He has conquered Gotham, and he has conquered dreams. Now, Christopher Nolan wants to conquer the universe (or rather, colonise another galaxy), and he unsurprisingly succeeds.
On the surface, Interstellar reflects a Hollywood trend of launching Oscar winners off to space; this time, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway follow Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to the stars. However, despite Interstellar‘s heavy visual effects, the movie truly soars on the sincere human element that Nolan captures so brilliantly.
It is precisely because Christopher Nolan is at the (metaphorical) pilot’s seat that we know that Interstellar will have more depth, intelligence and that “something extra” that separates it from a typical sci-fi blockbuster.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
Imagine Nolan-level complexity meshed together with NASA-level (mostly accurate) astrophysics. And you thought ‘Inception’ was hard to understand.
In the not too distant future, Earth has become an incredibly dusty time bomb ticking down to mankind’s extinction. Resources are decreasing daily and dust (we see plenty of it) is increasing. At this point, humanity just wants to survive, and so even former NASA pilots like Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) are made to grow crops for a living. A widower, Cooper also cares for his young daughter, Murph (McKenzie Foy) and son, Tom (Casey Affleck). A strange phenomena leads Cooper to a top-secret NASA facility, where he is recruited to pilot an important mission. He, Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), two other astronauts (Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) and a pair of metallic squarish robots are to travel through a wormhole that has emerged near Saturn and find a second home for mankind in another galaxy. Murph is angry at Cooper’s decision to leave, and so they part on bad terms.
Cooper and the astronaut crew battle seemingly impossible odds at saving humanity, and this is compounded by the fact that Earth’s time runs significantly faster than in their new galaxy. Meanwhile, a grown-up Murph (Jessica Chastain) works with Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to (in super-simplified terms) “solve gravity”, and complete the second part of the mission of transporting a large number of humans off Earth. As time rages on, Cooper finds that he might have sacrificed more than he bargained for, even if for the salvation of humanity.
Like most Christopher Nolan movies, Interstellar is complicated and confusing, and to those of us who try to make sense of it, exasperating. But like all Christopher Nolan movies, Interstellar is also deep, meaningful and (if you’re not a strict astrophysicist) intelligent.
You have seen the visual effects in the trailers, and you know they are impressive. The selling point is that Christopher Nolan has always been so much more than a visual effects guy, and in this movie, that “something extra” was love. As Hathaway‘s character preached (in a moment that would have scientists rolling their eyes), “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” This is strangely the most straightforward and understandable concept in the entire movie, which works just fine because it is certainly the only concept that matters.
At the heart of the movie is Cooper’s relationship with Murph, and this is possibly the only reason why the movie stands out. McKenzie Foy, proving that she is better than that Twilight blotch on her resume, works well with McConaughey in a very genuine daughter-father relationship that has its ups and downs. They separate on very bad terms, and that is an uncomfortable feeling that gives the film its trademark Nolan emotional intensity throughout.
It is precisely because this relationship is imperfect and so human that we want it to be saved, and that we want Cooper to succeed. It is not the salvation of humanity that we root for, but the salvation of Cooper and Murph. The result of this centralised emotional goal is that the science-heavy interstellar strife is translated into an incredibly intimate emotional journey for the audience. Not to mention, the two characters give the movie all of its tear-jerking scenes, thanks in large part to the development of their relationship and stellar (pun intended) performances by McConaughey and Chastain.
Nolan knows that he wants us to be us to be emotionally affected, and so he focuses not on the concept of time relativity, but on the human effects of that. These all add up to make Interstellar a high-stakes adventure for the viewer.
You would be mistaken to think that Interstellar is another Gravity with IMAX-wide shots of outer space (essentially, showing off). Interstellar has some of that, but Nolan adopts a more personal angle of storytelling where the bulk of the journey is experienced from inside the spacecraft or from Cooper’s point of view. Nolan is perhaps the first director who makes us thankful that the majority of space shots we see are shaky, slightly incoherent and through a window or Cooper’s visor. At times, it feels like we are actually in the spacecraft, and so we would pick the more intimate POV over a visual spectacle any day.
Interstellar‘s shortcomings are found in the dimensions of time and science. And yes, that is laughably ironic. Poor pacing hits us pretty early in the film, when Nolan truly takes his time in introducing the characters and the dire conditions on Earth. We understand the necessity of building a solid base for the movie, but somehow it feels like Nolan could have sped things up just a little. Nolan also takes his own artistic liberty with science, sometimes even pushing it to the absurd. Thankfully, this does not bother us too much, unless you are a strict astrophysicist with no appreciation for fiction. But the combination of Interstellar‘s a-bit-too-straightforward plot with overly-complicated scientific concepts does make it hard for us to fully enjoy the movie, and that is what keeps it from being a potential masterpiece.
With Interstellar, we get intelligence; not in its concepts but in its storytelling. We are treated to a spectacle; not visually, but emotionally.
That is the genius of Christopher Nolan. Combine that vision with a galaxy of stars for its cast, including the likes of Oscar winners-slash-nominees Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and, of course, Mr. Matthew McConaughey.
And to that we say, “Alright, alright, alright.”
Rating: 3.5/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Good, not great.”)