by Joe Shea
November 29, 2014
TRIP THE LIGHT GALACTIC
BRADENTON, Fla., Nov. 29, 2014 -- I have never before felt the need to leave a movie theater out of the same door I entered it. But after watching director Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," surely one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time, I was grateful to know I was again on terra firma, even if it is awaiting its end.
That is the motive of "Interstellar," then: Surviving the end of humanity's time on Earth. This is the portent, you should realize by now, of all that "climate change" business our Randolph Holhut writes about so well.
The movie opens with a scene that could have been torn from the pages of John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." We meet Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his family, his bright and demanding daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy as a child, and Jessica Chastain as an adult), and his gruff, aging father (John Lithgow) and son Tom. Murph's mother (Cooper's wife) has long ago been a victim of the planet's blighted food crops, awful air and endless violence.
The Cooper family's vast acreage of corn supplies people with food, beer, candy and soda, and probably ethanol - there's no mention of any shortage of gasoline.
Early in the film, we see the smoke another farm's blighted okra crop going up in flames, and someone remarks, "That's the last crop of okra... ." The last on Earth, that is. Lettuce and most other veggies have been gone for years.
Into this stoic struggle for survival comes a strange message written in dust that falls on the library floor one day. Interpreted by the brilliant, charming Murph, it provides a set of coordinates for a location neither of them recognize. Murph thinks the signals are Morse Code being tapped out somewhere by ghosts, and those "ghosts" are key to the story.
Intrigued, Cooper and Murph make their way to the location in the coordinates, only find a locked fence and get themselves arrested for trying to cut through it.
Seized and questioned, Cooper is surprised to learn they have actually been summoned to this place, which turns out to be the last desperate outpost of NASA, clinging to the dreams of a scientist (Michael Caine) who has directed the building of a rocket that will take Cooper into outer space.
Cooper, a former shuttle pilot, is asked to pilot the spaceship out to Saturn, where he will steer into a wormhole and emerge in another galaxy, one where there may or may not be a habitable planet among two or three already visited by earlier craft, and where at least two survivors of those earlier visits may remain alive. The plan seems to be to relocate Earth's remaining population, or at least embryos of that last shred of humanity, to new lives on a new planet.
A conventional - and probably boring - sci-fi movie would spend a long time on training sequences, with their quick losses and small triumphs, but Christopher Nolan eschews all that stuff to get Cooper and his team straight into space. In its lone romance, the movie's lovers, Anne Hathaway and Matt Damon (as Dr. Mann), one of the stranded survivors, are light years apart - literally.
For the audience, what follows is a ride like no other on film. When the music finds its stride, it soars to the occasion, reaching a symphonic hysteria that powerfully supports the story with wildly structured, steely flights of joy. The score by Hans Zimmer is magnificent.
If Anne Hathaway as Cooper's science person aboard the Apollo will never be better, I suspect it is because a film of this scope and beauty will not come along again for generations. Matthew McConaughey's performance is impeccable, even though the continuity people erred in one scene, where he was unshaven when he'd had no time in the narrative to shave.
I saw "Interstellar" in a near-empty theater with a very respectful audience, but I was the only one who sat through the lengthy titles, looking for familiar names.
A very lucky few of us will ever see this film, which for the first three shows on Nov. 26 sold only 181 tickets. After opening widely on Nov. 7, when it topped the box office with a $17 million debut, it earned more than $400 in its first 17 days. It is rocket science, after all, and driven only by faith.
The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema never struggles, either, even in the face of the insurmountable, like the view of home and the past through the walls of a singularity buried deep within the event horizon of a black hole; the scenes are mind-boggling, successively accomplished masterpieces, like Shakespeare's plays, each brilliantly drawn and utterly engrossing. It is a long movie - 2 hours and 49 minutes - and there are several times when you think it's over, and it's not.
That's because Nolan was absolutely intent on telling a complete story with enough of the stuffing and all of the bones. You don't get to wonder what happens to anyone, because you know.
Christopher Nolan is a generous filmmaker who doesn't entice and then disappoint his audiences - especially not those who will come seeking answers and a resolution to survival challenges that may soon face this planet and all humanity.
That's why I walked out the door I came in: "Interstellar" made me whole.