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Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

The concept of love in space and time. When pioneers trump historical revisionists.

The overpopulation we know so very well from our own world has driven mankind to the edge of extinction in the non-descript future world of Interstellar. Food is scarce and this has turned a majority of the population back to farming in order to escape a certain death by starvation. The past is somehow being transfigured and the history books have been rewritten to service a new kind of narrative for future generations.

Written by


Sep 8, 2022

© watarusneighbour

Reeducation is deemed to be the key to ensuring mankind’s survival: The moon landing? Never happened. The Space Race? A clever ploy of the United States to con the Soviets into bankruptcy. “We didn’t run out of planes and television sets, we ran out of food”, is what we hear one character say at the beginning of the film. The return to a purely agrarian age, however, won’t do the trick alone. Unpredictable sandstorms are increasingly beclouding the atmosphere and are slowly but surely destroying all the necessary living conditions for humans as well as any given kind of crop.

Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?

Luc Besson recently raised this question in his entertaining yet also poetic rush of images called Lucy and gave an answer that is very much showing his signature style of hyperrealism. A similar question could be raised in light of Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic feat Interstellar.

What Nolan puts in front of us as the audience resembles our world in many ways but at the same time it’s also a radical alternative to it. While mankind as it is portrayed in Interstellar is hungry for food, the mankind we truly live in is getting ever more hungry for technology, which is created and then consumed by an ever-increasing number of people. In our brave new world it is still engineers who are more in demand than ever. On an evolutionary scale, on the other hand, mankind is at a standstill, which is also something that Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper laments in the film. We have forgotten how to aim higher, to reach for the stars and to follow our human nature, our frontier spirit. Mankind was born on Earth but it was never meant to die here.

Only a small circle of NASA employees has still devoted their lives to a pioneering spirit: They launched several manned missions after years and years of preparations in the hope of finding new inhabitable planets, a second Earth for future generations. The last mission is already planned with pilot, crew and all, when Cooper and his daughter Murph inadvertently stumble upon this previously well-kept secret. Cooper’s lifelong flight experience, however, quickly turns him into the new desired candidate for the pilot position for the team led by professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway).

As in his previous films, Christopher Nolan gathers an impressive selection of renowned actors in his leading and supporting roles and places them next to convincingly acting fresh faces like David Gyasi. There’s John Lithgow as a caring grandfather as well as Wes Bentley as one of the crew on their way into the unknown. Add to that Casey Affleck as an introverted character who is calm on the outside after his father leaves him but on the inside is filled with bitterness and anger. Jessica Chastain plays his sister, who is doing her utmost to ignore her father in order to forget him, only to later realize that things aren’t as she perceived them to be. All these characters are front and center in this story and I can’t help but add that this is, by far, Christopher Nolan’s most personal, most intimate film next to Inception and at the same time it’s infinitely more emotional at its core.

Both films offer obscure, even seemingly impossible settings and yet, it’s always the characters and their lives who are placed at the heart of everything and who manage to ground these larger-than-life kinds of stories in a certain kind of heightened reality.

© 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.”

At the heart of Interstellar is a familial love story. While Cooper’s 15-year-old son Tom shares a connection with his father that mostly goes beyond any spoken word and is filled with son-to-father respect, it’s hard for Cooper to reconcile his 10-year-old daughter Murph, with whom he shares a deep, emotional connection, when he decides to go on the journey into space. Their bond seems irrevocably broken when he leaves her in tears, only to give in to his urge for more than just survival on Earth. Finding a new Earth and returning to his daughter—however many years it will cost him—soon becomes the driving force in Cooper’s life.

This family drama is woven into a deeply visual and auditory captivating science fiction film, which more than holds its own in comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 or Robert Zemeckis’ Contact even though there’s no need to compare it to them. Nolan, however, does not conceal the fact that he is a great Kubrick admirer. For Nolan, 2001 is what he calls “pure cinema”. It’s only logical then, that he pays tribute to this epic film by implementing his own depiction of spinning space stations—captured in camera with practical effects and not just with green screen technology, of course.

Additionally, Hans Zimmer’s mesmerizing score also contains nods to the maestro Kubrick with hints to the music that he used so effectively and which will forever be linked to 2001 in many a mind’s eye. If you recall that Zimmer slowed down Édith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” immensely to integrate it into the score for Inception, it quickly becomes apparent which classical piece he is referencing in his score, which is primarily driven by a uniquely beautiful and celestial organ melodies. I’m sure that, if you listen closely enough, you’ll be able to recognize the Blue Danube Waltz more than once. If you believe the story of how the score came about, Nolan gave Zimmer only a one-page dissertation—a handwritten letter really—that was more directed at Zimmer personally than giving any clues about the details of his story and its plot. Along with that letter came a clear message, which also found its way onto the back of a watch that Nolan gave Zimmer: “This is not a time for caution” — in other words, it was time for both of them to reinvent themselves. I’m sure the resulting score, as is par for the course with Zimmer, will divide audiences into not just two but three factions: Hate, indifference or love.

The latter feeling is what prevails for me because Hans Zimmer again proves his versatility, which was last heard only a few years prior in Ron Howard’s Rush and it is also the predominant feeling in Interstellar.

Even though the father-daughter relationship might fall a little behind in intensity when compared to the tragic lovers in Inception, love itself is strangely more present here than in any other Nolan film and changes from a mere motivation to an all-permeating force that can overcome time and space. Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia is vehemently advocating this theory in the film and is encouraging us as the audience to share in her belief. If love is capable of making her feel drawn to another human being across vast distances and she can’t rationally explain why, then this feeling must have a deeper meaning. Love cannot be explained, it is something that wasn’t designed or created by humans. Love just is and there must be a reason for that. This is the message that Interstellar wants to get across loudly and clearly. In doing so, it not only shines as a piece of beautifully cinematic entertainment with a visionary story but it also shines on an emotional level.

After leaving his Batman trilogy behind him, Christopher Nolan again focuses all his energy into an original story. If Inception was an unparalleled breather before concluding his version of the Dark Knight, Interstellar is the work of a filmmaker who is fully unburdened and who is also the father of four children. From that perspective he raises big questions about how you shape the life of your children in your role as a parent and about how you need to come to terms with the fact that there will come a day when you will only be a ghost in the future of your own children. The result is a profound look at human existence set against the backdrop of a magnificent mise-en-scène.

[Written November 19, 2014]

“Love is the one thing we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it.”

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