On the face of it, Interstellar is the modern take on a space exploration film that is trying to “out-Kubrick” Kubrick, but the film, despite all its trappings is not about space. It is not even about physics or dimensions or time travel. Like most exquisitely good science fiction and adventure, it is about story, more than that it is about human interaction and provides enough in-depth character development for the the main players that the film never comes close to fitting the standard template for most cinematic science fiction films.
Looking at just two of the film’s characters, Cooper, or “Coop” is a farmer and Professor Brand is just that, a professor. Granted the academic never goes into space and the farmer was a NASA pilot “back in the day.” It also turns out that the NASA flyboy is an engineer who has adapted to the world’s new need. Interstellar features an Earth that is slowly but surely shutting down, food is in scant supply because blight is systematically destroying crops. Part of the film’s backstory is that space exploration was officially shut down when Mr. and Mrs. Average got more concerned with feeding their children and less bothered about finding other planets and their secrets.
This future earth is a overblown Grapes of Wrath scenario, where the entire planet has turned into the dust bowl of the 1930s and another galaxy takes the place of California as the promised land. In essence Interstellar is not about space at all and Coop can be seen as the modern equivalent of Tom Joad, presumably. This idea only really works if one takes Michael Caine’s character, the professor, and places him in the part of Mother Joad. Although Matthew McConaughey’s former flyboy is a farmer in this dirty planet’s dismal future.
According to Coop, everything has to adapt, just as they have done, this is at the beginning of the film, when the farmer’s daughter is still young and relatively untroubled except by the “ghost” in her room. While Christopher Nolan has made the future and space his setting for Interstellar, the director, who wrote the screenplay with his brother, who wrote the original years ago for Steven Spielberg, spends the first of the film looking backward. In the first moments, the dust bowl of Oklahoma is visually referenced and the characters talk about the potato famine in Ireland.
In the film, the earth is being drained by mankind and it is Professor Brand who is visionary enough to get the ball rolling for the last remaining explorers to go into space to find another habitable planet. Interstellar tells us that space is not the final frontier as popular science fiction tells us, but the last place for mankind to adapt. Both to and with. As Coop tells Murph, his daughter, at the beginning of the movie, everything must adapt whether it wants to or not. In Cooper’s case it is learning to re-adapt back to when he was an explorer with NASA.
Interstellar is not about space travel or even the earth. It is about people, their interactions, family, hope, fear, lies and love. This long film deals with all these issues of humanity and more. At just under three hours the film presents itself in the most beautifully cinematic way possible with real effects versus computer generated and at the end, as the audience stand and stretch, they will hopefully think about all the things broached in the film and a few, will actually wipe off a tear or two and wonder about this science fiction film that is not really about space or science fiction at all.
By Michael Smith