Ambitious, terrifying and emotional, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ is a stunning science fiction epic that further solidifies the venerable
director as one of the very finest in the business.
While most of the industry rehashes the same tired ideas, it takes a filmmaker like Nolan to remind us what blockbuster scale and artistic
inspiration can achieve.
‘Interstellar’ will likely be a hugely divisive film, with an extended running time, complex scientific concepts and a final act that explodes
with metaphysical imagination and metaphor.
This is a film that (like its astronaut explorers) takes incredible risks in order to truly achieve something unique and innovative. I believe
Nolan absolutely succeeds in delivering a story that melds the emotional and the impassionate, contrasting the cold reality of our existence
with the powerful bonds of human connection.
Much like any sufficiently ambitious design, there will be many who will tear it down for its originality. I simply can’t do that.
Nolan (who also co-wrote the film with his brother, Jonathan), presents an Earth decimated by a global blight. With corn as the only viable
crop, humanity has begun to crumble. Technology and innovation is all but abandoned in the struggle to fill the most basic human need of
It’s intriguing that the Nolans make the very deliberate decision to portray humanity’s downfall as an inescapable act of nature. This is not a
result of human aggrandizement, as has become the cliché in most post-apocalyptic tales. Here, technology is actually portrayed as our
salvation. It celebrates human invention and imagination.
‘Interstellar’ does a brilliant job showing just how small we are in the scale of it all. Even on our own planet, we are helpless to prevent a
return to an agrarian society. The early sequences feel far away from the cosmic odyssey we are expecting, with allusions to the Dust Bowl
and Great Depression.
Nolan effectively drops us into the tale without any text or blatant exposition. We slowly learn the situation just by observing the life of
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an astronaut-turned-farmer following the dissolution of NASA.
The first act is dedicated almost entirely to Cooper and his family. Cooper’s son is happy to work on the farm, but his daughter, Murphy (aka
“Murph”), shares her father’s love of science and space travel.
They are people born of the wrong era, Cooper’s father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow) observes.
Despite her love of science, Murph comes to believe her room is haunted by a ghost. During a massive sandstorm, they observe a strange
distortion of gravity within the room. Working together, they discover a hidden message, along with coordinates.
The coordinates lead to an underground facility containing the remnants of NASA, dedicated to finding a new home for humanity to colonize.
Here, Cooper reunites with Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), a former professor of his. Brand reveals that a nearby wormhole has been
discovered that allows them to reach distant galaxies, which may potentially contain viable planets for a human population. In fact, the
project is well underway, with a number of astronauts already sent to survey various worlds.
Brand recruits Cooper to pilot the ship through the wormhole to assess the most promising worlds.
Cooper’s crewmates include Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a physicist, a geologist, and two robots. In a welcome bit of levity,
one of the robots (named TARS) has been programmed with a sense of humor. There is some amusing banter between Cooper and TARS
regarding the human’s desire to reduce the A.I.’s humor settings. In a welcome break from sci-fi formula, the robots never once try to revolt
and kill the humans.
The jump through the wormhole is stunningly portrayed thanks to some wonderfully disorienting visuals and aggressive sound design. The
thunderous low frequency effects prove essential in portraying the terrifying nature of this journey into the unknown.
There are some awe-inspiring and chilling sequences that follow, but I hesitate to be too specific. The less the viewer knows the better.
This thrilling second acts portrays climatic terrors, as well as horrors almost beyond our comprehension, including the effects of relativity
and space time.
Unlike last year’s ‘Gravity,’ ‘Interstellar’ delves into some fairly complex theoretical physics, and Nolan isn’t afraid to challenge his audience
Even amid the thrills and science, ‘Interstellar’ never loses its humanity. Even from across distant galaxies, the relationship between
Cooper and his daughter powers much of the film.
The final act beautifully draws all the threads together in an utterly bizarre metaphysical exploration of the deepest reaches of space, time
This will prove to be the most controversial aspect of the film, as Nolan’s film extends beyond the quantifiable, into the transcendently
It’s here that we begin to understand that the greatest questions ‘Interstellar’ asks are not technical at all.
The passage of time is an integral theme in ‘Interstellar.’ Even beyond the obvious effects we see from relativity, the film explores time on a
more intimate scale as well. It explores what our time means to us as humans, and how can we pass on our knowledge, beliefs and deepest
emotions, through time, to those that come after us. It asks what we do when we see our own end, either personally or as a species.
The film’s climactic moments are extraordinarily powerful. And even if some may call them hokey, I consider them to be the most emotionally
poignant sequences of Nolan’s entire career.
The performances are outstanding throughout, but especially so here. McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy as Murph are all
It’s a great compliment to the film that despite its expert production values, it’s the story and characters that leave the greatest impact.
The worn-down, lived-in production design and raw cinematography keep the film rooted in reality, and even Hans Zimmer delivers one of
his most unique scores in recent memory.
It’s also worth mentioning that (despite the great effects work noted previously) the sound mixing is a bit frustrating. As in many Nolan films,
dialog tends to be slightly under-mixed at times, which is baffling given the complex nature of the plot.
I could probably complain about the film’s running time and various plot holes, but it would be forced criticism. The truth is that ‘Interstellar’
is an incredible experience that has equal parts visceral thrills, haunting atmosphere, mind-bending mysteries and a surprising emotional
punch. This is a hugely ambitious film that succeeds despite its outrageous reach.
For its cosmic scale and intimate depth, ‘Interstellar’ gets my highest recommendation. It’s a triumph of imagination. And while it’s certainly
not for everyone, this is a film worth seeing because you’ve simply never seen anything like it before.
* * * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway,
Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Michael Caine
Cinematography by: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Released: November 7, 2014; 169 Minutes