Christopher Nolan has built a reputation for creating must-see films that are both cerebral and accessible. From the complicated, yet satisfying Memento, to his celebrated gritty reawakening of Batman in his Dark Knight trilogy, to oft discussed brain teaser, Inception, his particular brand is strong. Harnessing the newly reinvigorated star power of Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar promises an incredible journey to the farthest reaches of space on a mission of the utmost importance – the preservation of the human race.
It is saying something for his career that this awards season tentpole is being sold almost exclusively on McConaughey’s draw despite the fact that he would have been relegated to the bargain bin not that long ago. Especially when you realize all of the other names attached to this film. Judging from the marketing, you might not have guessed that this movie boasts an allstar cast. Nevertheless, the award winning talent also includes Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentely, Jessica Chastain, Ellyn Burstyn, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, and Matt Damon. No, you probably didn’t know Matt Damon was in this movie.
Somewhere in the undefined but somewhat near future, Earth is in crisis. Despite significant technological advances, humanity is dieing. Food is a scarce resources as crops have been decimated by a mysterious and unstoppable blight, reducing food production to some corn and not much else. Terrible dust storms kill off the young and elderly, destroying their lungs. Those who don’t starve to death as the food runs low are doomed to slow suffocation by way of dust and an oxygen depleted atmosphere. It’s a bright future.
Once a top NASA pilot and brilliant engineer, Cooper (McConoughy) is now a farmer, supporting his two young children (Mackenzie Foy and Timothee Chalamet) and father-in-law since his wife died. Doing the best he can to survive is not enough as it seems obvious that the Earth is not going to support human life for much longer, no matter what people do. When mysterious circumstances lead him to uncover a secret mission to find the people of Earth a new habitable world, however, he’s given a glimmer of hope – even if it means leaving his family behind, likely to never see them again.
Intrepid space explorers push the boundaries of human existence across unimaginable cosmic landscapes. Artificially intelligent, monolithic pillars accompany them – one of the most intriguing robotic designs in film that I’ve seen. With sweeping space vistas and philosophical meanderings, Nolan has meticulously and masterfully created a love letter to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not a fanfiction quasi-remake, but an original send up to all that made 2001 such an impactful film, Interstellar is, in many ways, a far superior experience. Containing far less cerebral hemorrhaging and cutting back on overly long psychedelic interludes, Interstellar is infinitely more digestible.
First and foremost, the visuals here are breathtaking. Whether more or less literally as clouds of dust or mountains of water overtake those onscreen, or figuratively as the small ship flies past the rings of Saturn or beneath the frozen clouds of an ice planet many times less inviting than Hoth. More stunning visualizations of wormholes and event horizons you have never seen, and Nolan time and again proves his unique knack for bringing to life scenes that appear impossible to exist, yet there they are.
The film proceeds at a relatively slow, yet deliberate pace – not so much meandering, but allowing the vastness of the subject the proper time it demands. Usually. There is a moment or two that seem oddly rushed and I have to wonder if some expository chunks were sacrificed to keep this beast of a film under a three hour run time.
One of the benefits of the length is that even secondary characters are given enough development that you care for them. That’s to say nothing about McConaughey and Hathaway who occupy a large chunk of screen time. Reaching deep into your gut, McConaughey manages to tug at emotions with nothing but his facial expressions and Hathaway gives her most respectable dramatic performance to date. Chastain and the rest of the supporting cast perform with expertise as well – there are no weak links save for the plot itself.
Perhaps Nolan’s most watered down story yet, other than his final Dark Knight film, Interstellar has plenty of deeply cerebral moments, but is ultimately fairly pedestrian in many ways, beneath the surface. It’s biggest cinema sin, however, comes towards the end where it descends into rather silly territory. Perhaps an unintentional mirroring of 2001‘s ending, the final act of Interstellar takes a rather predictable turn, morphing into a rather cheesy episode of The Outer Limits. Thankfully, we do not end on that note, instead moving forward in the story to a rather satisfying ending, open ended enough that I wouldn’t have minded staying seated for another hour just to see where things went from there.
The less than stellar story can easily be overlooked in the same way the plot of Avatar can be due to the excellent manner in which it is told. Even the jarring ending can be pretty much forgiven because of the amazing journey that brought us there. While not perfect, this is a fantastic bit of cinema that should be seen on the largest screen possible as you let yourself become enveloped by a vast, beautiful, and dangerous space, and lost in an emotional tale of mythic proportions.
Mrs. Hamster is very disappointed she was unable to screen this film.
My rating: Four out of five hats
Interstellar boldly goes to 3,561 theaters and is available in six formats, including true IMAX 70mm film on November 7