Brace yourself for the inevitable philistine contending that Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” trivializes time-folding wormholes and ignores quantum mechanics. This movie by and large demonstrates Nolan’s filmmaking prowess as both an entertainer (“The Dark Knight” ’s nocturnal, nihilistic Gotham) and deconstructionist (the limited nature of words in finding one’s identity in “Memento”). To a fault, “Interstellar” is a hyper-ambitious love letter that envelops time and space to remind us that only human connection will ultimately drive progress.


State Theatre
Paramount Pictures

Nolan likes to manipulate time in his films, typically to rediscover some form of lost love. Unlike his previous work, “Interstellar” augments his oeuvre by attempting to build, then break, hearts without sacrificing bent minds. He guns for the heart and mind, both equal in daring and sugariness. To not mince words, this film will leave even the most stoic jaws glued to their laps by its astonishing visual fireworks and umpteenth-dimension hallucinogenics — an unashamed nod to Kubrick’s genre-establishing “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

But Nolan (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan), in its three-hour running time, creates a lean film to which the 80-20 rule applies: 80 percent of the visual awe-acrobatics, which borders at times on irksome incredulity, and backed by the 20 percent of lived-in, raw human feeling. However, this emotion and the script too often bleed with melodrama and poetic recitation: Dylan Thomas’s “Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light” might be the best line — and it was stolen.

The film is set in the near future when World Series games are played on tee-ball-sized fields with empty bleachers because, well, who has time and money for recreation when people gotta eat? Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, a sharp former NASA pilot who turned farmer because the world “needs good farmers” as corn is one of the only not-yet-depleted resources left. Thanks to his super-inquisitive, mini-him daughter Murph (played young by newcomer Mackenzie Foy and all grown-up by Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”), the two discover the “best kept secret” in a U.S. that can’t afford to fund anything but farming: NASA’s underground headquarters. Much to Murph’s dismay, NASA elects Coop as chief pilot on a mission to find a new habitable planet. Father and daughter split on wretched terms.

“Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here,” Coop muses to former professor named Brand (played with assured elegance by Michael Caine, “The Dark Knight”).

The shuttle mission to find a new home is crewed by Professor Brand’s daughter Amelia (played with typical theater-camp overacting by Anne Hathaway, “The Dark Knight Rises”) and two other astronauts. Once coasting from Earth’s atmosphere, the team lets witty robot TARS (standup comic version of HAL from “2001”) take the driver seat as they embark on a two-year spaceflight nap toward a wormhole that will zip them to a new galaxy. I’m hard-nosed to say the wormhole traveling sequence reaches heights unseen in special effects artistry.

The problem with this “ideal candidate” planet is that one hour there equates to seven years back on earth. Chop, chop, goes Coop, who wants to rekindle things with Murph before she checks into a nursing home. The remaining film, albeit grows closer to figuring out mankind’s destiny, rather revolves around family and promise. Nolan stretches to marry their microcosmic familial bond to the larger-than-life predicament of saving the human race, but doesn’t ever make us care enough about the daddy-daughter detachment in the first place.

It’s challenging, however, to not first mention McConaughey’s ace performance. The guy has had a peerless last few years and in “Interstellar,” we find him at his most altruistic, where lines are blurred between save-the-world explorer and unconditionally loving father. The Nolan brothers create some timely heart-wringing moments — none more lachrymose when Coop reviews his videoconference tapes from his kids. Decades later on Earth are merely hours for Coop. They grow up before his eyes in minutes. It’s overwhelming but profound.

In post-production, Nolan simply gave resident musical composer Hans Zimmer a love letter from father to daughter, but without access to film footage. The result is a hair-raising score that meets the stunning imagery and, ultimately, an indecisive, tell-all script at a crossroads: an occasionally emotive love story that humbles its space-cowboy ego without ever reconciling with the unrelenting sappiness.

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