“Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Dylan Thomas’ poem still retains all of its literary power. But in the context of a film that dares to venture beyond our worlds and deep into our souls, it has never been more cinematically relevant. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a bold and beautiful film that captures the grandiosity of space, yet touches on something profoundly personal: the relationship between a father and a daughter. The result is a rare movie-going experience that dazzles the senses and enriches our hearts.
The film takes place mostly in space, but that doesn’t mean it leaves Earth completely in the dust. In fact, Nolan crafts something far more precious; he builds a world shared by Cooper and Murphy. Thus represents the emotional core of the film, and what’s at stake. Yes, we see how Earth has been depleted of its resources (an agrarian society down to its last crop). We even see how the blight has ravaged the land, symbolized through foreboding dust storms that blanket the land in an endless debris (literally showing how mankind is being buried alive). But Nolan shows us that it’s far more important to save this family, and they themselves characterize the hardships of all families living in this desolate future.
Twenty minutes into the film and we already find ourselves emotionally attached to Cooper and his family. So as much as we know that Cooper has to leave, at the same time we don’t want him to. This struggle is captured in a gut-wrenching scene where both Cooper and Murphy are compromised internally. Murphy begs her father to stay, even though she knows he has to go. And Cooper himself wants to keep his daughter hopeful of his return, but doesn’t want to make a promise he can’t keep. Whether you’re a parent yourself or had to say goodbye to someone, this is a scene that will tug on familiar heartstrings.
Once we’re in space, that’s when the film really takes off. It’s the first time in film where audiences encounter a wormhole, and as the Endurance approaches this fascinating scientific phenomenon, it becomes an event in of itself. I for one have never felt my jaw drop so low, not since the first Jurassic Park. The sheer intensity of the film’s space travel is a spectacle that needs to be experienced on the big screen. I found myself grasping onto the armrest for dear life. I even felt my head jerk all the way back into my seat as Cooper and crew get sucked into the wormhole. That alone speaks to how immersive the film is.
What’s truly impressive about Interstellar is how it gets the audience to participate in this journey of exploration rather than merely letting us watch from the sidelines, though the scenery by itself is breathtakingly gorgeous. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema treat us to a plethora of grand imagery. From the massive waves of an ocean-dominated planet, to an icy abyss crawling with mountains; the scope of the film seems to expand with every new planet we inhabit, and each one feels like it’s part of its own universe. What’s startling here is that these scenes were filmed in different parts of the globe, yet through Hoytema’s lens it feels other-worldly.
For all of the film’s visual splendor, Nolan never lets us forget about the real story, that of a father and a daughter. After an ill-fated venture, Cooper receives faint transmissions from his family, and he has to cope with the fact that they have moved on without him. His son has gone on to have a family of his own. And his daughter, Murphy, now the same age Cooper was when he left Earth, has condemned him as nothing more than a ghost of the past. Matthew McConaughey has given some fine performances as of late, but this may very well be him at his best. He embodies an everyman, a man ahead of his time. He shouldn’t be stuck in the dirt of a rotting world; he should be in space. But deep down he wants nothing more than to be with his daughter, and he expresses it through pain and agony. Anne Hathaway, too, delivers her finest performance. As Brandt, she has spent most of her life theorizing different possibilities. But as theory collides with harsh realities, Brandt finds herself vulnerable. She cannot rely on logic anymore. Instead, she depends on love to pull her through. “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space,” Brandt says. Deep in the gulf of space, where all seems hopeless, that sentiment has never been so powerful.
On the surface, the film may be all about space and interstellar travel, but what it’s really about may surprise you. That’s right, it’s about love. But not in the conventional sense. It’s about a father’s love for his children. In that regard, this may also be Nolan’s most personal film to date. Because when you strip away the spaceships, wormholes, and all this talk of fourth and fifth dimensions, you have a film that’s essentially about the human spirit. The fact that it can have such an epic scope, yet at its core be about something so intimate; that’s practically unheard of. Nolan, who also wrote the film, pulls it off seamlessly. And it all comes together during the film’s climax where Cooper realizes that he has indeed become a ghost of Murphy’s past, but in the most uplifting way possible. The film in its entirety is an extended metaphor for a father’s undying love for his daughter. Not even the furthest reaches of space can keep them apart. Thus, Interstellar isn’t just an entertaining experience, but also an enormously gratifying one. You don’t need me to tell you to see this movie. I think the film speaks for itself.