Interstellar ★★★★


(Part I)

Christopher Nolan has created some staggeringly ambitious science-fiction films over the past decade, but 'Interstellar' is the first that brings the genre's scientific components decisively into the foreground. Most conspicuously, the film’s heroes are actual physicists, engineers, biologists, and geographers—and not the curiously incurious “punk rocker” sort, either. (See: 'Prometheus'.) There’s something quaint about filling the cast of a sci-fi feature with characters who are genuine researchers and explorers, the sort of individuals who are fundamentally driven to illuminate, catalog, and harness the natural universe. One could even call Nolan’s film classical in its reverence for the scientist-hero, save that the PhDs of cinematic sci-fi’s midcentury golden era were just as likely to be deranged villains.

Science is also an essential aspect of 'Interstellar'’s plot, and not merely in the broad sense that it is a work of space-based fiction. The film’s story is one of quantities and dimensions, where the characters (and humanity in general) are entrapped by fearsomely concrete deficits and surpluses. Earth has suffered a massive population collapse due to the ravages of climate change and an inter-species plant pathogen known as Blight. The future of the survivors is grim, as the remaining subsistence crops are falling one by one to the Blight’s withering touch. Unbeknownst to most of Earth's population, the Blight is also emitting so much nitrogen that the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere is approaching unbreathable levels. The end of Homo sapiens is to be death by starvation and suffocation.

Corn farmer and ex-NASA test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has an painfully vague but unshakeable hope that humanity will find the means to save itself from such a fate. It’s a strangely myopic perspective for a man who is otherwise depicted as droll and world-weary. One could say that 'Interstellar' itself indulges in such techno-utopianism, as Cooper's prediction is ultimately proven correct, albeit a bit off the mark regarding the “how” and the “when”. Humankind's salvation lies not in some earthbound agricultural discovery, but in the colonization of distant, habitable planets free from dust storms and Blight. This feat is accomplished through the labors of earthly scientists, but also with a considerable assist from unseen, hyper-advanced beings...

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