“What happens now?”
This is the question that echoes in the mind of the viewer upon concluding a venture through director Christopher Nolan’s most recent filmmaking feat, the sci-fi epic Interstellar. However, a multitude of other questions also arise upon immersing oneself into the near three hours of this emotionally-charged saga. Nolan is renowned for taking steps in cinema that innovate various genres into their own subcategories; he will take a basic plot structure or theme, and then proceed to completely reshape it. In this sense, Nolan acts as a true artist, as he sculpts his ideas into fine points to provide a sense of sentimentality with each of his productions. The films that leave this type of vintage impact primarily revolve around universal ideas or contemporary concerns that grasp onto the emotions of the viewer by relating to the viewer’s own life. In turn, these films endure the ultimate test of time and manage to remain influential through decades to come. One such film that embodies the quintessence of this category is, indeed, Interstellar, Nolan’s latest cinematic masterpiece.
Interstellar offers a story that is pivotal to our time, by shedding light onto the possibilities of universal space travel and the current repercussions humanity could face with climate change. Earth, in Nolan’s portrayal, is a dust-ridden dystopian society suffering from a blight. It is the job of a select few former NASA astronauts, played by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, to tackle on the degradation of Earth by launching into space, in order to travel through a temporary wormhole spotted on the surface of Saturn, conceivably leading to the discovery a new world to colonize. Cooper (McConaughey) highlights the need for this type of undertaking by accentuating how “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.” From its exterior, this film may appear to epitomize the typical sci-fi adventure blockbuster, which any actor could fulfill the role for, fighting through intense explosions and facing conflicts in which the human race will undeniably reach its brink and conclude with an hour of mindless action. Yet Interstellar actually extends itself far beyond the limitations of what any other space odyssey film has done before.
Nothing incorporated into the story is arbitrary, as every single aspect of the film is placed there for a specific reason; this sense of meticulous design primarily serves to connect the details of the story together, but in the circumstance of Interstellar, it is also crafted to provide the extraordinary scientific accuracy that Nolan achieves. In essence, Interstellar provides a momentous tale of fiction, which in truth is actually quite close to factual possibilities. While still connecting to a variety of sources, such as John Ford’s classic film The Grapes of Wrath and the scientific expertise of esteemed physicist Kip Thorne, Nolan still manages to incorporate a wide array of original elements into Interstellar. Ford’s movie in a sense acts as the century mirror between the possibilities presented in cinema then and Interstellar wowing audiences, now; Nolan utilized some of the thematic aspects of the Grapes of Wrath in his film, such as the massive dust storms that acted as double-meanings in terms of the theme of departure. The first important element here is the departure from Earth in relation to the story, but the second is a farewell to an era of film, since movies such as Interstellar, while they pay tribute, also pave the path for the evolution of the silver screen.
By creating a relationship between both science and art, the film’s narrative is able to expand with ease when compared to other science fiction or dramatic pieces that primarily tend to focus too single-mindedly on one end of the spectrum or the other. Whether his characters are skimming the orbit of Saturn, or falling through the five-dimensional terrain of black holes, Nolan creates a visual aesthetic that defies modern visual effects. When put in hand with audio that ranges from utter silence in the theatre, to nearly making it shake with Hans Zimmer’s cinematic pipe organ-based score, the environmental and setting components provide for an ambient experience that leaves the audience either with chills or tears. We nearly feel the exact, replicated level of emotion that Cooper feels, upon leaving his entire family behind.
Overall, Christopher Nolan aims to create a story that goes beyond the confines of any typical “story” definition, and rather decides to take a leap in purposefully producing his sci-fi epic on IMAX 70mm film, transforming Interstellar into an unparalleled experience. Although it may play itself off as another Christopher Nolan, high-budget blockbuster that seeks to leave audiences speechless and bend their minds, at the root of it all, Nolan links the cosmic forces of the universe to emotions much closer to home. Nolan has proven that a basic father-daughter love story now has the ability to adapt into an epic tale of departure and of scientific breakthrough, providing an innovative yet intimate move for filmmaking. And maybe this is why, as we reach the climax of the movie, we take the thought of the future of film into mind, as Cooper concludes his voice-over narration by leaving us with that single question hanging from our thoughts.
“What happens now?”