The Earth is a dying dust bowl where a blight is destroying all the crops and oxygen. Schoolchildren are being taught that the moon landings were faked to bankrupt the Russians, and NASA is a secret agency consisting of a dozen scientists huddling underground. The Yankees are a barnstorming troupe who play games in cornfields and let ground balls go through their legs.
This is the world of “Interstellar,” the space thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, of “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” fame, and written by him and his brother Jonathan, that hit theaters in a tsunami of publicity this month.
I’ve been looking forward to “Interstellar” ever since I first heard back in 2006 that physicists led by the celebrated gravitational theorist and Caltech professor Kip Thorne had held a workshop to brainstorm a science-fiction movie. This would be the movie that finally got things right.
The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut named Cooper, who leads an expedition to another galaxy in search of a new home for humanity, and, stars among others, Mackenzie Foy, who grows up into Jessica Chastain, as his daughter, Murph (named after the law), who is mad that he left. On one level, it is a heroically realistic tale of space exploration. On another level, it’s a story about father-daughter relationships, as well as a meditation on the human spirit and what happens when humans take their eyes off the stars. But it’s also about quantum gravity and the mysteries of the fifth dimension, and even an astronaut who was at a screening with me confessed that he was confused.
The first time I saw it, I too was confused, and disappointed. Aside from a wonderful view of Cooper’s spacecraft dwarfed by lonely blackness down at the corner of the Imax screen as it passed by a magnificently glowing Saturn, and tense docking sequences similar to certain scenes in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it was short on the magic and the delicious storytelling twists I expect from the Nolan brothers.
The second time I saw the movie, clued in by Dr. Thorne’s new book, “The Science of Interstellar,” I enjoyed it more, and I could appreciate that a lot of hard-core 20th- and 21st-century physics, especially string theory, was buried in the story — and that there was a decipherable, if abstruse, logic to the ending. But I wonder if a movie that requires a 324-page book to explicate it can be considered a totally successful work of art. The movie’s pedigree goes back to Carl Sagan, a Cornell astronomer and author.To read more, click here.