Directed by Christopher Nolan.
2014. Rated PG-13, 168 minutes.
Cooper (McConaughey) is a single dad trying to raise his two kids with a little help from his father-in-law Donald (Lithgow). He is also a farmer with a field full of corn, like every other farmer. The Earth is dying. Overrun with dust storms, it's rapidly becoming uninhabitable. Our ability to grow food is dwindling to the point of being non-existent. As it stands, corn is the only the does grow. Large portions of our planet's population has died from starvation. The human race itself is on the brink of extinction. Cooper's daughter Murphy (Foy as a child/Chastain as an adult) is a smart kid, but troubles everyone with her insistence that she has a ghost in her room. Her brother Tom (Chalamet/Affleck) is an average sort who seems destined to follow in his dad's footsteps and become a farmer. However, we soon discover dad didn't always work in the fields. One night, he and Murphy stumble upon a top secret location that happens to be what's left of NASA. It's here we discover Cooper used to be an astronaut. We also learn of NASA's plan to thwart off extinction. They want to send a crew into space to hopefully find a suitable place to live. This is possible thanks to a fortuitous anomaly which I won't try to explain. They know all about Cooper and recruit him to be the pilot. Of course, this means leaving his family behind to go where no man has gone before, to explore new...sorry. He leads a crew of four on what is seemingly a wild goose chase.
For a good chunk of the film's runtime, it plays like a toned down, much more serious version of Armageddon. As much as I hate Armageddon, that's actually not a bad thing. There are a number of parallels between the two movies in terms of the main plot. Not the least of these is the very real possibility that our heroes are on a suicide mission. The difference comes in execution. Gone are the goofy antics, all out carnage, and faulty science of the Bay flick. In their place are situations and sensible conversations based on what we think we know to be scientific fact. The key to the film's brilliance is that we know a lot more than at any previous time in human history. The second thing is that it's very likely we really don't know much at all. We have lots of theories and suppositions where hard facts are needed. Due to circumstances, however, the wisest among us are reduced to a wing and a prayer.
Visually, Interstellar is a stunner. To bring it back to Michael Bay flicks, this isn't an all-out assault on our senses in the same way as his movies or most other blockbusters. In those movies, there is something in every frame screaming "Look at me!" Here, most of it is fairly straight-forward in appearance. Every now and again, though, an amazing shot pops up at just the right time. This doesn't just dazzle the eyes, it conveys whatever is needed to give the scene in which appears the proper weight. A late movie scene featuring a baseball game stands out most. The sporadic placement of such imagery is more effective than the usual constant bombardment we get. Those tend to dull the senses. This wakes them up.
There are times when us viewers feel the weight of something else - that 168 minute runtime. It's not necessarily a product of pacing, though that does play a role. The problem seems to stem from the dialogue. Interstellar is a film that takes the science part of the term science-fiction very seriously. Therefore, it only makes sense that conversations between exceptionally intelligent people on a mission to save the human race would be steeped in scientific jargon. Given that context, I have no issues this. However, it runs the risk of alienating viewers whose eyes glaze over and heads start to spin. This is not say these people are not smart as others. They may just not be looking for something so technical in a movie. Thankfully, the film maneuvers through that minefield to still get us invested in the lives of the people we're watching even if we're a bit confused about the finer points of the story.
One thing that makes us little less likely to become invested in the plight of our heroes are the Earth-bound people themselves. There is a huge amount of talk about the planet's dying food supply and what all the dust is doing to the air. Presumably, most of the livestock died off because we never see any despite their being farms everywhere. We're told the starvation of our entire species is imminent. Since corn is expected to die out, too, we're explicitly told that the children of Cooper and their entire generation will starve to death, wiping out humanity. The people we see don't jive with that information. I don't recall seeing even one malnourished individual, or even anyone who looks a little hungry. This might be nit-picking, but it's the one area of the movie where what we're shown doesn't match what we're told.
The cast all does solid work, but I hesitate to say any stood out as especially good. Possibly, that honor could be bestowed upon Michael Cain because, well, he's Michael Caine. McConaughey handles lead duties well with Anne Hathaway providing a solid sidekick. The two have a nice chemistry that makes their scenes together work. Jessica Chastain shows up later and does typically strong work. Matt Damon appears even later to add a park and a philosophical dilemma to the equation. He's framed as the villain. Given all that he knows, has gone through, and hopes to do, is he really? There is a debate to be had which adds our enjoyment of the movie. Also debatable, or at least worthy of conversation, is just how the film's conflict is eventually resolved. Even the film itself is a bit fuzzy on how it arrives where it does. That's okay, in this case, because Interstellar is a film that engages our minds, as well as our eyes.