Interstellar Pushes Limits of Science Fiction Cinema


Matthew McConaughey stars in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious Interstellar.

Marc Sheehan

Matthew McConaughey stars in Christopher Nolan’s  ambitious Interstellar.
Matthew McConaughey stars in Christopher Nolan’s
ambitious Interstellar.

For audience members who have never seen a Christopher Nolan flick, this film might leave them a bit discombobulated.  Nowadays, there is a fine line in the cinema world: On one side are entertainment blockbusters, and on the other side are “artsy” insightful films.  Directors belong to one side or the other: Michael Bay is on the blockbuster side of the line, Darren Aronofsky is on the “artsy” side of the line.  Christopher Nolan is the line.

Interstellar tells the story of the future, when the world is on the brink of extinction. In due time, the world’s population will suffocate, unless Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of NASA scientists can find another planet on which to sustain life.  However, in order to do so, Cooper must leave his family on Earth for an extended period of time. Interstellar is a tale of heroism and love, but its message doesn’t seem to be resonating sufficiently. Instead, audiences are focusing on the scientific elements of the film, and responses to the film’s science are mixed.

Interstellar has its visually-appealing, highly intense action scenes for entertainment purposes, no doubt.  But there is a reason that Interstellar is three hours long.  No smart producer would release a three hour blockbuster. A lot of people doubt the science of Interstellar, saying everything is too unrealistic.  The fact of the matter is that cinema is literature, and thus the unrealistic nature of the stories plays a part in the overall moral of the film.

Nolan did his research for the movie, checking in with renowned physicists time and time again for conceptual, theoretical, and visual ideas. For example, a large part of the story is rooted in the concept of travelling through a wormhole. To ensure that the science was correct, Nolan enlisted in the help of physicist Kip Thorne to perfect the complex scientific concepts that Cooper and his team discuss throughout the film.

Just one year after Alfonoso Cuaron’s Gravity won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, many questions have been brought up regarding how Nolan will progress upon the standards set by last year. Wally Pfister, Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, parted ways with Nolan last year for his own directorial pursuits, so Nolan got Hoyte Van Hoytema—the man behind the camera for The Fighter and Her—as a replacement.  However, the cinematography is different than Gravity. While Gravity was beautifully claustrophobic, Interstellar is hugely ambitious and has a much larger scope than Cuaron’s film.

One of the most stunning visuals in the film is the  image of the black hole, which Thorne ensures is the most accurate representation of a black hole in cinematic history. The black hole does not only look realistic; in addition, it also acts exactly as a black hole would in response to the situations throughout the movie.

But aside from the ambitious effects and lofty philosophical questions of the movie, at the heart of the film is a story of family. McConaughey’s Cooper is a heartwarmingly realistic father  who will do anything to see his children again. The sacrifices he has to make are particularly apparent when Cooper watches video messages left by his children  while he is away. The conflict between his professional goals and his  personal struggles force the audience to wonder what is more important — preserving personal relationships or making sacrifices for humanity as a whole?

Additionally, Jessica Chastain’s Murph is a brilliant but reserved young woman who  grows callous and cold after her father abandons her family for his mission. She portray’s Murph’s conflicted emotions with tenderness but her performances are never overly exaggerated, which makes the story much more believable. Although her character is not given as much development as Cooper and Murph, Anne Hathaway’s Dr. Brand adds another layer of depth to the story due to her relationship with her father.

Though many critics condemn the film for its long length and lofty goals, Nolan’s latest masterpiece is a film worthy of acknowledgement and praise in spite of its recent critcism. The film balances a complex scientific story, stunning visual effects, and a tender familial story to create one of the most ambitious and Oscar-worthy films of the year.