I was struggling on how to open, then I realised: this is classic Christopher Nolan (Inception, 2010). Nolan has written and directed this movie and it shows. If you want an adventure movie like Armageddon (A.J. Frost, 1998), then go see what else is available. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Inception or Memento (2000), then you will enjoy this. The movie is set somewhere in the near-future, though when we are left to guess. We are looking at a society which realised it is on the edge of the abyss and needed to act. There are too many people on the Earth and resources are running out. As the movie runs we begin to learn vital snippets of information, like both the India and US space missions went down at the same time. We quickly notice too that the house is not the usual mobile and tablet picture we have become used to. Our hero , Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) We learn is a farmer, he is working the family farm. Living on the edge of town , he lives with this Father-in-law, (John Lithgow, Dexter 2009) We learn that “Coop’s” wife died of cancer and he is bringing up Tom (Timothée Chalamet, Clown, 2008) who at 15 is looking to his future, and Murph, his 10 year old daughter who is trying to find her way in the world, a bit like her father.
I say this because, they are both technical, very technical. We learn that Coop is a former NASA pilot, from a time when NASA was preparing for flight into the Solar System. Early on we see he is haunted by dreams of a crash and we wonder if he has left NASA due to an accident. This is quickly put aside as we put together the pieces. Many of his neighbours have had to sell-up, their wheat has died, and we are once again seeing a dust-bowl hinterland. They grow corn and are surviving, they have “plenty of corn”. Murph believes she has a ghost in her room because books are falling off the shelf and Coop’s module of the lunar Lander mysteriously fell from the book –case and broke. At a parent teacher conference we learn that Tom has been designated a “Farmer” he is not smart enough for University and the University is limited in the places it can take. Once again we hear talk of limitations, rationing. What really upsets Coop (his reaction gets his daughter suspended for a month) is the news that his old text books are now banned because they have now been rewritten and the Lunar landings and the Apollo missions are being written as great hoaxes to bankrupt the Soviet Union. It seems the human race has turned its back on technological growth and development, only what is essential is being done. All resources are being diverted to food production. Humanity is about surviving.
Against all of this Murph’s hauntings are continuing, after on episode, Coop thinks he has a clue, coordinates. Together with Murph, he head to there. Arriving at the location at night, they are…well they end up deep in a famous mountain. When this happens, they movie was still taking shape, and I have to say Close Encounters of third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) flashed by me at one stage. We quickly learn after some great lines that they are in what is left of NASA. NASA is now a secret government organisation which many people think has been shut down. Resources are needed else where. We learn also that there is no need for armies, they have been done away with (later we learn that it is likely that one of the last functions of the world’s armies was to kill the starving. It is said in passing how starving populations were wiped out. There are too many humans.
Now, this is where the movie is a step above the rest, the one-liners and MCconaughey’s ability to deliver them – as well as others. The script is very sharp. NASA is being led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine, The Dark Night, 2008) who working with his daughter, Dr. Brand, (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) and a small team of others; is working to seed possible new worlds made available through the appearance of a wormhole near Saturn. It is believed “They” put it there but nobody knows who “They” are. There are about a dozen worlds in systems past the wormhole that may support life. About 10 years ago a group of missions went through the wormhole , each carrying one person , each tasked to send back data and report if life is possible. Most of the signals were negative or have been lost, there are three alternatives; t. Professor Brand, shows Cope around the labs, the Corn is starting to die now also , just like the potato blight in Ireland and then the wheat.
I should point that at this stage my blood-pressure rose slightly, was Nolan/Brand referring to the Famines of 1847 or has there been a new Irish Potato Famine caused by blight, actually there might have been – but okay, all our spuds could die in the morning, we would survive here as A) biodiversity, B) imports. But here’s the rub, this is a Nolan movie, we are expected to think. Already the UN and others is nervous of our overdependence on rice in parts of the world (it is also an environmental nasty) and are trying to replace it with potatoes, which are healthier, and more environmentally friendly. The danger is removing one risk and replacing it with another, we still have not solved blight. I mention this because it seems the blight has been extensive enough globally to have an environmental impact on CO2 levels.
We learn now that the Earth only has a generation or two left before “we all suffocate”. Those that don’t starve will suffocate.
The Coop agrees to go on the missions, along with Dr. Brand and two other. Also along is TARS a cubide robot with various intelligence and human interaction settings. We quickly realise that because of Relativity; Special and General the team may not come back and if they do, because of the wormhole, it will be many years into the future. Murph is heart-broken and does not say good-bye to her dad. Quickly the mission is set and we have take-off. No time is wasted showing us any training. The team are launched and begin their journey to the wormhole, where we learn again resources are scarce, and one of the planets is nearer the wormhole and so time-dilation.
What now follows is an desperate search for a usable planet, back home decades have past, Murph (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) is as old as her father was now when he left, she is working on the NASA team trying to crack the effects of time on a gravitational formula that could enable the launch of a ship big enough to host a population sufficient to sustain life on another planet until Earth is back in balance. The breakthrough may not be possible, Murph makes a discovery. Murph’s discovery is all the more important, because of the declining situation on Earth. Through her return home and the dust filled desolation we see that the situation is growing dire. The family is holding on but barely. The adult, married Tom (Casey Afflek, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, 2013) is struggling. The family is feeling the impact on their health of all the dust. The Slow decline to anarchy is reminiscent of Children of Men (2006)
Looking for the lost missions, they search to see if any of them have survived, one has. It is the original leader of the effort, Dr. Mann (Matt Damon, The Zero Theorem, 2013). Is it possible to launch “Plan A” and provide a home, or “Plan B” – use the frozen embryos to populate a new colony?. At just about no stage do things go as planned. Time is running out, as are all other resources, all options are risks. Eventually they have one last plan. McConaughey, when all was lost, finds TARS again, together they solve a puzzle, the one of Murph’s ghost, there may be a chance after all.
This is a smart movie, a little knowledge of Relativity might be possible – check my earlier blog on the subject from last month – go to Part III if you are in a hurry, and the conclusion is really rushed . This is also a long movie and to be honest it felt it once or twice. Is this an excellent, Top Ten movie, maybe not, is it a very good movie, yes. It reward you along the way. The direction is sharp, the viewer is drawn into the movie, by being drip fed the backstory while at the same time being shown the challenge ahead. This is one of those rare science-fiction movies where the fiction is secondary to the science and to the human impact of what is on-going. The ensemble nature of the cast, ensure they are the focus. Okay, yes, there are parallels to be drawn to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick, 1968) even down to how TARS (Bill Irwin) reminds us of HAL from 2001. That said, I’d rather travel with TARS.
Great cast, great performances, from all. I’ve tried not to give too many of the plot developments. Enjoy.
4 Stars, possibly slightly more.