I’m going to be upfront here and disclose that I drank two pints of theater beer during this movie and although these were not potent drinks I may have blacked out for the last 20 minutes. It reminds me of the time I nibbled on a xanax before taking the GRE subject test in biochemistry and molecular biology. By the end I was just filling in random scantron bubbles and giving zero shits.
Clocking in at 3 hours– about as long as it takes one to complete the GRE subject test– Interstellar became as trying an ordeal for me as it was for Matthew McAstronaughey and the rest of the mission crew. What I’m trying to get at here is that it simply wasn’t very good– certainly not as gush-worthy as so many seem to think. It was an extended remix of Gravity, Contact, 2001, Apollo 13, Moon, and maybe even a little Powder and E.T. sprinkled in there too. The only thing that was able to hold my attention after a certain point was McConaughey’s complete and utter hotness. Like most people with a brain and two eyes, I have been reveling in the so-called McConaissance ever since “True Detective.” In Interstellar he’s both a rugged Carhart-wearing farmer AND a sexy astronaut– SPLOOSH.
Ahem. Anyway, if you want pith, I’ll give you a one-word review: Intersmellar. But, because I had to sit through 3 hours of it, I’m going to bloviate.
Everyone on Earth wants to pack up and head to another habitable planet because they are forced to reenact Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl,” which, as we know, is super boring. Old people are interviewed, black and white photographs are slowly zoomed in on– all that’s missing is a mournful violin whimpering out Ashokan Farewell.
We meet the family McConaughey (Cooper and his kids Murphy and Tom) and boy do they love Science. Mom is out of the picture for whatever reason, and Cooper takes the kids on irresponsible adventures like plowing through a cornfield in his pickup truck to fly the family drone around a quarry. Murphy, affectionately “Murph,” is a tomboy and very obviously Cooper’s favorite of the two kids.
Murph (very unscientifically) thinks that there is a ghost in her bedroom because books keep falling off her shelf. Cooper calls her out on her illogical thinking, but Murph has been taking careful Rainman-like notes documenting the patterns of which books fall. When she leaves her window open during a dust storm and sees some perfectly normal looking lines on the dusty floor she and dad make a giant conceptual leap that “it’s gravity!” I’m all “whuhh?” Wikipedia helps me not feel so dumb by describing this part of the plot thusly: they discover the “ghost” is an unknown intelligence sending coded messages using gravitational waves, leaving binary coordinates in the dust that direct them to a secret NASA installation led by Professor John Brand (Michael Caine).
It’s like they wadded up a bunch of sci-fi and threw it at my face. It was jarring and felt unfair.
Michael Caine is in charge of Secret NASA and his most memorable (and irksome) character trait is that he quotes “Do not go gentle into that good night” FIVE TIMES throughout the movie. I guess we can add The Cider House Rules to the movie melange.
He’s also dying, like the old guy with cancer who funds the space travel machine in Contact. His daughter, Anne Hathaway (Amelia), is a biologist (a nice “soft science” for a pretty lady). Cooper makes a shitty remark about her looking too good to be a scientist and I hate McConaughey for about a second– until I see his glistening cheekbones and degrade him in my mind– he’s too pretty to be a scientist.
Toss in a couple sarcastic robots and some expendable crew members, and they’re ready to boldly go explore habitable planets. Murph is heartbroken and extremely pissed that dad is going to space and literally leaving her in the dust, and she has decoded some more book patterns into a message reading “stay.” He doesn’t. He gives her his watch. We’re supposed to cry now.
The all-star crew is whisked off to space towards some planets scattered around near a black hole that have been identified as potentially life supporting. I don’t know what these people were smoking when they decided this, because the first planet is just a planet-wide ocean with giant killer waves. Water only equals life when it’s not drowing you. Amelia tries to haul some data storage machine that’s floating around back into their spacecraft but is doing a real bad job so Expendable Crew Member (ECM) slogs out to try and help. Amelia makes it back to the craft, but the other guy does not. Then everyone is mean to Amelia because she sucked. And is a woman.
Cooper’s all pissed off because on this planet for every one hour spent on the surface, years pass on Earth. This is because it is too close to the black hole, and is yet another reason this planet sucks. He is concerned about Murph growing old without him (still couldn’t give two shits about whatever the son’s name is) and she’s indeed now 20-something years older. She’s followed in dad’s footsteps (but is still super pissed at him for leaving) and is now working with Michael Caine to solve the money equation that will let them harness gravity to launch humanity into space. But after Michael Caine wheezes out a few more do-not-go-gentles, he admits that he made everything up and there is no way to get everyone up into space. It’s a lot like grad school. He packed a bunch fertilized embryos from god knows who and figured we’d just begin anew. Murph is, like, WAY pissed and also assumes that dad knew this all along.
Up in space, they try for a second planet inhabited by Matt Damon– always a bad idea. Matt Damon is stationed on an ice planet– again NOT habitable; someone seriously needs to get fired– and lures the crew so he can try to get the fuck out of there. He’s gone crazy in the hostile and isolating environment and tries to kill Cooper when they arrive by smashing his helmet. Lots of explody stuff happens and we lose another ECM and Matt Damon. Amelia does something right for once and rescues Cooper, swooping him up like a Rescue Ranger.
Now we get into the hot and heavy screamy-fake-science-word-commands time, followed by wormhole visions (a la Contact). This is where I start to black out. Again, I defer to Wikipedia’s total WTF-inducing plot summary:
Nearly out of fuel, Cooper and Amelia plan to slingshot Endurance around Gargantua on a course toward [the third “habitable” planet]. [Snarky robots] detach into the black hole, sacrificing themselves to collect data on the singularity and to propel Amelia by dropping the ship’s mass. They emerge in an extra-dimensional “tesseract“, where time appears as a spatial dimension and portals show glimpses of Murphy’s childhood bedroom at various times. Cooper realizes the alien beings have constructed this space so he can communicate with Murphy and save humanity. Using gravitational waves, Cooper encodes [robot’s] data on the singularity into the adult Murphy’s watch, allowing her to solve Brand’s equation and evacuate Earth. Cooper awakens years later aboard a NASA space station and reunites with the now elderly Murphy, who has led humanity’s exodus. Murphy advises Cooper and [robot] to search for Amelia, who has begun preparations on [the third] planet.
The “slingshot” move has totally been used in another space movie, maybe Apollo 13 or Gravity. Using gravitational waves to encode the singularity onto a wristwatch has not been used in any other movies because it is stupid. Anyway, Anne Hathaway ends up stuck on the third planet, doomed to toil away raising the embryos in another kind of dystopian grad school scenario, while Cooper’s snug as a bug in a space station. I’m sure he’ll get around to finding her sometime.
And then Neil deGrasse Tyson says “for every hour you spent watching this movie, you aged 20 years!”