We're still pioneers, we barely begun. Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us

We’re still pioneers, we barely begun. Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us

They say that to get the full scope of something, you need to step back. When we stand too close, we become one with whatever it is we are considering and find ourselves caught up in minutiae. When we get some distance, we are able to get the full picture – for better and for worse. It’s often with space and distance that we can really understand things as they really are, and how they truly affect us.

INTERSTELLAR wants us to step way back.

The Earth of INTERSTELLAR is dying. America’s population is down, and what’s left is enduring the return of dustbowl-like conditions. Wheat has stopped growing, and blinding sandstorms in the heartland are common. It’s here that we find Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children Murphy and Tom. Cooper was once a pilot, and eventually happens upon a message that sends him to a secret bunker in the middle of nowhere.

It’s here that he meets Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and her professor father (Michael Caine). They head up what is left of NASA – a team now intent on finding a new planet to be humanity’s home, since this planet is so clearly done with us. Knowing Cooper’s past, and finding themselves impressed that he was able to discover their whereabouts, they ask him if he will lead the mission deep into space. Thanks to The Theory of Relativity, the mission will take him away from his family for decades, but Cooper believes in it…much to Murphy’s chagrin.

As time passes, and the mission plays out, the adult Murphy (Jessica Chastain) becomes a mix of steadfastness and resentment. While deeply angry with Cooper for leaving her behind, she also keeps herself available to NASA in the hopes of figuring out the theories needed to ultimately make the mission a success.

The ultimate question though, is whether any of these people – or those they encounter – have learned a lesson about selfishness. If not, the needs of the many will continue to suffer due to the wants of the few.

Jessica Chastain in Interstellar
So many of the most interesting science fiction films of the past are deeply flawed. They are over-ambitious leading to a centre that cannot hold. They use grand imagery to convey generally common ideas, or worse: become mired in philosophy that detracts from the spectacle. These glimpses of our future are always rooted in our present and past, and because of that they usually lack what we so dearly wish our future holds – hope. The greatest pieces of science fiction, and even the very good ones, are usually better in concept than execution. The very same way the planet Venus looks so much more beautiful through our telescopes than its actual surface presents, great science fiction is usually better seen from a distance.

INTERSTELLAR is no different.

For all its stunning imagery and stoic looks to the frontier, it often finds itself in one of two places. For most of its runtime, it wants to focus on the sacrifices we make. It drives home that there are men and women out there giving their lives – both literally and figuratively – so that the rest of us might have brighter future than the generation before. While this is true, it’s hardly a point worth exploring for three hours. The other place is far more metaphysical. It’s a place that speaks of relativity, spacetime, and “the space between spaces”. As scientific as it is – and lordy is it scientific – it wants us to take a lot on faith. It’s a place that will test some, and flat-out lose others. It takes a great deal of nerve to take an audience to these places in such a big way, and to this end INTERSTELLAR’s nerve almost exceeds its grasp.

Almost.

What makes this film daring, and what ultimately makes it succeed is the way it uses such a grand scale to convey humanity’s fallibility and insignificance. This sort of story can be told on pages, on episodes of television, or on any stage in the world. These lessons are as old as recorded history, and don’t really leave one feeling hopeful for the future – yet we continue to ignore them. Knowing that, INTERSTELLAR uses pure scale to try to teach them once again. It sends a space stations past one of the largest planets in our solar system and leaves us dumbstruck at how minuscule it seems. It’s a towering achievement of technology, and yet in comparison to what nature did on its own, it’s nothing. On a page or a television screen, this point would be lost. Dwarfed by a movie screen, this idea is wickedly humbling.

The fact is that we are an arrogant species, and one that is driven by want. We have lost the ability to understand our own mortality or the consequences of our actions. We believe more and more that we hold sway over our ultimate fate, when in actuality we are probably closer in stature to the dust that blows about the earth in this film. It’s happened to us before, and it will happen again. The only question is when. Seeing our heartland consumed by rot is a sobering reminder of this. We need this reminder. We need to see that eventually our crops will fail to grow and our air will be difficult to breathe. We need to be lured by its terrible beauty, and once again look to the horizon and dream.

To that end though, we must likewise be cautious. While science has allowed us to do things never before believed possible, it is still the product of the very same arrogant species. It’s developed by people who are fallible, arrogant, greedy, and corrupt. Sometimes they are believers in the greater good, but sometimes they taint their own results with selfish short-sightedness. These mistakes can have dire consequences – effects that can set us back years. We like to believe that math and science are impartial, but the reality is that they are only as sound as the people exploring them…and explorers can be selfish people.

To graft these stark realities on to some of the most stunning imagery of the year is what makes INTERSTELLAR so special. It puts us in our place by showing us how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and how much we truly have to overcome if we ever think we’ll have a chance at survival. It’s almost as if it realizes its own imperfections, but wants to raise the banner anyway…perhaps comforted by the company it keeps in the science fiction that has come before it.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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