Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 49 min.
Our Content ratings (0-10): Violence 5; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (0-5): 4
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Christopher Nolan’s challenging film begins in a Midwestern cornfield, but this is no Field of Dreams, though the relationship between a father and daughter is just as close—until the father makes a fateful choice that will drive a breach between them lasting for decades. This is pure science fiction in that it is an exploration of big concepts and ideas rather than what was coined over a half century ago, “space opera,” the latter employing the s-f genre merely for action and thrills. As a study of not just interstellar travel, but intergalactic travel, and the affect on time that dense gravitational fields might have, this is a mind-boggling trip.
Set in the middle of this century when over population and climate change have turned the earth into a vast dustbowl on which the surviving population ekes out a living growing corn, former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) must set forth through a wormhole near Saturn to find out what happened to NASA teams sent there ten years earlier seeking another planet on which at least a portion of beleaguered humanity might survive. Before this however, there is the sequence on the farm that gives heart to the proceedings. Cooper lives with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), teenaged son Tom, and young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). We especially see how close he is to Murph, and it is in her bedroom that a mysterious power emanates, leaving clues by which he will discover not far away the underground silo where a former NASA team is busy developing the rockets and technology that might save humanity. When its leader Professor Brand (Michael Caine) shares two plans for saving humanity and convinces Cooper to command the spacecraft they are about to launch, the action, along with many puzzlements, begins. His crew of four consists of Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway); scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi); and the robot TARS (Bill Irwin), a more friendly version HAL 9000. They immerse themselves in sleep pods for the two-year journey to Saturn, wakening when they are about to enter the wormhole close by.
There are so many things in this film I do not understand, as there was decades ago after seeing 2001: Space Odyssey, so I look forward to seeing this one again. What I did understand is that this is an emotional tale of survival and sacrifice, as well as of big ideas and questions. Several times we hear Prof. Brand refer to Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying light,” so I presume that one theme clearly intended is that humanity must never give in to a perceived catastrophe, but fight on and on.
Cooper also accepts, as Jesus did in the passage quoted from Mark, that at times we must commit ourselves to loyalties beyond our family—and this is an issue that will haunt his daughter Murph for the rest of her life. The girl is so upset when her father is leaving the farm for a voyage that it will take years (if ever) to complete, she refuses to come and say goodbye to him. During the deep space voyage she also refuses to come to the monitor to talk with him, so he has to hear about her through his son and father-in-law.
There is a lot more, including time dilation, the slowing down of time when they are on one of the planets on the other side of the wormhole, so that an hour there is equivalent to seven Earth years. There also is a strange reversal of time that loops back to Murph’s bedroom and the mysterious phenomena there that had puzzled them before. Some of the last scenes are very moving, but I will refrain from going on. I will welcome any insights that you readers who have seen the film might have!
A set of discussion questions will accompany this review in the Dec. 2014 issue of Visual Parables.