Interstellar is not Christopher Nolan’s best film but what I will say is that you can’t deny his ambition and Interstellar on those merits, is a very good film.
There will be people who will walk out of the cinema thinking, “what did I just watch?” It doesn’t have that instant satisfaction you’re looking for like films such as Inception or The Dark Knight. Don’t walk in expecting something because you won’t get it. Interstellar is Nolan’s most ambitious, challenging and unique film, different from what he has done before.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper
Set in the distant future, Earth is dying and running out of resources, in particular food. Humanity is doing everything they can to survive but with the constant and frequent sandstorms makes life difficult and desperate. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a dedicated family man with two kids and a former NASA test pilot joins a group of explorers in a journey into space to search for another habitable planet to save the human race on Earth that is on the brink of extinction.
It’s easy to admire Interstellar for it’s big and bold ambitions because honestly when you think about it, who besides Nolan can make a film like this? The story idea may not be new but you can see him experimenting, trying to do something different because this is not your ordinary sci-fi film. Using film instead of digital, Interstellar has that “old school feel” to filmmaking.
The film is very Kubrick-esque, Nolan’s ode to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Visually the film is stunning, once again using IMAX cameras over 3D giving the audience an immersive view of space. Hans Zimmer’s score beautifully offsets the silence of space vs. the intensity and tension inside the spacecraft or on the alien world. If there is an award for that kind of achievement, then Nolan certainly has that in the bag. He romanticises space and all it’s unknown wonders and possibilities and the exploration to understand it. When you directly compare it to Gravity (another outstanding film), Gravity shows the dangers and the isolation of space.
In that exploration, Nolan balances out the narrative with a solid human drama that never took me out of the moment. Did some scenes feel a little too emotional and sentimental? It’s a valid argument. Cooper’s love of his children runs throughout the film. But that essence of a family unit and how an event or a moment affects it, is no different from what Spielberg use to do in his films with Close Encounters of the Third Kind being a prime example. That emotion drives the film and Nolan returns to that intimacy between characters, something not seen since The Prestige. The film may have a serious tone but he’s not afraid of injecting humour with TARS, a robot providing the comic relief. McConaughey continues his “McConaissance” with an outstanding performance along with Anne Hathaway as Amelia (which I’m sure her character name is a nod to Amelia Earhart and her quest for adventure). In fact everyone in the entire cast from Michael Caine to Jessica Chastain was on point, maintaining their high standard throughout.
“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dr. Brand.
Where Interstellar will be defined by you is how you understand the science behind wormholes, black holes, dimensions and time. I’m naturally an open-minded person but it’s evidently clear that Nolan has done his research. Based on the real scientific studies of Kip Thorne, the science is deep, dense and at times complex, like sitting in a science or physics class at school. Some aspects are easy to grasp and others, especially the ending requires thought. Your brain will definitely get a workout.
It’s a grounded reality that stems on the idea of time and space. Travelling at the speed of light could be minutes in space, but in Earth years, ten years could have past. There were no guarantees that they would make it back, no guarantees that they would survive the journey or what they will find beyond the stars. As explained by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) to Cooper, they’ve already sent explorers up into space twelve years ago as part of NASA’s secret project and only three were relaying back information to help the next batch of explorers. That’s the cruel, punishing risk that the explorers were faced with – a race against time as well as survival and Nolan had no hesitation in pulling at the heart strings when Cooper viewed video messages of his children growing up, missing 23 years of their lives.
Not all of Interstellar is set in space as Nolan cuts back to the events on Earth showcasing how desperate humanity has become. Despite not being in the same solar system, that plight is something that Cooper is fully aware of. As he says, “I’m thinking of my family and millions of other families”, it’s Cooper holding onto hope and a promise he made to his daughter that keeps him moving forward. He wants this trip to succeed, fulfilling Plan A (getting humans off Earth) despite others having alternative ideas aka Plan B (using fertilised eggs/sperm to start a new human race colony on the new planet). The only thing that could jeopardise the mission is the selfishness and desires in preserving their own life rather than the people on Earth, a topic that is explored when the real revelation of the mission comes to light and a certain unexpected actor shows up.
Brand: “Couldn’t you’ve told her you were going to save the world?”
Cooper: “No. When you become a parent, one thing becomes really clear. And that’s that you want to make sure your children feel safe.”
By all means Interstellar is far from perfect. It does have a long running time, not that I noticed it or felt bored but will be an issue for some. You do have to wait for a bit before the film eventually picks up as the beginning is used to establish Cooper and his family. For some, the science will go over people’s heads and for others it’s simply not for them.
Interstellar is a film that you don’t see often that it becomes a rarity in itself. It’s a complete mixture. It’s a film so emotionally intimate that it might work better on the small screen, but it has the outstanding visual spectacle that works so well on an IMAX screen. It adopts concepts that feel ahead of its time that it requires more than one viewing just to grasp it all. Like all of Nolan’s films, there is a debate to be had on the story elements, in particular the ending that I have no doubt in my mind is where your ultimate enjoyment will hinge upon. Personally I thought it was a clever twist that brings the story full circle but it has so many debating factors surrounding it.
Interstellar may not be an easy watch at times because of the concepts you have to wrap your head around but what it celebrates is that humanistic journey of exploring the unknown universe. It’s a slow-burning, cerebral sci-fi adventure raising questions of your place in the universe. Because of that it makes Interstellar a thrilling journey from start to finish.