Interstellar is the film Christopher Nolan has been trying to make his whole life ever since he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. He regards this movie as a “seminal” film in the production of Interstellar.
Nolan went to go see 2001 during a 1977 re-release in theaters around his seventh birthday. He went on to make super 8 epics as a child growing up until it dawned on him that directing was his career path.
Other major influences for Nolan was Ridley Scott and George Lucas. Their direction and vision of a science-fiction world spoke to the young Kubrickian in Nolan. He wanted to create a film with just as much wonder and excitement as these filmmakers.
This is exciting to anybody growing up watching those movies as a kid. Watching a light saber duel or a futuristic world inspired a generation of filmmakers—and made USC’s film school world prestigious. Nolan is channeling his youth and sharing it to the world.
Because this review-analysis is as long as it is, it will be broken up into sections: History, Plot, and Criticism/Discussion.
One dinner changed everything in October 2005 between Kip Thorne and Lynda Obst. Thorne is a renown physicist leading the scientific discussion of gravitational relativity; Lynda Obst is a Producer who previously worked on Flashdance, Contact, Heartbreak Hotel, and Sleepless in Seattle. They first met during the premier of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos back in 1980 and dated on and off for a couple of years.
Fast-forward to the dinner in 2005; Lynda proposed the idea of a science fiction film influenced by the science that Thorne was working his life towards.
The made one rule: that it is “grounded from the outset in real science.”
By February 2006, they wrote a quick treatment to give to Spielberg. He instantly responded and a week later he was set to direct Interstellar.
By January 2007, the treatment grew from eight to thirty-seven pages with sixteen pages just on the science. During this time, Lynda and Spielberg interviewed screenwriters until they landed on Jonathan Nolan.
By November 2007, a story was put together from the collaboration between Kip, Lynda, Jonah and Steven. Jonah left for three months due to the Writers Guild strike and once he was back, he worked for sixteen months in order to write a detailed outline along with three successive drafts.
By that time, Jonah left because he had to write the script for The Dark Knight Rises, but returned by February of 2010 to start draft four. At the same time, Paramount and Steven had a falling out, so the project was left director-less.
Less than two weeks later, Christopher Nolan and his wife-producer Emma Thomas agree to work on Interstellar.
Jonathan Nolan has worked with his brother professionally for well over a decade now; He wrote the short story—Memento Mori—to which Memento is based on, co-wrote the screenplay to The Prestige with Christopher that was based on the Christopher Priest novel, and co-wrote the screenplays of the The Dark Knight trilogy along with Christopher and David S. Goyer.
Kip Thorne worked out an equation or two based on light traveling around a black hole based on Einstein’s general relativity equations. Thorne gave his equations to VFX supervisor Paul Franklin and his crew at Double Negative—who also worked in Inception—in order to render out an accurate model. For the heavier moments, some frames took over 100 hundreds to render and overall took up about 800 terabytes of data.
Nolan is not the guy to usually go with visual effects. Most of the explosions and action sequences in The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception are real. The rotating hallway zero gravity fight sequence of Inception was shot with on an angled-rotating set with the actors in harnesses. Any other big-budget filmmaker would have had a visual effects company simulate a zero gravity environment.
Nolan has always stood for in-camera effects as opposed to post-production work, and film over digital—he is an old school filmmaker. It shows in his films, they look real. Nolan explains his love for film:
“This is why I prefer film to digital,” Nolan said, turning to me. “It’s a physical object that you create, that you agree upon. The print that I have approved when I take it from here to New York and I put it on a different projector in New York, if it looks too blue, I know the projector has a problem with its mirror or its ball or whatever. Those kind of controls aren’t really possible in the digital realm.”
This is Nolan’s first feature—besides Following—to not include cinematographer Wally Pfister. The addition of Hoyte van Hoytema worries some people. Hoytema is not as prolific as Pfister in his cinematography career, but still has a solid variety of works under his belt. His first big break came with Russell’s The Fighter, followed by Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Jonze’s Her. Each film has a unique visual charm to them, which shows flexibility in Hoytema’s shooting.
Hoytema rigged up IMAX cameras for handheld shots—never before done on this large of a scale. IMAX cameras are usually only used for action sequences because of the size, quality, and cost.
Several different methods are used to capture the aerial sequences in IMAX. One method strapped the cameras to the “maxatures” of the Ranger in order to get real-life NASA types shots. The other was to place an IMAX camera in the nose of a jet. That is just too cool. Hoytema is given practically unlimited resources when it came time to shoot this film and he took advantage.
