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“Interstellar,” an otherworldly experience

Sci-fi film surpasses time and space

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“Interstellar” — a film of extraordinary ambition, intelligence and heart — marks another triumph for director Christopher Nolan. As his first movie since the “Dark Knight” trilogy, Nolan shoots for the stars with a film that ponders enormous questions — among them what it means to be human and the power of human connection.

The film is slower, more meditative and quite sentimental — signifying a departure from Nolan’s recent blockbuster-focused career.

The film uses the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne as its scientific foundation. While a film based on high-level astrophysics may seem daunting, the biggest surprise of “Interstellar” is its emotional power.

Set in a not-too-distant future, Earth is not a good place. Blight has destroyed all crops except corn, dust is everywhere and humanity has lost its ambition. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a man out of time, an expert pilot and engineer who dreams of leaving behind the caretaker role his generation thrust upon him. He yearns for humanity’s return to pioneering — instead, he cultivates a corn farm with his father-in-law and kids, Tom and Murphy. While Tom wants to be a farmer, Murphy shares Cooper’s curiosity and intelligence, and the first part of the film is dedicated to establishing this father-daughter bond as the emotional heart of the movie.

Through odd, possibly super-natural events, Cooper and Murphy discover the now-secret headquarters of NASA and Dr. Brand (Michael Caine). Brand recruits Cooper to lead a crew of astronauts, including Brand’s daughter (also Dr. Brand, played by Anne Hathaway), through a recently discovered wormhole that links to another galaxy in the hopes of discovering a new planet to inhabit to replace the dying earth. Against his daughter’s wishes, Cooper accepts the mission.

While the film explores the furthest reaches of the universe, the love between Cooper and Murphy gives “Interstellar” the emotional power that keeps it from getting caught up in enormous ideas. Though Nolan pays significant attention to the science behind the film, the exposition is never overbearing. Nolan keeps the heart of the film beating, offering a sentimentality to “Interstellar” unseen in his previous films.

A great deal of credit can likewise go to the performers themselves. McConaughey delivers a superb performance as Cooper. Even though his character is defined simply by his need for adventure and his love for his family, McConaughey’s “every-man” approach and his emotional intensity anchors a complex story. Jessica Chastain, who plays a grown-up Murphy, is given the key emotional arc of the story, which she delivers expertly.

The rest of the cast is good, though perhaps not as memorable as the film’s leads. Hathaway creates an interesting, although slightly underdeveloped, character and Michael Caine is in usual sage mode, but with a surprising twist. Casey Affleck plays an adult Tom, and Topher Grace appears in a small role. Another A-list actor shows up in a rather significant role, though his involvement in the film was kept secret.

Technically, the film is sublime. The visuals of alien worlds and the phenomena of space and time are simply awesome and should be experienced on the biggest screen possible. The foreign worlds are sights to behold, each displaying a great deal of imagination. The most impressive sights in “Interstellar” are the wormhole and an enormous black hole — which on the big screen are awe-inspiring, terrifying and beautiful.

And Hans Zimmer delivers one of his best scores, further strengthening the film’s adventurous tone and un-subtle sentimentality.

“Interstellar” is difficult to discuss without spoiling its surprises. While the film can feel excessively emotional at times and its ending is a little weak, it effectively celebrates the reach of human ambition. It is not a film to be picked apart piece-by-piece, but should instead be experienced and appreciated in its entirety. It anchors its high-minded scientific premise with a simple emotional arc about the love between a father and daughter, revealing how that love can transcend time and space.

Ultimately, “Interstellar” is an unforgettable and otherworldly experience. 

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