I am of two minds when it comes to Interstellar the science fiction drama directed by Christopher Nolan: I liked it but the forced tensions bug me.
Overall the basic plot is simple. Crop blight is slowly destroying Earth’s crops and threatening humanity with starvation and lack of oxygen. Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot, now widower farmer trying to raise two kids. A message from a “ghost” to his daughter leads him to a secret program to find a new planet for colonization.
A wormhole mysteriously appears near Saturn that allows passage to a distant galaxy where Professor Brand (Michael Caine) has sent 12 volunteers to find a suitable planet. They have transmitted that there are three promising sites near a black hole. There are two plans for colonization: A) move everyone from Earth to the new planet and B) repopulate the new planet with frozen embryos. Professor Brand is trying to work out plan A but the math doesn’t compute.
Cooper’s daughter, Murphy, joins Professor Brand in hopes of deriving the right formula but she needs the information hidden inside a black hole. Mr. Cooper agrees to pilot the spaceship with hopes of quickly finding the right planet and then returning to his family. Due to relativity, what takes Cooper months turns into decades back home. The first two planets turn out to be duds and Cooper sacrifices his life to push his crew mate Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), who is Professor Brand’s daughter, to the third and eventually suitable planet. His sacrifice is to fall into the blackhole where he is able to learn the secret formula and transmit it to his daughter as the “ghost” allowing the rest of humanity to be saved.
Why I liked this film, despite the gargantuan plot holes, is it focused more on the story and characters rather than the CGI to move the plot. The characters have fear and despair but other still have hope. Nobody is evil for evil’s sake. The closest “bad guys” might either be Professor Brand or Dr. Mann (Matt Damon), one of the first 12 astronauts. Professor Brand has faked the calculations for years because he has decided it is physically impossible to implement plan A. Plan B was the plan all along but lied to Cooper so he would leave his family in hopes of finding a new place for them. This isn’t from a place of evil but a decision out of despair and rationality. Dr. Mann is trapped on an inhospitable planet to die alone and has been transmitting false data. He is afraid, weak, and a coward and tries to kill Cooper to get off the planet. His decision is based on irrationality not evil intent. There is no greedy politician trying to control the Earth or multinational company trying to get rich. And any movie that makes Matt Damon look like a dick is ok with me.
The CGI is beautiful and acts as a backdrop rather than the central plot. The story behind the development of the black hole is fascinating as the most up to date theoretical equations where entered into the rendering software which then developed the visual effect (LINK). Finally, how many movies can discuss and show the theory of relativity and still keep people in their seats? This is what true Sci-Fi should look like.
The next is the lying by Professor Brand. Why does he need to lie? Why can’t he just say that he can’t complete the formula without more information? Another is Murphy being so pissed at her dad for leaving that she won’t speak to him for decades and then accuses him of lying to her about the possibility of his never returning. I understand being angry and sad that her dad left, but couldn’t that emotion be better served to get him back? Eventually it does but her resentments simmers for years and seems like wasted energy. There is also tension between Murphy and her brother, Tom (Casey Affleck), that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Why did Tom punch her boyfriend who only wanted to help his family? If Tom had given up on life, why was he still farming? Why does Casey, a much better actor, get less attention than Ben?
I watched it a second time with my wife and kids. My wife and daughter where crying through the whole movie and were irritated at the end despite the happy ending. I found this to be interesting. This movie touches and pulls on a lot of emotional strings, which a good movie should, but perhaps it was too much? I like the movie more than I disliked it because Nolan at least seems to understand that a good movie is dependent on story and characters and not how many spaceships are moving behind Yoda.