The shots of the vehicles floating in space (like in 2001) look amazing, because they are real scale models and shot on film. Thanks to 3D printing, the three spacecraft used in the film is 1/15th to 1/5th scale of the actual size. They are strapped up on a six-axis gimbal and shot against background plates of space with VistaVision cameras.
Nathan Crowley (Production Designer) developed the Endurance space ship. This ship rotates in order to gain force and channels it into forward movement through space. This is what helps the Ranger reach the wormhole. Crowley explains: “It’s a real mishmash of different kinds of technology; you need analogue stuff as well as digital stuff, you need back-up systems and tangible switches. Every inch of space is used, everything has a purpose. It’s really like a submarine in space.”
The ship resembles the 2001 ship as well:
Nolan had the visual effects of space rendered out well before shooting; instead of a green/blue screen surrounding the actors, it would be the actual environment. This is smart filmmaking and directing. How can a film—**cough**Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith**cough**—hope to achieve great acting when they are surrounding by green walls?
Another innovation Nolan is working towards is a world filled with feature films shot and projected in true IMAX. This world looks bleak in the near future, but he damn well tried.
In a July 7 article written by Nolan, he wrote about the future of film. He claims:
“Content can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these “platforms,” albeit with bigger screens and cup holders.”
Nolan envisions a bland future for movie theater entertainment. If film is just another dial on a switch of platforms, why hold it in any special delight over watching a movie on Netflix?
Theaters and film need to find a new way to attract viewership. This is not a new concept. When television became widely popular in the fifties as another way to view “content,” film started shooting in widescreen formats with multitrack sound in order to give the audience an experience that television could not match. Nolan explains that to do this again, innovations will need experimentation, and it will not be a fast process.
Nolan is famous for shooting and exhibiting his last three films—The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises—with a huge portion of IMAX shots and scenes. With the advent of digital projection and “liemax,” 15/70mm IMAX film projections will soon be extinct. In fact, Interstellar could very well be the last film shot and projected using 15/70mm IMAX cameras.
Nolan even insisted to Paramount that Interstellar be released in the 15/70mm IMAX, standard 70mm, and 35mm film formats two days before the actual release of the film. These releases are a glimpse to the possible future of film, and given to the hardcore Nolan audience as a thanks.
What is liemax? New digital IMAX projection systems came around in 2008 because the 70mm film projectors and cameras are extremely expensive. However, digital IMAX projection comes with an extreme loss of quality. Traditional 70mm film screens have up to 8,700 lines of vertical resolution lost on the camera negative images and about 4,500 lost on the release print. Perhaps this image will clarify the difference between the digital projections versus true film IMAX projection:
Digital projection IMAX proved to be cheaper and extremely financially successful—look at The Hunger Games and The Avengers. This trend of cost cutting is what Nolan is disavowing. The future of film is about funding future endeavors like true film-IMAX, not cutting the costs to turn a profit. History proves this:
Financial trends throughout the sixties through eighties show that experimentation and innovation are what brought great films and blockbusters to life. Once the studios realized that films could turn an enormous profit, they turned away from experimenting with new types of films and filmmakers and focused on turning a profit. Studios made fewer films and put an enormous budget on epics and musicals—Ben-Hur (1959), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and The Sound of Music (1965). All these films are amazing in their own rights, but their trend caused a major bankruptcy and rupture to the film industry in the mid-1960’s; leading up to the failure of many epic films—Cleopatra (1963) leading the way with a $40 million dollar loss.
This made studios crawl and try to collect their losses—in time—and experiment with new ways to attract viewers. They started hiring new filmmakers with different styles and techniques (most notably French New Wave inspired). From this innovation away from churning out Hollywood epics, the inexpensive films—such as Bonnie and Clyde and the Graduate (both 1967)—make back their profits by tenfold in theaters. This sent the studios in a manic state. For the next decade or so, studios would try new filmmakers and styles in order to repeat the financial success of films in the late sixties.
Another trend was the age of moviegoers. Most people going to see movies in the late-sixties to seventies are teenagers and young adults. Who better to make a movie for this audience than young filmmakers? Studios began what New Wave in Europe started: funding young, experimental-esq filmmakers.
Long story short, Lucas is among a special class of movie-brats who grew up studying and watching films. These types of filmmakers—Coppola, Spielberg, and Scorsese—have the leeway to shoot what they want because they came into the game young and extremely knowledgeable.
