Interstellar (2014) Director: Christopher Nolan 169 min/Rated PG-13 ***** (out of 5)
“Interstellar” is the new film from director Christopher Nolan, and stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain. The film is a crowning achievement in the sci-fi genre, but one that falls just short of masterpiece status. “Interstellar” deals with such gigantic ideas as our place in the cosmos, while also contemplating what human life means when our planet cannot sustain us anymore. A bold, poetic love letter to the classic science fiction films of the past, Nolan has done something incredible here. You will hear a lot of people discussing the supposed flaws and plot-holes of the film, but I believe that they are missing the point. “Interstellar” is awe-inspiring throughout, and is truly a thing of beauty.
As with just about every space movie since its release, there have been many comparisons made between this film and the 1968 Stanley Kubrick epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” While there are certainly similarities between the two, I believe the bigger comparison could be made with Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 masterpiece “Solaris.” That film was a deeply layered and nuanced exploration of the power of the love, and the human experience. While “Interstellar” doesn’t achieve quite the same heights as these earlier films — it is also the first to try in almost a generation. “Interstellar” opens with an extended segment divulging what has happened to our planet in the near future, an agricultural plague known as the blight is systematically destroying all of Earth’s staple crops. McConaughey plays Cooper, a former pilot and engineer, who is resigned to his fate as a farmer in this new society. It was important for the emotional response in the rest of the film that a connection was created between Cooper and his young daughter Murph, played by Mackenzie Foy. For the most part Nolan succeeds at establishing the bond between father and daughter; their scenes together are touching and heartfelt. The first act does a proficient job at showing the Earth in what appears to be the second coming of the dust bowl. Dirt and debris are constantly flying through the air, wreaking havoc on everything it comes into contact with.
After making a chance discovery with his daughter, Cooper is offered the choice to pilot a last-ditch mission into space to save our species. While there is no question of what he will ultimately choose to do, it is still emotionally devastating for him and his daughter. McConaughey is fantastic in this role, and he gives everything he has into it, his dedication shines through the entire film. I don’t want to divulge many of the specific story points, as Nolan has gone to painstaking lengths to keep them secret — but I will say that the space travel segments in the film are jaw dropping. There are scenes of stark, quiet beauty that are some of my favorite moments ever seen on-screen. As I think about the film in the time since I have seen it, my appreciation for it only grows — to the point that I might call this my favorite film of 2014 so far. As someone who enjoys thinking about the cosmos and our place in it, this film tapped into a primal need for exploration as well as the continued growth of our species.
Nolan offers a dual narrative of sorts, we spend a lot time with the crew aboard the space station Endurance, hurtling through a wormhole into a different galaxy — searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. We also frequently travel back to Earth, to see Cooper’s now grown children dealing with the aftermath of their father leaving them. The core story of the last half of the film can be traced back to Cooper’s decision to leave the planet, and for the most part the emotion surrounding that decision connects. I was not as enamored with the material set on Earth as I was with the elements in space, although these scenes are pretty effective at keeping the story grounded — especially when the film enters into some pretty heavy metaphysical areas. Chastain did a fine job with a somewhat underwritten role as Cooper’s grown daughter. Hathaway was also suitably effective as Dr. Brand, a scientist aboard the space station, although a couple of decisions the character made I didn’t agree with. What I did appreciate most about the film is Nolan’s adherence to real concepts of science and physics. While it is still just a film, in that it takes some liberties with real scientific theory for the sake of visual comprehension. There was certainly a concerted effort by the director to make the science behind the story as real as possible.
I believe that most of the criticism is stemming from the climax of the film, which can be interpreted in many ways. In telling the story that Nolan wanted to tell, certain decisions had to be made about how to close out the film. As someone who was invested in the characters in a deep and profound way, I was fully on board with the way the film wrapped up. Are there some clunky scenes of exposition and unexpected character choices? Sure, but they do not perform a disservice to the rest of the film. While Nolan typically likes to shroud all of his narratives in complex mystery, “Interstellar” is meant to be viewed as literally as anything he has ever done. In the opening of this review I said that the film falls just short of masterpiece status. I did not mean this as a slight to the movie, there are simply not many filmmakers attempting anything this grand in scope these days. I appreciate and respect that “Interstellar” reaches for the stars, just because it doesn’t always achieve everything it sets out to do does not diminish its impact. While it is not on the same level of “2001” or “Solaris,” it comes very close to attaining those lofty ambitions. “Interstellar” made me a true believer in the power of cinema, and any film that can accomplish this simply must be seen.
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