It is established immediately that in the world of Interstellar, Earth has gone to hell in a hand basket. Evoking the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, we meet an America maybe a few decades into the future. There are no flying cars or cleaning-lady robots. There are just a bunch of tired, good people, choking from the dust that seems to overwhelm everything. Crops are dying. Humans are dying. Earth is dying.
Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former pilot and engineer, now a farmer, widower dad, and man full of regret over the opportunities that were taken away from him as the world in general started unravelling. But Cooper finds himself stumbling back into his dream of piloting the ultimate craft after series of deciphered clues, or messages seem to choose him. NASA, who officially no longer exists, needs an astronaut pilot to help save the world, even if this demands that he leaves his children, including his whip-smart young daughter Murph, behind. He doesn't hesitate.
Interstellar then shifts into higher gear as Cooper and his co-astronauts and scientists (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi) are on their way to explore a wormhole next to Saturn. This wormhole offers the promise of a dozen potentially habitable planets on the other side. They just need to be explored. Unfortunately, with the complex explanations of gravity vs. the theory of relativity, a few minutes on the surface of one planet may mean years have passed on Earth. They've got to hurry up. Each miscalculation could mean disaster for them, but the doom of Earth's near future, and the desperate need to somehow save mankind, looms even more.
Before seeing Interstellar, I very carefully avoided spoiler articles and any extended trailers, and I'm glad I did. This is a big, sprawling, and yes, EPIC plot that Nolan is spinning. At almost three hours long, there are a few times where his ambition seems to slip out of his control or stray. The soundtrack is either booming with Hans Zimmer's sometimes overwhelming score or else is unnervingly quiet, like the vacuum of sound in space. There is a lot scientific exposition about the what-ifs of the astronauts' situation. Nolan never lets you play dumb. If you have no idea what is going on, well, that is your loss.
In the meantime, there are some truly stunning moments. Much of the film has the proper earnestness of a space shuttle IMAX movie (about an hour of Interstellar was actually shot on 70mm IMAX film). Even though the ideas of wormholes and black holes have been explored in sci-fi before, Nolan still manages to do a fresh, immersive take on the truly unknown. And though Nolan is not known for warm human characters, he gets McConaughey to shed plenty of tears--try not to be moved by Coop's despair at seeing years-worth of stockpiled messages from his family at all at once. Many of the concepts of Interstellar are head-scratchingly complicated for the average viewer, but there is still a lot to chew on here. Christopher Nolan's bold and creative mind has once again created a flawed and fascinating film that is bound to bounce around in your head long after the credits have rolled.