The director Christopher Nolan, famous for the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, shows himself able again to push the boundaries of contemporary mainstream movies into very serious themes and important questions. Interstellar combines, as far as I can tell, classic storytelling and styles from such disparate works as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Perelandra. Many of my criticisms would center of the loose ends of those disparate questions and influences, but the overall storyline and cinematography, alongside the acting of Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey, makes this movie a serious contender in the next awards cycle, let alone an enjoyable moviegoing experience.
The story centers on a future earth where resources have become exhausted. The human race literally cannot be supported any longer on this planet. Matthew McConaughey - as "Cooper", a former NASA pilot turned farmer - and his children are at their wits end in a world that is becoming increasingly anti-technological and eventually opposed even to learning, seeing these as the source of their problems. Cooper and his children, on the other hand, see the only potential for human survival in preserving and deepening our scientific knowledge.
After a relatively slow introduction to the main characters, McConaughey's character discovers a secret attempt by the now mostly-defunct NASA to try the apparently impossible. The only solution to the problem of the exhausted earth, which solution seems radically far-fetched even to the minds of the movie characters, is to seek extra-terrestrial colonization on some habitable planet. Cooper, as one of the last surviving pilots, is one of the few capable of heading up such an attempt. After this point, the movie changes in speed and tone significantly, as Cooper and team head into the stars to seek a new home. Some of the most beautiful cinematography in the movie comes in these locations they visit, and it could be appreciated even in IMAX to get the full effect.
The movie does not end in merely adventure. In fact, the central question of the movie happens in visiting one of the potentially habitable planets and meeting a particular scientist, Dr. Mann, who has gone to assess its viability. The dialogue between them ends up moving into what it means to be human and the nature of ethical choice. It strikes me very much as drawn from CS Lewis' writings, with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra hanging in the background (go read them if you haven't).
What disappointed me, however, was the conclusion. Without making it too obvious or spoiling it, the conclusion seemed to me to be forced humanism of a cheap sort that did not match or fit with the themes of other parts of the movie; the movie had dealt with the finitude and "original sin" of human beings, while ending, in contradiction, with an absurdly positive assessment of human capabilities where humanity is its own god. It was too unbelievably deus ex machina to be a credible ending. Despite this weakness in story, the movie can be seen as a very integral whole that engages more than your eyeballs in its spectacular scenery - it moves all of that onto a different level.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10.