Interstellar: It’s the end of the world as we know it

by Mark Burger

On a scene-by-scene basis, Christopher Nolan‘s sprawling science-fiction epic, Interstellar, maintains interest, both in human terms and visual terms, for the entire length of its 170-minute running time.

Nolan, one of the few contemporary filmmakers to whom the term “visionary” can be accurately applied, here orchestrates the last days of man on Earth and the last vestiges of hope for the race to possibly relocate to another world capable of sustaining life.

It’s a heady, heavy-duty concept, but one that Nolan brings his customary conviction and wizardry to tackle. A film whose conclusion depends on such variables as black holes, worm holes, inter-dimensional portals and other otherworldly phenomena “” to say nothing of dramatic license (this is a film, after all) “” Interstellar can be accused of playing by its own rules, and occasionally twisting them to serve the story, but it’s constantly engaging, sometimes moving and, perhaps most importantly, never dull.

The story takes place in a near but not-unrecognizable future, following a major technological failure that occurred throughout the world. The environment’s not far behind, with the planet giving clear signs that it won’t be able to sustain human life much longer.

With Matthew McConaughey, Nolan has the ideal image of the “all-American boy” as the story’s hero. Cooper is a former astronaut and engineer who becomes a part of the plan to save humankind by what remains of the NASA brain trust, headed by the always-welcome font of exposition, Michael Caine.

Previous missions have relayed data regarding planets with the potential to offer a new habitat for humankind, and it’s time to follow up before it’s too late. Cooper is, of course, the ideal man for the new mission.

Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn (like Caine, always-welcome) and William Devane (whom it’s always nice to see) bring conviction to their roles, some of which are larger than others, and there’s a “surprise” unbilled guest star in the form of Matt Damon. Bill Irwin provides the voice for the mission’s on-board computer, lending a little humor to the otherwise straightforward and straight-faced proceedings.

Nolan generates a considerable measure of suspense to the scenes in outer space that sometimes inevitably recall similar moments in last year’s blockbuster, Gravity. Like that film’s director, Alfonso Cuarón (who took home an Oscar), Nolan has little trouble marrying the hardware to the humanity. Neither overwhelms the other, which makes for a more complete (if not perfect) story. Given that Nolan himself has cited Stanley Kubrick as an inspiration, it’s easy to detect some 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in here also.

The film’s conclusion is among its dicey propositions, but if you’ve been willing to go along this far, perhaps it’s best to accept it, even if only begrudgingly. After all, it’s the only one it’s got. Perhaps it could have been better realized, but it also could have been much, much worse.