In Interstellar, an ambitious, thrilling, emotional though bumpy sci-fi trip through space and time, Christopher Nolan focuses his lens on two powerful forces: gravity and love. The film begins with an extended set up in the not so distant future to show us that our planet is dying, but love has survived. Planet Earth has been ravaged of its resources, the only crop left to farm is corn (thanks, Monsanto), and even that is dying of blight. Winds sweep the barren earth plaguing the last humans with howling dust storms. There is not much reason for hope, but one father refuses to lower his expectations for the future of his two children. Matthew McConaughey is given a gem with this unusually complex role and he plays it perfectly. Though not left bereft of his traditional good ol' boy charms, this single father astronaut turned corn farmer character named Cooper calls for a snap judgment astrophysics kind of intelligence and a focused emotional intensity that raises the bar for McConaughey who meets every challenge with impressive grace and believability.
The time we spend on depleted earth could be edited down (the extended drone sequence is fun but adds nothing to the story and too many incongruities arise in this scorched earth act, like Cooper sipping beer from a bottle on the porch -- is that corn beer? Hasn't the beer supply run dry by now? Why is Michael Caine the smartest person left on Earth?) But once we get into space with Cooper, the film soars. This is 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Planet of the Apes thematically, and also in ambitious scope and fill -- the -- screen wonder. Cooper and his fellow astronauts, including the excellent Anne Hathaway, are on a mission to another galaxy through a black hole that has appeared near Saturn sometime after humans began to lose the battle to survive in harmony with our own planet. The mission involves great risk for both the astronauts and humanity as they seek to gather intelligence from astronauts who have already established base camps on three other planets in a secret mission to find the "goldilocks planet" to serve as humanity's next host. The astronauts themselves may never return to Earth and even if they do, their loved once will have aged considerably or may already be dead due to variances in the passage of time on different planets. The astronauts have been given a mission with a Plan A and a Plan B: find a habitable planet and come home with the information to save all humanity, or if they don't have the resources to return, establish a colony with frozen genetic material once they get to the habitable planet. We discover with them that perhaps they haven't been given the whole truth about their mission.
The intelligence of this film, as it weaves astrophysics and the psychology of human behavior, raises it above the showy roller coaster journey of the film Gravity. Ironically, the title "Gravity" fits this film better than it did the blockbuster 7 Oscar -- winning film by that name. The physics of gravity are at the heart of the mystery in this film and are the mechanics that will determine the success of the mission, personally for Cooper and also for all humanity.
This film is not just a dry sci-fi exploration of time and space but an exploration of love. Love: is it a basic human psychological force that evolved in part to boost our will to survive (what is the last thing you think of in a near death situation but the faces of your loved ones?) or is it maybe something even more powerful than we can yet understand? This question is at the heart of the film. It is love, as much as astrophysics, that determines the survival of mankind in this film.
The revelation of the identity of "Them," whoever it is who has been contacting Earth with messages relayed though the forces of gravity, is just as thrilling as the amazing visuals of space travel in this film. And the message of the film, though bleak about our trajectory toward the destruction of our own planet, is full of hope that the human mind and heart are the most wondrous powers in the universe.