Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will, sooner or later. Murphy Cooper (Jessica Chastain), who is named after the law, asks her father why he and her mother named her after something that’s bad. To which, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) replies, “Murphy’s law doesn’t mean something bad will happen. What it means is whatever can happen will happen.” Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, is based on this very premise.
The film is set sometime in the future. Humanity is running out of food and interstellar travel is possible. On one hand, the world is on the brink of extinction. There are no more armies or engineers and everyone has taken up farming. Wheat is extinct, okra has one last harvest and corn will be gone soon. There is a dust storm in the middle of a baseball match. People walk out of the stadium and wear their masks and glasses. Children are coughing. Everything is covered in dust. This is their normal. On the other hand, a team of scientists at NASA, led by Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) have been sent out to space to search for a new habitable planet, under the guidance of Professor Brand (Michael Caine). While NASA has been shut down officially, it is still operating secretly. The government cannot afford to allow spending on space exploration publicly, especially when they are in the midst of an agricultural crisis. This is Nolan’s world where anything that can happen does happen.
Cooper has decided to go on an interstellar journey, and this makes Murphy angry and heartbroken because he has no idea when he is coming back. Out there in space, time will slow down for Cooper. For example, an hour spent on a planet near the black hole will be seven years back on earth. At the heart of Interstellar is the idea of ‘time’. On one hand, the crew is looking for a new planet to save humanity from extinction and they must get back to Earth before it is completely destroyed. On the other hand, Professor Brand must solve the gravity equation before they return. It’s time they are fighting against.
After an unsuccessful visit to the first planet, they lose twenty-three years back on Earth. When Cooper opens his messages back from Earth, he becomes happy and sad, all at once. He realises the magnitude of what he has lost. His children, whom he last saw as teens, have gone from completing their graduation to finding love to marriage to having their own children. Not only he has missed out on their most special moments, he has also missed out on their sorrows. Time, as he knows it, has passed and he can never get back those years. It is heartbreaking to see the hopelessness in his children’s lives and the regret in Cooper’s tears. As Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway) puts it, time for us (beings of three dimensions), is relative, it can stretch and squeeze but it can not run backwards. Time, for the beings of five dimensions is just another physical dimension, where past is a canyon we can jump into and future is a mountain we can climb up.
As soon as Dr. Mann is woken up from his years of hibernation, he immediately hugs Cooper and weeps copiously. He has been living on that planet, all by himself, for decades. It is time that makes him yearn for a human face. Back on Earth, Professor Brand has died and Murphy must revisit her room because she believes that if there is any answer on Earth, it is in that room. The room takes her back in time. It takes her back to the moment when she felt a human presence in the room, as a child, and the moment her father left while she kept crying and asking him to stay. The room reminds her of the fading possibility of her father’s return. When Cooper falls into the black hole, he experiences time all at once, be it the moment he finds the co-ordinates, along with Murphy, or when he is leaving. While Murphy is remembering the past in her head, Cooper can actually see it. In the tesseract, time is just another physical dimension, and he can move back and forth in time.
The screenplay, written by brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, is also not linear: it moves back and forth in time. The background score, done brilliantly by Hans Zimmer, enhances the vicarious experience of the interstellar travel. One composition feels like a ticking clock, thereby building a sense of urgency, and the silences feel as if the the clock has stopped. The visuals of dust storms, burning corn fields, gigantic waves, the frozen planet, black holes and the tesseract are breathtaking.
Just like we visit the events from history through books, films and photographs, Nolan, under the guidance of Nobel laureate Kip Thorne (a theoretical physicist, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics), takes us into what could be the future. With ambition and skill, Nolan stitches together the art of filmmaking and science to create a futuristic world. I remember reading Brief Answers To The Big Questions by Stephen Hawking and imagining a time in the future when interstellar travel would be possible, and every time I watch Interstellar, it does justice to my imagination. Since it’s not happening in the near future, why not watch a film where Nolan makes sure Murphy’s law does work?
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.