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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Interstellar is a compelling sci-fi thriller/poignant family drama directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. As in Gravity, there are nail-bitingly intense (and life-threatening) sequences that take place in space, but this is more than a survival tale: It's a relationship story about a father who has made a promise to his children to return to them, no matter what. The layered themes, intergalactic peril, and references to astrophysics may prove too dark and complicated for elementary school-aged tweens, but middle-schoolers and up will be drawn in by both the science and the parent-child bond that guides the central characters to keep searching for a way to reunite. Characters do die (both in space and on Earth), and there's some language ("s--t," one "f--king," etc.).
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What's the story?
Director Christopher Nolan's INTERSTELLAR takes place in a future in which severe drought has killed most of the world's crops, and humans are dying of starvation and disease on a doomed, dust-covered Earth. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot/engineer who, like the majority of Americans, has had to trade in his defunct career to work as a farmer. Coop's love of science is evident in his young daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), who swears there's a ghost in her bedroom leaving her messages in code. Coop is unbelieving at first but then helps Murph decipher one of the codes, leading them to a secret lab run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who heads what's left of NASA. Brand reveals that they sent a group of scientists through a wormhole leading to another galaxy -- and that now a small group of brave souls must embark on a mission to see whether any of those scientists found an inhabitable planet. Brand convinces Coop to be the life-and-death mission's pilot, with the understanding that his time spent in outer space could mean missing many years on Earth (one hour on one planet equals seven years on Earth) -- years that he'd be away from his children. As the team tries to survive unthinkable odds, back on Earth, Murph grows into a brilliant scientist (Jessica Chastain) obsessed with finding her lost-in-space father.
Is it any good?
Unless you're well-versed in the physics of wormholes, don't expect to understand the intricacies of Interstellar's science. And there's a lot of science, most of which sounds unbelievable, but it gets the story where Nolan and his brother Jonathan (who co-wrote the film), need it to go -- from the dust-smothered and scorched Earth to the dangerous outer reaches of space. The visuals are gorgeous, and not just in space, where Coop and his fellow astronauts -- Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and the wise-cracking militarized robot, TARS, voiced by Bill Irwin -- travel from planet to planet, but also back on Earth, where time is passing so quickly that Coop's now grown children have all but lost faith that they'll see him again.
Occasionally the time-bending storyline starts to feel like it's stretching time for viewers as well, but somehow the missions -- both the one to save mankind and Coop's personal one to see his kids -- are compelling enough to keep audiences interested. McConaughey balances the line between dead serious, sarcastic, and heartfelt, and he plays well off of his co-stars (particularly his space team). Both the young and adult versions of Murphy are perfectly cast, and Caine -- whose professor has a penchant for quoting Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" -- provides elder-statesman gravitas as he did in Nolan's Batman films. As Hathaway's character explains, love is a force that transcends time and space, so if you feel invested in Coop's promise to Murphy (and, to a lesser degree, his son, who grows up to be played by Casey Affleck), you'll forgive some of the confusing and convenient plot loops and concentrate on the possibility that at some point, this father will embrace his children again.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Interstellar is similar to, and different from, other serious/thoughtful space movies -- like Gravity, Contact, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. How would you describe it to friends -- as a sci-fi movie, a thriller, a family drama, or what?
Does the violence in the movie seem less upsetting when it's man vs. nature instead of man vs. man? Why do you think Professor Brand keeps quoting Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"? What does the poem mean?
Director Christopher Nolan is known for movies with psychological themes that play with time, space, memory, etc. How is Interstellar like his previous films? How is it a departure?
How would you describe the parent/child relationships in this movie? Are they realistic? Relatable?
- In theaters: November 5, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 31, 2015
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Space and Aliens
- Run time: 169 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some intense perilous action and brief strong language
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