder for us to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”4.5/5

Catch this film and many others this week at Flagship Cinemas. Show times available online

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