CINEMA: Interstellar Overdrive


Illustration by CHRIS B. MURRAY

NEW YORKER: Interstellar, an outer-space survivalist epic created by the director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, with whom he co-wrote the screenplay, is ardently, even fervently incomprehensible, a movie designed to separate the civilians from the geeks, with the geeks apparently the target audience. Nolan’s 2010 movie, “Inception,” offered layers of dreaming consciousness, each outfitted with its own style of action. The film was stunning but meaningless—a postmodern machine, with many moving parts, dedicated to its own workings and little else. In “Interstellar,” however, Nolan goes for a master narrative. Like so many recent big movies, “Interstellar” begins when the earth has had it. The amount of nitrogen in the air is increasing, the oxygen is decreasing, and, after a worldwide crop failure, dust storms coat the Midwest, drying out the corn, the only grain that is still growing. But all is not lost. God or Fortune or a Higher Intelligence (take your pick) has entered the game, and has placed near Saturn a traversable wormhole, a tunnel in space-time, providing an expressway out of the galaxy and on to the countless stars and planets beyond.

The commander of an underground nasa outpost, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), sends a favored pilot, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), on a mission: Cooper and his crew, including Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), are to retrace the flights of three astronauts who a decade earlier were sent to planets thought to be capable of sustaining human life. Are the explorers alive? What did they find? Can the earth’s billions be moved through the wormhole? As the crew members enter the distant passage, with its altered space-time continuum, they testily debate one another, referring, in passing, to theories advanced by Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Kip Thorne. (Thorne, a theoretical physicist and a longtime friend of Hawking’s, served as an adviser and an executive producer on the film.) Black holes, relativity, singularity, the fifth dimension! The talk is grand. There’s a problem, however. Delivered in rushed colloquial style, much of this fabulous arcana, central to the plot, is hard to understand, and some of it is hard to hear. The composer Hans Zimmer produces monstrous swells of organ music that occasionally smother the words like lava. The actors seem overmatched by the production. MORE