Star Wars broke every financial record known to man. Spielberg released a string of films that define generations of childhoods. Coppola directed a few of the greatest movies of all time. Scorsese created a new style of filmmaking that blends Hollywood and European art cinema.
Filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas came into Hollywood with the idea of making films to appeal to the masses. To which they had unprecedented success. Jaws made a tenfold yield in profit in about a month of its release and the Indiana Jones series, not including Crystal Skull, made about $62 million just on opening weekend. However, the real winner is Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy. Each installment destroyed the box office and created a newfound merchandising yield. The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, while the original budget of Star Wars—the film that made this buyout possible—was made for only $11 million.
Nolan grew up watching these movies. These filmmakers gave rise to Nolan and his future in film.
By March 2013, Nolan confirmed his directing ambition for Interstellar and agreed to produce the film under his production company, Syncopy. Nolan’s salary for the film includes $20 million as well as 20% of the gross.
This is Nolan’s first time making a film under a non-Warner Bros. production house—Paramount Pictures in this case. Warner Bros. wanted in so bad that they actually gave Paramount the rights to Friday the 13th and South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut sequels. In return, Warner Bros. was given control of international distribution rights. That is not a bad deal at all, considering Transformers: Age of Extinction grossed over $840 million internationally in less than four months.
The production budget for Interstellar is about $165 million, making it the third most expensive Nolan film—The Dark Knight ($185) and The Dark Knight Rises ($250 million). For a 169-minute movie, the cost of Interstellar comes out to be $976,331.36 per minute. For that price per minute, you can buy—not just rent—a three-bed, two-bath condominium in New York or an estate in Montana with twenty acres of property.
By August 2013, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. agreed to finance 25 percent of Interstellar’s production. Legendary also agreed to finance Warner Bros. upcoming DC superhero film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for a ticket into the Interstellar production. The original four month shooting project began the same month.
This is the fifth collaboration between Nolan and first-rate composer Hans Zimmer. The usual Nolan-Zimmer soundtrack features bass shattering DUMMMMS and high pitch strings that have been reproduced often by other composers since Inception came out—which won the Oscar for sound editing and sound mixing.
This film has a different sound. Nolan approached Zimmer with the idea for creating a new sound: “It’s time to reinvent. The endless string (ostinatos) need to go by the wayside, the big drums are probably in the bin.” This type of soundtrack reinvention worked for Inception, and now that its sound became the normal, it is time to reinvent again. Nolan did not even show Zimmer the full script or story, but instead a “one page text” with a description of the type of sound Nolan wanted for the film.
Zimmer’s plan for the soundtrack is as ambitious as the content in the film. He stated: “[I want to] give audiences an incredible immersive experience. The technical aspects are going to be more important than any film I’ve made before.”
For me, the soundtrack was great. I really enjoyed the new organ sound that Zimmer introduced and thought as a whole, the soundtrack was fresh for a Nolan film. The sound mixing was a little off throughout the film, but was not noticeable to the point where I could not enjoy the immensity of the soundtrack.
I read this anecdote written by Tom Shone from The Guardian about the conception of Nolan approaching Zimmer about the soundtrack and want to share it here:
The composer Hans Zimmer was at work on his score for Man of Steel when Nolan approached him. “Chris said to me, in his casual way. ‘So, Hans, if I wrote one page of something, didn’t tell you what it was about, just give you one page, would you give me one day of work?’” Zimmer recalled. “‘Whatever you came up with on that one day would be fine.’ I said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’ One day, an envelope arrived, almost handed to me by Chris. It was on quite thick paper, typewritten, which told me there was no carbon copy. This was truly the original.” On the paper was a short story, no more than a précis, about a father who leaves his child to do an important job. It contained two lines of dialogue – “I’ll come back” “When?” – and quoted something Zimmer had said a year before, during a long conversation with Nolan and his wife at the Wolesley restaurant in London. It was snowing, central London had ground to a halt, and the three of them were more or less stranded. “There was no movie to be made, there was no movie to discuss, we were talking about our children,” said Zimmer, who has a 15-year-old son. “I said, ‘once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes.”
He worked on the score for a day and then let Emma Thomas know he was done.
