When Interstellar hit the big screen, audiences were struck by the path of Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), as he journeyed through wormholes and new planets. But one of the most interesting aspects of Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpiece, didn’t involve galaxies far away. It was, in fact, an expansive, earthy cornfield right here on earth.
The Magnitude of Nolan’s Gamble
When the script called for Cooper’s farm to be nestled amid sprawling acres of corn, Nolan had a decision to make. Would he follow the path treaded by most Hollywood directors and opt for CGI ? Or would he bring the same level of dedication to detail he displayed in Dunkirk and Tenet?
In an unexpected move, Nolan chose to plant an actual cornfield. And not just a small plot; a massive 500-acre cornfield outside of Calgary, in Western Canada. It was a gamble that not only cost a significant sum, but was also a nod to Nolan’s reputation as a traditionalist, putting practical effects at the forefront of his craft.
Drawing Inspiration and Making the Choice
You might wonder, why go through the trouble of cultivating an entire cornfield when CGI offers an easier solution? Nolan’s decision was inspired, in part, by Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. In the 2013’s Man of Steel, a real cornfield was used for a sequence involving an explosive encounter and a subsequent cornfield chase. In a talk with the Hollywood Reporter, Nolan mentioned how impressed he was with the visual quality of real cornfield versus CGI.
Furthermore, Nolan wanted to reflect the gritty reality of the Dust Bowl, and the blight affecting Earth’s crops in the film. Drawing inspiration from the Ken Burns PBS mini-series, which featured photographs from the Dust Bowl era, Nolan realized the value of having a real cornfield.
Cooper’s Farm: More Than Just a Set
The farm, which was the primary residence of Matthew McConaughey’s character, Joseph, was a symbol of Earth’s decline, where corn and okra are the only surviving crops. The cornfield set the stage for a few integral scenes, from a dramatic airplane chase to a heart-wrenching conversation about leaving Earth for a new planet.
When we watched Cooper and his children wade through acres of corn or dash between stalks during the cornfield chase, they weren’t wading through a computerized cornfield. They were experiencing the meticulous work Nolan put into creating an authentic set, for the sake of realism and nostalgia.
From Corn to Profit
In what could be called a stroke of genius, by selling the leftover corn that wasn’t destroyed during the shoots, Christopher Nolan raked in a staggering $162,000.
This decision was financially savvy but also environmentally responsible, preventing wastage of vast corn crops. The profit, coupled with the film’s overwhelming success and its subsequent win for ‘Best Visual Effects’, at the Oscars, made Interstellar a remarkable piece of work.
Practical effects are making a comeback. Just as Nolan chose an actual farmhouse and cornfield, his decision to use real props and locations, make him stand out as a director in Hollywood. Nolan was also honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to cinema.
While CGI offers convenience, there’s something undeniable about the authenticity that comes from practical effects. As viewers fine-tune their film tastes, seeking more films that resonate with them, it’s clear that Nolan’s approach is what makes him a visionary, and why his films will likely stand the test of time.