Relatively Far Out
3 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
I contemplated the critiquing task that lay ahead with trepidation. Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” taking us once more into the breach of apocalyptic rumination and adventure, boasted a daunting length of 169 minutes. That’s 2.81 human hours. I feared I’d be an old man when I exited…the world will have changed; no one would know me, nor I them. But then this is what I signed up for when I took the hypocritical oath at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College. Maybe I’d bring hot dogs, Sterno, a sleeping bag and a change of clothes.
What I should have brought was my old pal Albert Einstein, though that would be a bit difficult, or maybe not, considering the space time continuum hypotheses postulated in Mr. Nolan’s grand, ambitious, captivating and frighteningly smart film. Hey, I don’t even know what quantum mechanics is. But I’ll tell you this: If Matthew McConaughey’s Captain Cooper and his cohorts who travel into space to find us Earthlings a suitable place to live don’t discover some secret about it, the human race can kiss its molecular structure goodbye.
Yep, shades of the last Dust Bowl, the terra firma depicted in this by now familiar near future can no longer sustain life. So, it’s a real good time for the sort of once-in-a-millennium hero to step up and save us poor suckers. Courtesy of NASA in exile, Cooper, a farmer who was the space agency’s golden boy until a mission went kablooey, is drafted for the really big redemption.
Adding a touchy-feely component to the estimably challenging science fiction notions, this assignment doesn’t sit well with the widower’s 10-year-old daughter, Murphy, nicely exacted by Mackenzie Foy. To heck with saving the world. Theirs is an especially spiritual relationship, and she wants Dad to stay home. This plays out quite intriguingly and lends dramatic balance to the intellectual thriller.
Director Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”), who co-wrote “Interstellar” with his brother, Jonathan, has never taken the path of least resistance to success in Hollywood, but instead plies those routes aimed at exercising if not entirely confounding our gray matter. What’s more, he has the uncanny ability of finagling us into thinking we sort of understand the mind-boggling complexities in which he delves.
I mean, c’mon: In this delirious traipse, he has us there right along with Cooper and his colleague/physicist Dr. Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, mulling the advantages and risks of slipping through this or that wormhole in order to scoot through the black hole that might lead to the new New World. But, just in case you couldn’t care less about any of that E=MC2 stuff, fasten your seatbelts anyway. Mr. McConaughey the action figure sure can pilot a spaceship. Oh, but beware. There’s treachery afoot.
Only problem is, it’s often hard to understand what Coop is saying. The esoteric theorization and space flight jargon would be perplexing enough, but McConaughey ups the difficulty exponentially thanks to a Texas twang delivered with his signature mumble. I don’t know if the affliction is catching or not, but Miss Hathaway often complements the verbal haze with a too soft-spoken charm. So O.K., I say to myself, you inevitably get the gist when you watch silent films, and you can do that here. Still, how did this irritation get past the studio?
But no sense dwelling on it. There’s a civilization to be saved, the grand plan clandestinely engineered by Dr. Brand’s father, also Dr. Brand, portrayed by Michael Caine with his usual aplomb. It’s a longshot. But as Flash Gordon once said in an episode when the Earth’s fate hung on his heroism, it’s worth a try. So off we go into the wild black yonder, untethered, uncertain, and as much dependent on mathematics and far-flung faith as on gut determination.
In a cozy scene aboard the hurtling spacecraft, Cooper puts it in perspective whilst discussing the journey with Amelia and crew members Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley). We dig the pageantry and grok the all-encompassing raison d’être when he proclaims, “We’re explorers.” Taking this all in is TARS, a refrigerator-sized computer/robot voiced by Bill Irwin. He supplies the tale with a philosophical idea of how far we’ve progressed since his progenitor, HAL, flaunted the whims and wiles of artificial intelligence in “2001: A Space Odyssey”(1968).
Now, insofar as my aforementioned fears regarding the length of this movie, kindly note it’s indeed all relative. Absorbed in Cooper’s anxiety that hours spent in different gravities will spell lost decades back on Earth (if he should ever return), we are ironically transfixed in time and, even when nature calls, reluctant to leave the controls. Hence, although you’ll be 2.8166 hours older when exiting “Interstellar,” it’s little price to pay for the out of this world experience.
“Interstellar,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine. Running time: 169 minutes