“I said, ‘Do you want me to send it over?’ She goes, ‘Oh, he’s curiously antsy, do you mind if he comes down?’ He got into the car and drove to my studio in Santa Monica and sat down on my couch. I made the usual excuses a composer makes when they play something to somebody for the first time. I played to him, not looking at him, I just stared straight ahead at my copy of the screen and then I turned around and he’s sitting there. I can tell he was moved by it. He said, ‘I suppose I’d better make the movie, now.’ I asked him, ‘Well, yes, but what is the movie?’ And he started describing this huge, epic tale of space and science and humanity, on this epic scale. I’m going, ‘Chris, hang on, I’ve just written this highly personal thing, you know?’ He goes, ‘Yes, but I now know where the heart of the movie is’. Everything about this movie was personal. That’s the other thing, the trick he pulled on me, when I see the movie, it’s a girl. But he wrote about a boy.”
The cast for this film is ridiculous. It features five Oscar winners: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine (sixth straight Nolan film), Ellen Burstyn, and Matt Damon.
Caine will not be in the next Nolan film. His death in Interstellar more than represented his death in the narrative, but in Nolan films in general. The director-actor relationship has lasted for nine years now—the time has come. I can even throw in a cliché and say, “all good things must come to an end” or “if you truly love something (meaning Nolan’s love of Caine’s acting) you need to let it go.”
The reason Nolan chose McConaughey was thanks to Mud—McConaughey’s resurgence of great acting. In this low budget indie, McConaughey dazzles with a career changing performance never before seen by the Texas native. Nolan saw the film and remarked, “I didn’t know how much potential he had until I saw Mud. Not just as a leading man, but sheer acting talent.” And its a good thing that Nolan got him before his Oscar winning performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club, because now McConaughey is the most sought after actor on the market.
Anne Hathaway—previously Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises —is reprising her Nolan film career as a NASA scientist. At one point in the filming with Anne talking about love, she struggled and felt like in “an emotionally-frayed place that was making the whole thing feel, quite frankly, a little ‘actor-y’, quote, unquote.” Nolan approached and got her to tell the lines with a “calm certainty” – “as if you were saying something you had known your entire life.” I thought this helped the scene out a lot in not making it sound like a soap opera.
Plot: WARNING, there will be major spoilers from here on out.
We start the film at Cooper’s (McConaughey) farm in the middle of a Dust Bowl-inspired blight. This single father lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), fifteen-year-old son Tom, and ten year old daughter, Murphy. Cooper used to be a pilot/engineer in the past, but retreated to the farm to help with the worldwide crop failures and shortages. He even uses his engineering ingenuity to build automated tractors to efficiently farm the property.
Right away, the film starts in this gritty, sandy sci-fi world of poverty and hunger. No clear year is given out—which is smart because look at all the assholes who ripped 2001 for not being accurate. Nonetheless, the film is definitely set in the not-so-distant future.
Okotoks, Alberta is the shooting place of the town and baseball scene—Seaman Stadium. For the cornfields, Nathan Crowley and his crew planted over 500 acres of corn in order for the storm to destroy. Incredibly large fans created the storm by blowing large amounts of synthetic dust. The filming in Alberta took about a month and used a crew of about 130 people, most of whom were locals.
Murphy has been experiencing unusual occurrences with her books being thrown off the shelves and thinks some ghost activity is happening. After a dust storm ravages through town, the open window to Murphy’s room causes a huge sand buildup. Murphy and Cooper find sand-line patterns on the floor and interpret the lines as binary, revealing a set of coordinates.
This is where the story starts to pick up. This moment before they leave reminds me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the obsession of reaching Devils Tower. Spielberg captures the adventurer in the audience and a longing for an understanding into the unknown. A similar longing is happening in Interstellar. The audience wants to figure out this foreign entity acting upon the sand-lines by driving to the coordinates along with Cooper and Murphy.
Once the two reach the location, they find out it happens to be the most well hidden underground secret facility in the world: NASA. Here, Cooper finds his old mentor Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin).
The robots in this future world are cool and more practical than most anthropomorphic beings in other films. The design is complex yet understandable; four metal blocks attach in three spots, giving the robot three different functions according to movement speed—we see all three functions in the film. The blocks can divide even further into smaller components in order to perform smaller tasks that human hands and fingers do.
After meeting the crew, Cooper finds out that “gravitational anomalies” are appearing more often than usual—this is what caused the ghost to knock the books off the shelf. They also found that one of these anomalies caused a wormhole to appear near Saturn. It is not clear exactly what is causing the anomalies, but the scientists are almost certain that extra-dimensional beings are trying to help the human race.
