By the end of the 15th century, some still believed that the world was flat. Despite the discoveries of Copernicus, the inventions of Da Vinci in Europe, and the explorations of Zheng He out of Asia, practical knowledge about the world was infantile. Humankind, however speculated that “out there” somewhere, there was more. Within six hundred years almost every centimeter of the Earth’s surface was uncovered, recorded and claimed.
It‘s a romantic notion to imagine that exploration was motivated by some intrinsic, noble pioneering spirit. It may have existed, but generally it was more probably not the case. More likely it was sense of desperation. The great empires had fragmented. The new feudal enterprises competed for prominence. Their cities and towns were overcrowded. Strains of plague still festered in the streets. Outside the walls, the land was razed by perpetual warfare. The resources to support a steadily increasing population were nearly exhausted. And although, the major religions preached spiritual empowerment, and the feudal princes nurtured an aesthetic renaissance, the general population sensed the jeopardy. Trepidation had replaced trust. The glass appeared empty rather than half-full. Hence, the ships put out to the seas as a matter of practical and economic survival.
Six hundred years later, concurrent with radical advancements in technology, the Earth’s population has diffused beyond established boarders. Within the recent 100 years, the planet’s population has exploded to 7 billion. The Earth’s natural ability to support the species is 10 billion. Yet, with all the advancements, viral and bacterial diseases still linger, warfare persists, and although the major disciplines still preach empowerment, it is still difficult to feel safe. So, at the dawn of the 21st century, we look towards Outer Space in hopes of self-preservation. The ships are once again outfitting for sea, this time with electronically paneled sails that will capture stellar solar winds and then slingshot the vessels onto waves of interstellar gravity into a barely understood Universe.
Interstellar occurs in the near future of only a few decades. It seldom rains. Instead, dust storms ravage the landscape. Drought and famine dominate public policy. The Earth is exhausted and inhospitable. As Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) observes “The world’s a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a while now.” However, society has decided not to support any further technological advancement, except as it applies to agriculture. “We didn’t run out of planes and television sets” comments a school Principal, “We ran out of food.” And so, to paraphrase a line in the film, mankind rather than looking up at the sky and wondering about its place in the stars, it now just looks down and worries about its place in the dirt. Unfortunately, the only crop that can be cultivated is corn, and it too faces extinction.
Murph, Cooper’s precocious daughter (portrayed by Mackenzie Foy at age 10, Jessica Chastain as an adult, and Ellen Burstyn as a senior), discovers a gravitational anomaly in her room. Dust patterns self-assemble into bar codes. Deciphered, the codes reveal the coordinates of secretly funded NASA installation conducting exploration of deep space. Its primary mission is to discover a hospitable planet as a port of rescue for the survivors of the Earth, or to preserve the species by colonizing the new world with fertilized human eggs. Cooper is recruited into the effort as the pilot of a mission to a newly discovered wormhole which offers promise.
Interstellar is 169 minutes long. This may discourage some from seeing the film. However, the film resonates on so many levels that the time spent viewing it seems as insignificant as the relativity of time the characters in the film experience. The story, intelligently scripted by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, surpasses the borders of an ordinary science fiction film. It is a contemporary moral drama with the proper blend of darkness and levity to pace the film comfortably throughout the three hours. Film buffs may find Interstellar a bit reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey; yet, where Kubrick offered, perhaps, too much to guess at, Interstellar clearly displays all the elements on a bright platter for consumption. The dilemmas are intensely personal. The film is supported by a cast worthy of their roles. The science of the film is a blend of contemporary thinking in quantum physics and a great deal of speculation. Nevertheless, the film cleverly eases the viewer into accepting all the premises much like the novels of Jules Verne allowed the reader to accept the Nautilus over 150 years ago.
Interstellar is a film worth the time and the expense of a theatrical viewing. It appeals to the eye, to the emotions and to the intellect. Some may very well consider it among the best films made. If nothing else, it is a great moral fable, a worthy manual for the human species in preparation the coming decades. Because, my friends, have no doubts regarding humanity vaulting itself into the farthest reaches of Outer Space – we are definitely going “out there” very soon.
Of course, as always, dear reader, this is only my opinion. See the film, experience it, and judge for yourself.