I saw Interstellar a few weeks ago. I walked out of the theater stunned into silence. I said one word to my friends as we walked out to our cars. I lay awake in bed for hours. It was a visceral experience. It was the best use of the medium I’ve seen since last year’s Gravity. It certainly wasn’t the perfect movie but it did raise some interesting questions and explored some deep themes. Most of all, it was a call back to a different kind of film—an ode to science-fiction.
Modern cinema would have you believe that sci-fi is all about other worlds, aliens, big explosions, and razor thin characters. These things might be true of some modern action movies but they’re a far cry from a true science-fiction story. The heart of science-fiction is the universality of human nature. In extraordinary places and confronted with extraordinary situations, humans still act the same.
Science forms the backdrop—whether it’s the distant future or distant worlds—to some deeply resonant human stories. Most of the criticism of Interstellar has been aimed at the science found in the film. People are arguing about which scientific theories were represented accurately and where did movie magic warp what science tells us. Those arguments miss the heart of the film.
In Interstellar, technology isn’t glorified or demonized, it’s simply a tool to observe and understand the universe. The “villain” of the film—the problem that they’re trying to overcome—is science, specifically the problem of gravity and time. These unrelenting, powerful forces of nature are obstacles that must be conquered if humanity is to be saved. Yet, in the end, technology fails us. When our ingenuity, our collective knowledge, the technology we rely on fails us, what else can we turn to?
Christopher Nolan’s answer is as complicated as it is simple, we turn to love. After losing years of time on the ocean planet, the characters are faced with a choice between two remaining planets. One character wants to trust what science is telling them and travel to one planet. Another character has a personal connection to the second planet—a past lover. Her argument seems to be the crux of the argument Interstellar is making:
“So listen to me when I say love isn’t something that we invented. It’s observable. Powerful. It has to mean something. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.”
But the type of love that Nolan is exploring isn’t a simple decision nor is it an easy way forward. Cooper, the main character, is the primary example of the kind of love that is more powerful than time and space. He sacrifices everything for his daughter and that sacrifice causes him deep pain and suffering. As he drifts farther and farther away from his daughter in time and space, the heartache he experiences grows deeper and deeper. And as Nolan shows us, it’s ultimately Cooper’s love for his daughter that brings him back to her. It’s not science or technology that connects us across time and space. Instead, it’s a deep, sacrificial love that conquers all things.
After the credits rolled on Interstellar, I was simply astonished. Here was a movie that called back to great science fiction tales like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nolan dared to explore the deepest connections between us all and did so with a technically brilliant film. For that reason alone, Interstellar is my pick for best film of 2014.