NASA sent a crew of twelve—the Lazarus mission—into the wormhole in order to inhabit twelve planets to figure out which would best accommodate human life (the goldilocks planet). Three of the planets chosen seem to appear to have some sort of life support capability. Now is where plans A and B come into play. Plan A sends the entire NASA facility (rigged as a space ship) through the wormhole to inhabit the new planet. Plan B sends a smaller ship with fertilized eggs in order to repopulate the new planet.
Cooper is chosen to pilot Plan B while Dr. Brand stays behind to continue working on his gravitational formula for Plan A. Cooper decides to leave his family in order to save the human race, but not without strong resentment from Murph. We learn she is a daddy’s girl from the exposition and it kills her to have Cooper leave. He gives her a matching watch and explains to her that due to relativity, they might be the same age when he comes back. She is too distraught to care.
Nolan plays this scene perfectly. He never usually holds onto dramatic moments like this for fear of turning moments into sappy melodramas. This moment works so well because he pairs this emotional leaving directly with the launching of the Ranger. The emotion is rising as Murphy longs to say goodbye to her father one last time, the music picks up, and the ship launches. The editing of this sequence of events is so well that there is no way to explain it in words. This is one of my favorite moments in the film. Another anecdote from Shone’s article in The Guardian explains the writing and sentimentality that went into this scene between Cooper and Murph:
Researching the script at Cal Tech, where he received informal tutorials in quantum mechanics from Kip Thorne, Jonah Nolan noticed a common theme to the examples used by Einstein to illustrate the special and general theories of relativity. “Almost all the thought experiments he did almost always involved someone on a train, and someone on a train platform, just waving at each other as the train sped by at close to the speed of light,” Jonah said. “There was an inherent sadness to them. Twins removed from one another and placed in big ships and planes, realizing that time was being lost.”
The theme held a particular resonance. Their late father, Brendan, was a British advertising copywriter who worked on Madison Avenue for a while – “an actual Mad Man”, Jonah said – before moving to Chicago, where he met their mother, Christina, “and then spent 40 years happily arguing about where to live”. Nolan and his two brothers spent their childhood moving back and forth between London and Chicago. “There was always the fun question of: where is he now?” Jonah recalled. Their father “spent a great deal of time in Africa and a great deal of time in east Asia. I would remember, as a kid, wondering when Dad was coming back, and he’d always come back with gifts or souvenirs and with great stories. I just imagined that’s how it was with everyone with their parents. I remember the excitement of him, that sense of homecoming. And that sense of home being a somewhat portable, a movable feast.”
The have now begun their two-year voyage to Jupiter. The images that Nolan and Hoytema produce during this launch and ascension are utterly gorgeous. Each shot of the ship and Earth is breathtaking when viewed on a big screen because it shows us just how small humans are on this planet. My favorite shot in the film comes at the end of this sequence; it has the Ranger on the far right of the frame with a magnificent image of Earth taking up almost the entire left and center frame. The quality of the shot made me lose my mind. In time, it could well be my favorite shot in all of cinema.
The crew eventually reaches the wormhole, and right when they get there Amelia notices a disturbance in the space next to her and thinks it to be some sort of handshake-communication gesture from the beings causing the anomalies. This will come up later in the film. The crew travels through the incredibly “trippy” portal of the wormhole—which rivals 2001’s “trippy” portal sequence.
After traveling to a different galaxy, they encounter a huge black hole called “Garguntua.” This is where the Thorne equation meets the render queues of Double Negative. At first, Nolan was apprehensive about showing the black hole because of its complexity, but found that shooting it from one perspective would confuse the audience as little as possible. The result is quite interesting:
The first planet on their list is Dr. Miller’s, which is very close to Garguntua. Because of relativity and closeness to the black hole, each hour on the planet translates to seven years on Earth.
Cue in the Nolan thriller climax.
Once Cooper, Amelia, and Doyle reach the planet’s surface, they find that Miller is dead. Because of relativity, all the thumbs-up messages from Miller were coming for years when on her planet she died within an hour or two of landing.
Amelia fucks up big time after finding the dead Miller, gets stuck under a piece of the ship, and needs to rush back to the Ranger before a two hundred foot tidal wave destroys their vehicle. TARS rescues Amelia by showing off its versatility of speed function and saves Amelia, but Doyle is swept by the wave—never to be seen again. The vehicle’s engines flooded from the wave and needs to take some time to release the water.
