“2001: A Space Odyssey”. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. “Gravity”. These sci-fi classics (we can already call “Gravity” a classic, right?) have all been singled out as points of reference by critics writing about “Interstellar” and they are all valid comparisons.

But personally, Christopher Nolan‘s latest reminded me most of all of “Signs”. Now, I know, for a lot of people, comparing a film to M. Night Shyamlan’s alien invasion flick would be considered an insult, but I assure you this is not the case with me; I actually consider it to be one of my favorite movies, even though I understand why some people have problems with it. Cynicism is so prevalent that to tell a story driven by the hope that there is a meaning to life and a sense to the chaos of the universe will undeniably rub a lot of folks the wrong way. That’s their loss, I guess.

The “Signs” parallels are not limited to the general theme: the whole set-up is similar. In both films, the protagonist is a widower with a son and a daughter, and they live on a farm surrounded by corn fields. One major difference is that in “Signs”, Mel Gibson used to be a priest, whereas in “Interstellar”, Matthew McConaughey’s a former NASA test pilot. But you could say that each of these men’s journey involves having their faith rekindled, in religion in one case and in science in the other.

This might sound vague, but I’d rather leave it at that. I knew next to nothing about the plot before seeing “Interstellar” and I feel that that’s the best way to experience it. Here’s a film inhabited by a true sense of wonder and mystery, a sentimental homage to a time when we were explorers and pioneers, set in a desperate future in which it’s crucial for mankind to reconnect with its willingness to go into the unknown in order to survive the end of Earth.

This is hardcore science-fiction, with a lot of talk about wormholes and blackholes, relativity and singularity, quantum mechanics and whatnot. Thought-provoking ideas abound, yet ultimately, it’s all about the aforementioned hope that there is a meaning to life and a sense to the chaos of the universe. That, and the bond between a father and his daughter (oddly, the son often seems like an afterthought).

McConaughey gives a very emotional performance which anchors the film and he’s well supported by a wonderful cast that also includes Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace and in a scene-stealing turn, Bill Irwin as the voice of robot sidekick TARS. Because yeah, as intellectually challenging as “Interstellar” can be, it’s also a very entertaining picture with things like an endearing robot sidekick, awesome spaceships and riveting action scenes.

And as brilliant as I found the screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, I was even more amazed by the stunning visuals courtesy of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and the epic, quasi-prog score by Hans Zimmer. Seeing and hearing it all in IMAX 70mm is a grandiose cinema experience that simply can’t be missed.