Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
(PG-13, 169 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Science Fiction and Fantasy
“We used to look up in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dust.” Astronaut Cooper from Interstellar
It lacks the grandeur and big moments of Arthur C. Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor is it the technical triumph of last year’s Gravity. But Interstellar has what they both lacked – a story and characters we genuinely care about.
That story and character deficit is where so much recent cinema science fiction goes wrong. 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness , for instance, was long on style, short on substance. The action, oversized personas, and special effects wagged the dog, with its nonstop action, – explosions, death defying leaps, mindboggling battles, as well as access to endless CGI possibilities making what was once impossible cinematically the merely expected now.
Or that highly promoted 2012 dud, Prometheus with its purported philosophical heft. The supposed intellectual prequel reboot of the Alien franchise, despite a brief appearance of the classic Great Drooling Creature, was relatively sterile.
Different Drummer was also equally unimpressed with Gravity opining in 2013
While everyone else is busy goggling at the special effects, oohing and ahhing in a groupthink chorus that recalls George Orwell’s 1984, some of us want more than eye candy.
Some purists who laud Gravity for its singular purpose, find Interstellar wanting to be a too many things at once, i.e. science fiction brought to life via back holes, quantum physics, time travel, cryogenic sleep, worm holes, and gravity as a new dimension. A two-tiered exploration of Father Daughter relationships. Philosophical discussions on good and evil, the ramifications of love, loneliness and loss.
While there is some truth is this criticism of the meandering almost 3-hour epic, the injection of earth’s humanity hooks us from the beginning. Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper no longer pilots spacecraft. The only thing he commands now is his farm machinery and one very old pickup truck, which he puts to good use in a dizzying chase through the cornfields as he tracks down a errant drone, frantically keying his computer to down it while he somehow gets his teenage son to steer for him.
Yet the whole wild scene, reminiscent of Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, is ultimately a letdown, since the only salvageable part of the drone is its power cell. Something Coop plans to use…in his combine.
Earth, we learn, is slowly winding down to zero. Blight has killed off just about everything but corn; man has become a caretaker and no longer an explorer.
But Coop still remembers those grand flights, and even some not so grand landings that still haunt his dreams. Still refusing to blandly accept his new reality, he laments, “We used to look up in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dust.”
And it’s worse than that. Man’s vision is getter smaller and smaller, so much so that the schools have rewritten the textbooks, now chronicling our landing on the moon as mere studio propaganda cooked up to lure a naïve Soviet Union into a futile, money draining space race.
This same Zeitgeist of a diminished mankind and its bland acceptance of a life without dreams or distinction is also chronicled in recent films such as The Giver, Divergent, and to some extent The Hunger Games franchise.
A small few fight back in Interstellar. NASA, now reduced to a hidden private facility has one last hope for saving earth, in the form of curmudgeonly Professor Brand, Michael Caine at his reassuring best. Quoting Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” Professor Brand ultimately persuades Cooper to leave his 2 children for one last fight to save the world.
Of course, Cooper has to go to go through a worm hole into an uncharted solar system to do it, and when he returns is anyone’s guess. In fact, with Einstein’s theory of relativity in play, he even predicts that his time-bound daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), may be his age by the time he returns to earth.
Another part of the attraction of this film is how it manages to play to both sides of the political spectrum. Some see its dust bowl earth setting as a tacit warning about the effects of global warming, while others note that the nitrogen in our atmosphere rather than any carbon effects causes the blight.
This latter group takes particular pleasure in the unannounced role of Matt Damon as the highly respected Dr. Mann, who ultimately turns out to be a rather cowardly charlatan that distorts data for self-serving reasons. One wonders whether or not his character’s name and the casting choice is an accidental or intentional irony relating to the now discredited Greenhouse Gas Hockey Stick Chart of Dr. Michael Mann of the University of Massachusetts. You decide.
If too much recent science fiction seems cold, remote, and austere, you should see this film that remembers that even as we soar boundlessly to new worlds, our real ties to earth and those we love are never severed. Not a bad sentiment for the week before Thanksgiving.
So far the blight on earth has not hit the corn crop on Matthew McConaughey’s farm. It still grows tall and green just as I remember from my Midwest youth. I’m not sure whether the onions, chives, and bacon in our recipe are still available on this reduced earth, but let’s assume so as we cook up this delicious, creamy dish.
A fine addition to the Thanksgiving table if you want a new side dish.
Creamed Corn with Onion, Chives, and Bacon
Original recipe makes 8 servings
4 slices bacon
4 1/2 cups whole kernel corn
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (8 ounce) container chive and onion cream cheese
Place bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on paper towels; crumble when cool enough to handle.
Coat the inside of a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
Combine corn, red bell pepper, half-and-half, butter, sugar, salt, black pepper, and half the crumbled bacon in the slow cooker; stir well.
Cook on High for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Stir cream cheese into corn mixture; cook until cheese melts, about 10 more minutes. Stir well and top with remaining bacon before serving.