This halt on the planet causes twenty-three years to pass by the time the get back to Endurance. Romilly is still alive and sane thanks to the hibernation tanks. He did not think Cooper and Amelia would make their way back after all the years, so he was able to spend his time on black hole equations—how convenient.
Cooper now has twenty-three years of messages to watch, mostly from Tom but one from Murphy at the end. Tom shows off as he starts to date this one girl to eventually showing his child—and is now Casey Affleck. Murphy is in the last message and says that by the time he comes back from the voyage that they would be same age—because now they are. This video message system is a yet another tribute to 2001.
By now, we start to follow Murphy on Earth who is now around Cooper’s age—38 or so and played by Jessica Chastain. We learn that Murph is working with Dr. Brand at the NASA facility in trying to find out that gravitational formula for plan A.
Back on the Endurance, the depleting fuel sources forces the crew to pick one of the two remaining planets—one with Lazarus crew leader Dr. Mann and the other with Amelia’s former lover, Dr. Edmunds. Amelia argues for the latter with the explanation that the power of love transcends all science. Cooper dismisses this and Romilly agrees to visit the closer planet with Dr. Mann.
Once they find the ice planet of Hoth—not actually Hoth—they find Mann’s (Matt Damon) base camp and revive him from his hibernation chamber. Filming for this scene, and the water planet, took place in Iceland at the Svínafellsjökull glacier and the town of Klaustur. The film crew of about 350 brought 10,000 pounds worth of model spaceships to the country and shot for about two weeks. Anne Hathaway almost suffered hypothermia because of a “non-secure” dry suite while on the water planet.
Around this time in the narrative, Murph rushes to the ICU to find Dr. Brand on his deathbed. He tells Murph that plan A was bullshit and that the equation for gravity was figured out a while ago. He dies; Murph is pissed and needs to transmit the news to Amelia. Murph tells about her father’s death in the message, and proceeds to ream Amelia for knowing this formula before leaving and criticizes the decision to withhold this information for so long.
Amelia watches the message along with the crew, and Cooper is infuriated.
Mann takes Cooper on a ranging toward the base of the planet where he claims to have a breathable atmosphere. Amelia and Romilly stay back at the campsite.
While ranging, Mann takes off Cooper’s communication device and attempts to push him off a cliff. Cooper defends himself and after a scuffle, Mann cracks Cooper’s helmet. While Cooper is struggling to breath, Man explains he only sent the thumbs up so that someone would save him from the loneliness of being on the planet. Cooper struggles to breath and is looking for his comm-device. He finds it and immediately tells Amelia.
Amelia leaves the campsite, hops into a ranger, and looks for Cooper. After picking him up, the two head back to the campsite and a huge explosion destroys the campsite with Romilly still inside. The robot that Mann had was rigged as an explosive in order for Mann to carry out his plan with nobody to call him out on what actually happened.
Mann leaves his ice planet on the ranger and makes his way to Endurance. He is unable to automatically dock the ship so he tries a manual override. Acting under impulse, he forgets that without a proper lock-on, the transport tube is still pressurized and opening the Endurance’s doors would cause destruction. Mann goes against Cooper’s words of not opening the doors, and a large explosion destroys the bay terminal, sending the Endurance into a sixty-eight rpm spin.
Cooper takes control and sends the Ranger into the same spin to properly lock onto the bay doors. After doing so, the result causes a dramatic reduction in fuel and causes Amelia to black out. The two remaining crewmembers now need a new plan because they do not have enough fuel to reach the wormhole or third planet.
Cooper has the idea to slingshot around the black hole to gather speed while at the same time releasing one of the rangers with TARS on board in order to collect some data from the hole. When it comes time to do so, Cooper launches TARS, and then himself. Amelia is shocked and in disbelief about Cooper’s decision; he is sacrificing himself in order to give Amelia a better chance of reaching the third planet and her lover, Dr. Edmunds.
Cooper enters the black hole in his ranger, following TARS, and finds himself in a very strange place. After having a 2001 moment of the lights and speed being too much to handle, a warning comes on in the cockpit to eject. He does so without hesitation and floats freely in space, kind of like Gravity, but he is not freaking out.
He finds himself falling into this structure out of nowhere and has no idea where he is—and neither does the audience. He stops himself from falling and notices that he is on the other side of the bookcase of Murphy when she was young. Cooper makes contact with TARS and finds out that the robot made it to this fifth dimensional place and that the beings there have constructed four dimensions inside a three dimensional space in order for Cooper to understand. The first three dimensions being spatial—x, y, and z—and the fourth being time—which is what Cooper is seeing.
