Interstellar: “This majestic epic retains a human heart”

The "classy cast" of Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway take us to infinity and beyond - but is Nolan's mission successful?

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Not content with exploring the tortured psyche of Gotham’s Caped Crusader in the Dark Knight trilogy or the subconscious mind in the physics-defying Inception (2010), director Christopher Nolan takes us to infinity and beyond in an outer-space epic that adds new meaning to the term “race against time”.

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Set in an indeterminate but near future when the human race is struggling to grow enough food to sustain itself, the film’s focus is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, now with added Oscar-winning gravitas), a widowed farmer and father of two young children, who’s wrestling with a livelihood threatened by intermittent dust storms and crop blight. Previously a test pilot and engineer, Cooper bristles at his earthbound situation (particularly when his daughter Murph’s teacher debunks the Moon landings) so, of course, when he’s given the opportunity “to save the world” by a secret cadre of NASA boffins (led by Nolan regular Michael Caine), he leaps at the chance, much to the distress of Murph (Mackenzie Foy). For this is no ordinary rescue mission. It requires Cooper and his team (including Anne Hathaway as Caine’s scientist daughter) to enter a mysterious wormhole that’s appeared near Saturn and find a new galaxy where the human race can settle, a journey that could take years to complete for the explorers while decades fly by on the other side of the wormhole.

This turn of events allows Nolan to tap into the Einstein-level ideas of theoretical physicist (and production adviser) Kip Thorne, whose work on relativity, black hole cosmology and wormholes acts as the scientific foundation of Nolan’s space odyssey. For audiences used to Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” approach to time travel, this might prove to be a bit more technical and testing than usual. However, some of the most effectively powerful scenes come from the how the passing of time effects the characters, both on the intergalactic mission and back on an increasingly dust-ridden Earth.

Interstellar is easily Nolan’s most ambitious film to date; not a disaster flick in the vein of The Day after Tomorrow or 2012 but a more philosophical “where are we going to?” experience like 1970s classic Silent Running (the blocky, Lego-like robots TARS and CASE are very reminiscent of the Huey, Dewey and Louie droids from that sci-fi fable, but with a wry sense of humour). Stanley Kubrick’s masterful 2001: a Space Odyssey inevitably comes to mind, too, with the mind-blowing visuals around Saturn and beyond, and I’m sure I detected some musical nods to the 1968 epic in Hans Zimmer’s subtle but beautifully evocative score.

Criticisms of Kubrick have usually revolved around the lack of emotion in his movies, but Nolan makes good use of his classy cast (Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn), and puts the bond between the estranged Cooper and Murph at the core of this blockbuster, despite the presence of elaborate-looking spaceships, strange new planets rife with elemental danger and an omnipresent black hole called Gargantua. Holding it all together, though, is McConaughey who proves this year’s best actor Oscar was no fluke and guarantees this majestic epic retains a human heart.

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Interstellar is in cinemas on 7th November