Film in review – “Interstellar”

Interstellar_film_posterFirst of all, dear readers, you have to see this one in the theater. And let the surround-sound rumble your chair and the IMAX visuals make you a little dizzy, because the only way to fully appreciate the gargantuan scope of this film is to view it on the big screen. The bigger, the better.

Yes, it hasn’t been that long since a movie about astronauts captured our attention. But this one is different. It begins like “Lonesome Dove” – people serenely sitting on the front porch, way out in the country, enjoying the rural life and its myriad opportunities to marvel at the quiet beauty of nature. And maybe wistfully thinking about adventure.

Ah, but it seems Mother Nature is not being very cooperative right now. Big dust storms. Blight on the crops. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widower, is trying to raise his two teenage kids on the farm. The boy, Tom (Timothee Chalamet), seems perfectly content to learn the ways of running the farm, and at school the counselors tell his dad that Tom would be well-suited to remaining on the farm (that is, not taking up one of the coveted, but limited, spots to go off to college). And what parent enjoys hearing that his kid isn’t quite smart enough?

Yes, we’re living in some not-too-distant dystopian future where there are so many people on the planet that precious resources are becoming more and more scarce. It feels like the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression: people have to place their dishes and glasses face down on the table in order to avoid having them covered with dust before they can eat their food. Cooper was actually a trained astronaut once, but the financially strapped government decided that that was an unnecessary expenditure. His widowed father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), lives with them and helps hold the family together while Cooper is out working the farm. But it just gets harder and harder. His daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) seems to share his adventurous spirit, and his father-in-law shares his natural interest in learning and education (the walls of his room are covered in books). But it all seems kind of futile and hopeless, until one day they seem to receive a communication from… the beyond? Sending them to certain map coordinates where they find… a secret NASA facility?

Now we switch gears completely, from family life on a small farm to interstellar space travel. Connor is recruited to fly the spaceship that will journey to a certain “wormhole” portal that’s somehow become open near Saturn, which will fling them through hyperspace to another galaxy where manned probes have already been sent to seek habitable planets for humans. And what an adventure it is! Cooper has to decide between actively raising his kids and trying to save the planet (because the space-time exigencies won’t allow him to do both). The astronaut crew has to make harrowing decisions about which alternative planets to explore – with limited data about each possibility. And of course, the human element is pervasive despite the space-age technology, because we are, after all, trying to save humanity.

It’s a blast. Literally. And the alternate shape shifting between small-scope family relationships and big-picture astrophysics raises all kinds of interesting questions about not only the makeup of the universe, but what is at its core. And it could be something as complicated as black holes in the galaxies, and as simple and profound as love (1 John 4: 4-7).


Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.