If the fourth dimension is what holds together spatial relations in time, then the fifth dimension is what holds all of time together. Physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft created the holograph principle, explaining, “Information about an extra dimension is visible as a curvature in a space-time with one fewer dimension.” You can think of a hologram as a three dimensional figure being projected onto a two dimensional surface, and when the observer moves, a curvature is seen. Apply this principle to general relativity and that is why a three-dimensional path created by a moving particle shows a fourth dimensional.
Cooper ends up in this space with all of Murphy’s actions in the bedroom happening at the same time. Cooper sees Murph and tries to get her attention by desperately banging on the bookshelf, causing some of he books to knock over the lunar lander that is on the bookshelf.
This is how the movie begins, with Murph noticing a ghost is acting in her room that caused the books and lander to fall. That ghost is her father. Cooper understands now that the only way to get Murph’s attention is creating some system of communication other than speech. Cooper arranges the dust and sand to fall in such a way to give the coordinates of the NASA base.
Cooper also causes the rift in gravity to reach out to Amelia in the cockpit that the crew experienced on their way through the wormhole.
The other beings did not cause Cooper to go on this mission, but instead himself. He understands that the higher beings in their dimension cannot communicate directly to the population of Earth, so they helped create the wormhole in order to guide the humans to survival.
After seeing how torn apart Murph was that her dad was leaving, Cooper tries his best to somehow tell his former self to stay—even arranging the books in a code that spells STAY. Cooper at beginning of the movie shrugs it off. This is a common Nolan-narrative motif moment in his films. He introduces an idea or event at the beginning, spends the entire movie trying to explain the idea/event, and at the end returns to the beginning in one-way or another.
Murphy in the narrative to which she is older, visits the old house with her doctor friend, Getty (Topher Grace) to see to Tom’s kid, who has some respiratory problem. Getty finds that it is not safe for the kid or wife to stay at that house any longer, for health purposes, but Tom stops them from leaving. Murph and Getty storm off and set a fire in Tom’s crops to get him out of the house for a while. During this time, Murph and Getty evacuate Tom’s wife and kid.
Murph visits her old bedroom one last time for sentimentality and notices something odd with the watch that Cooper gave her at the beginning of the film. Cooper sees Murph in his own dimension in the room and figures out to communicate. He figures out to control the second hand of the watch through gravity, and Murph knows. He relays the gravity formula from TARS’ data to Murph; she takes the data and is able to complete the formula for plan A to work.
Once Cooper completes the mission that the higher beings sent him out to do, the space around him collapses and he continues his space floating.
He suddenly wakes up in a hospital, learns that he is 124 years old, and that the place he is in is Cooper station—named after his daughter. Due to the relativity shift that Cooper experienced, Murph is now an extremely old age, and is now Ellen Burstyn. They exchange a touching moment—again rare for a Nolan film—and Murph explains that Amelia is still out there through the wormhole. Cooper needs to go after her.
Plan A succeeds and they are rotating in a large station around Saturn. This station is a lot like the Elysium station that the rich is living on, but with much less racism and Matt Damon is still alive. The station is a large, circular farm community that has the Cooper’s home still intact and is now a historic landmark. Cooper checks it out and continues to live there, but now with TARS. His life feels empty—like the end of Goodfellas and Jarhead endings—and knows he needs to go after Amelia. He and Tars hi-jack a Ranger and set off to the wormhole.
At the same time, Amelia is on the planet and finds a base camp with multiple tents set up with clear human life living there. She takes off her helmet and is able to breath. Humans have found a sustainable planet to live on.
The ending leaves there because the story is over. Murph’s job is to figure out how to save the human race, and Cooper’s job is to bridge the gap between Murphy and the higher beings that know how to save humankind. Once achieved after 169 minutes, there is no need to continue. Nolan of course ends with his usual ambiguous resolution.
The biggest problem with this film is the sound mixing. It may have been the speakers’ fault in the theater, but the sound levels were definitely off at times. This film contains loud space ships and a sweeping orchestra, which will give any sound mixer a headache when trying to lodge dialogue somewhere in between.
Next up is acting. Some critics went so far as to condemn the movie as a whole because of poor acting. The acting is not even that bad. Some minor characters do not have the best performances—Romilly and Doyle—but is that enough to criticize the acting overall? McConaughey, Chastain, and Hathaway are great, Caine is old but still great, and Damon holds his own for the minor role he played.
Classic science-fiction films—Star Wars in particular—had shit acting but still held up because they are not character driven films. Films like Dallas Buyers Club, 13 Years a Slave, and The Help thrive off their acting because they are dramas. Without dramatic performances, dramas are nothing. Science fiction and action films on the other hand focus on visual excitement and thrill in order for their films to work.
A lot of critics and writers are talking about Interstellar as being the revival of the Hollywood blockbuster. To continue from the section a few thousand words ago, this film follows the trends in history to make it a revival piece. In the last half-decade or so, everything being made on a large scale is a sequel, remake/reboot, or adaptation. The studios are scared shitless to risk big on an original idea recently due to the ‘08 recession. In addition, Disney lost over $300 million with John Carter and again with The Lone Ranger (2013) with a loss of over $100 million. Disney will no doubt bounce back from this considering they own Star Wars and will reap the benefits from the new trilogy and merchandising. The other studios do not have this wiggle room unfortunately.
I want to talk about love and how it works within this film. Love is the reason many of the characters do what they do in this film, much like real life. Love causes us to perform functions we would not normally do. Love has no physical manifestation; it has no being in our three-dimensional world without humans.
Love is so powerful that it can even hinder our genetic identity. Humans are naturally predisposed for survival and spreading successors. We don’t need love in order for those two conditions to be met, but it still happens. Love throws us off out genetic pathway; nothing else has that power over us. From Amelia: “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.”
Love is also something incredibly foreign to understanding. Nobody knows what love is or how it works, but instead how it feels.
This feeling of connection is what attracts Amelia to Dr. Edmunds; its what attracts Dr. Mann to the planet he left; its what attracts Cooper to launch into the unknown; its what attracts Murph to work with Dr. Brand at NASA; its what attracts Cooper to Amelia even when he is safely back on his house floating around Saturn; more than all, its what attracts the beings to save humanity.
The higher beings acting upon Cooper to help him into the fifth dimension are humans so far forward in the future that they figured out how to navigate through the dimensions. They created an existence loop by helping out Cooper and Murph to ensure their future survival.
This type of theory of extra-temporal travel is a fairly new concept around since the crash landing at Roswell and other locations. The reason why aliens are depicted as skinny figures with no hair and a big brain is because that is how we may look in the future. Hair has been growing less and less on humans with each century; our brains are constantly growing due to expanded thought through each generation; and skinny bodies because the hard labor jobs don’t exist in a future where space and time are something you can play around with.
The point of separation between Nolan and other filmmakers is the amount of thought put into each film. It is not that the viewer needs to decode each of his films, but rather navigate through them like a maze. Shone writes a great couple of paragraphs about this:
If Hollywood has long offered audiences the promise of escape, Nolan’s films nail it down still further: he offers audiences the chance to escape their heads. The name of his production company, Syncopy, is the word for the temporary loss of consciousness caused by loss of oxygen to the brain, and all his films, to some extent, use the tropes of the detective film or heist movie to dramatize the twists and turns of consciousness. “We can’t step outside our own heads,” he told me at Fotokem. “We just can’t. Now, a great film will reveal that the world is way fucking worse than you think it is and you missed it. It should be depressing but the reason it’s not is, we want the world to be more complicated than it is. We don’t want to know the limits of your world. You don’t want to be like Truman in the boat at the end, hitting the sky. What it’s really saying is, there’s more to this place than meets the eye. I make films that are huge endorsements of that idea.”
If Nolan’s success has in large part depended on an audience of little Nolans, notepads out, faces scrunched up as they attempt to outwit the master from the front row, the film-maker found himself, as he approached the release of Interstellar, in the unusual position of pivoting towards encouraging a more limbic, left-brained response to his work. The only praise that made him a little uncomfortable was praise for the complexity of his films. “What I’ve found is, people who let my films wash over them – who don’t treat it like a crossword puzzle, or like there is a test afterwards – they get the most out of the film,” he said. “I have done various things in my career, including, with Memento, telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex way. Inception is a very complicated story told in a very complicated way. Interstellar is very upfront about being simple as a story.
This simple storytelling in a very outstanding way is what Interstellar so fun and easy to watch. Yes, it is an intelligent film, but it is a spectacle nonetheless.